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Revenge Bedtime Procrastination

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 07, 2021

Anne Helen Petersen wrote about revenge bedtime procrastination, a familiar self-sabotage technique of the iPhone/timeline era.

Here is a potentially familiar scene. You are exhausted after working a full day, the sort of day when you felt like your attention was drawn in 20 different directions, where you were ricocheting between obligations and meetings and running six minutes late to pick-up and realizing that if you didn’t put that load of laundry in the wash now, at 9 pm, the rest of the week could very well collapse in on itself. You answered emails while stirring something on the stove. You answered different emails while half-listening to a story from a family member or roommate. You might have squeezed in some time for exercise, but you spent most of that time thinking about work: either periodically checking your phone or making mental to-do lists. You put your kids to bed, you let the dog outside, you turn off the lights, you’re ready for a much needed good night’s sleep — but then you can’t put yourself to bed.

You stay up binging a mediocre show. You can’t stop scrolling Instagram or Twitter or a dating app. You’re reading some overly-detailed breakdown of a sporting event, past or present or upcoming. You’re playing whatever dumb game you play on your phone.

I have been struggling mightily with this lately. I’ve been busier over the last few weeks than I have in years (since the kids were toddlers) and bedtime is generally the only time I have completely to myself. Refreshing Instagram or playing a game on my phone is the best way to mindlessly maximize that time in a low-energy way — and ensure that the next day will suck even more because I haven’t gotten enough rest. As Petersen puts it:

When you stay up late talking with friends of dancing or playing D&D, you are procrastinating going to bed, but you are also making a pretty good deal with yourself: the fun I’m having now is worth whatever suffering I’ll endure later. But most of the activities performed while revenge procrastinating don’t really compensate for the exhaustion they cause. They might feel essential and non-negotiable in the moment, as some semblance of “alone time,” but they’re really a double fuck you: they kinda suck in the moment, and they really suck in the cascading after-effects. You might feel like you’re soothing yourself, but maybe you’re just….punishing yourself?