Why Can’t I Just Go to Bed?

By Catherine Hamilton

Many people find their daily schedule so packed from the moment they wake up until they’re going to sleep so busy that they don’t have time for any in-between moments. This leads to utter exhaustion: the kind that allows you to fall asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow. And then there are those who stay up late, not because they are more productive at night but because they are trying to make up for their lack of free time during the day. These are the people who inadvertently retaliate against themselves and are trapped in a cycle of revenge bedtime procrastination perpetuated by a wish to control their lives. 

Revenge bedtime procrastination sounds like a weapon in a sci-fi movie; instead it’s a weapon students are yielding against themselves. Students engage in this destructive behavior because they seek self-revenge for spending a majority of our energy on homework, clubs, and jobs, all while attempting to maintain a social life. And then they procrastinate facing the next day, not necessarily because they don’t want to experience it, but because they know that it will result in the same bustling day that has come to dominate our education. Revenge bedtime procrastination is not when you’re up until 2 a.m. studying for a midterm; it’s when you are tired and you have no actual reason to be awake other than having time to do what you want to do. 

I experienced this issue firsthand when I noticed myself attempting to stay awake longer than I needed to, even when I had to wake up early the next morning. I know that for me – with four classes, eight clubs, and an internship – I attempt to listen to a podcast and read a book before going to sleep. Sometimes I even try to stare at my tiny, bright phone screen to read through the 100 email backlog of New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal articles that I don’t have any other time to read.

I know that putting off sleep is not good for me. I know I should sleep when I’m tired and have nothing pressing to do. So I am aware of all my self-destructive behaviors and yet I still actively choose to engage in revenge procrastination. 

Staying up later can be freeing when there are no anxiety-triggering responsibilities and no immediate tasks to complete. It’s a slice of the day where students have full control – where everything feels uniquely yours. It is healthy to have time to destress before going to sleep. So maybe the problem isn’t staying up later. Maybe students aren’t creating enough time for themselves during the day.

The inevitability of hustle culture today is depressing. But it’s unfortunately deeply ingrained into general society because it has become normalized for people to juggle more tasks than they can probably handle. Hustle culture refers to the prioritization of productivity regarding work or school over other aspects of life such as hobbies and self-care. It is not necessarily always a bad thing; students find the time to make money, take classes, and explore topics they’re interested in because they’re always doing something. However, its extent has caused some people to decrease their functioning by not getting enough sleep–even if they could. 

The most clear-cut remedy to avoiding revenge bedtime procrastination is to make time in our day for ourselves. The easiest way to do that is to adopt a less-than-hustling way of life. Unfortunately, the demand for perfection increases everyday, making it unrealistic to think that present competitive and fast-paced lifestyles will lessen any time soon. Therefore, it is more beneficial to learn both how to slow down our day-to-day lives, and how to break the seemingly never-ending cycle of procrastinating your sleep.

First off, time management works wonders. This is not to say you have to budget your time to get everything done in a day, but rather that you can organize your time to work in bursts. While it depends on the person, optimal timing to work on homework or a project is thirty minutes to an hour before taking a break. Taking those few minutes off allows time to do something for yourself–maybe stretch, take a little walk around, read a book chapter, or even look at your phone–and provides a sense of control over how you spend your time. Focusing is an easier task given you’re not staring at math problems for hours on end as your eyes drift around or your hand reaches for your phone. 

Secondly, whenever you eat breakfast, lunch, dinner, or a snack, do not do work. It may seem more productive to simultaneously fuel your body while plowing through assignments; but use this dining experience as another chance to spend with yourself–or even with other people. Taking the time to breathe and enjoy a meal with yourself allows you to make more time to relax.

Thirdly, and most importantly, learn to say no. It’s one of the hardest things to do, but it is worth it. Our generation constantly seeks to make other people happy and not agreeing to something that would provide someone else joy becomes terrifying. However, “no” is your best friend. It is important to be honest with ourselves when agreeing (or not) to do something. Instead of seeing it as saying “no” to others, it should become realizing that we’re saying “yes” to ourselves.

Even though learning to say “no” is important for everyone, revenge bedtime procrastination specifically happens at night. Fixing your nightly routine starts with figuring out a sleep schedule that works best for you. While this is not always feasible in college, pairing some semblance of a sleep schedule with a bedtime routine that excludes scrolling through your phone for an hour goes a long way. Admittedly it is hard to fully avoid screens before going to sleep. A relaxing alternative to scrolling through social media is listening to a podcast you enjoy before bed. Sleeping well at night allows for a more efficient day and ultimately more time for yourself. 
College is hard enough without consciously thinking about how to escape the vicious revenge bedtime procrastination cycle. As a person who read 100 books in 2020 but only got through one in the first month of this year: I understand how wonderfully yours life is in the late hours of the night when you’re given the chance to indulge in your interests. Staying up a little later might not seem a big deal on the surface. Unfortunately it becomes much more important once we realize that staying up is a subconscious way to seek vengeance on ourselves. It’s time to prioritize yourself over the world that does not prioritize you.

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