Ah, another night, another midnight bedtime, I think to myself (again) as my head hits the pillow.
I mean, I still have to get up early with my children. But, I also still go to bed late—for a variety of reasons. The desire to get time to myself almost always beats out getting a great night’s sleep.
And I’m not alone. The psychology behind revenge bedtime procrastination is real. First mentioned in a 2014 research study, and then popularized by journalist Daphne K. Lee in a viral tweet, the concept is defined by Lee as “when people who don’t have much control over their daytime life refuse to sleep early to regain some sense of freedom during late night hours.”
This really hits home for me: After spending all day with my kids, helping with their schoolwork, trying to fit in my own work and keeping up with general housework, the wee hours are the only time when I get to do what *I* want to do.
And the pandemic has only made this balancing act even more off-kilter. Revenge bedtime procrastination has been “exacerbated during Covid, when people are sort of vengeful about ‘me time,’ and that ‘me time’ only occurs when they know they should be going to bed,” says Wendy Troxel, a senior behavioral scientist with the RAND Corporation and author of “Sharing the Covers: Every Couple’s Guide to Better Sleep,” in the Washington Post.
I desperately need this sense of freedom at night to help me have a more positive attitude about powering through the work I need to do as soon as I wake up—even though I know sleep itself has big benefits.
Why do I procrastinate my bedtime when I know sleep is good for me?
Why, when Arianna Huffington has proclaimed sleep to be the key to success? If sleep is her superpower, mine must be surviving daily on 6 hours of sleep and lots and lots of coffee. (I mean, isn’t that why there are so many coffee/mom memes out there?)
Why, when the Public Library of Science Journal tells us that people who sleep around 6 hours a night have a waistline that’s 1.2 inches larger than those getting around 9 hours? (So, if I sleep more does that mean I don’t have to exercise then? Because maybe I can get down with that…)
Why, when we are told that our sleep schedules are just as important as our children‘s ?
Why, when we KNOW moms are working around 98 hour weeks and absolutely could use any extra rest we can get?
Why, when the mental load of motherhood is exhausting and I know that but yet I continue to push ‘rest’ down to the bottom of my to-do list?
The reasons why I stay up late are endless
I stay up late because the allure of peace and quiet—while everyone else sleeps—is too appealing to miss out on.
I stay up late because the desire to have time to myself—to do whatever I want, without answering to anyone else—is too precious to pass up.
I stay up late because I want time to zone out and binge watch Sex/Life without feeling like I need to be doing anything else.
I stay up late because my passion for my work runs deep, and sometimes I just can’t seem to switch it off.
I stay up late because I want to finally start that book I bought a month ago.
I stay up late because I want to do a face mask and sit in the tub without feeling rushed.
I stay up late because I want a sliver of time to feel like “human-adult-me.” Not “mom-wife-me.” Just me .
I stay up late because I want time to let my brain think and process—without distractions and noise.
I stay up late because at 11:00 p.m. toddlers aren’t asking to go to the park or to make waffles. (Usually.)
I stay up late because I am mildly addicted to technology and often find myself mindlessly scrolling through Facebook and Instagram to catch up on what’s going on in the world before I give in to sleep.
I stay up late because I can’t seem to be okay with the fact that I don’t get any time to myself during the day. Does time while sleeping count as “time to myself?”
(I don’t think I can survive on my “me time” also being my sleep time…)
I stay up late because I always have. And my life as a mother has changed enough for me. I want to keep this part of my past non-mom life in tact. (I’m stubborn like that.)
I stay up late because even the “you need to go to bed earlier!” talks I get from my husband don’t make me feel bad enough to stop this addiction.
I stay up late because no matter how many times I go to bed late, then wake up and swear “I’m going to bed at 9:30 tonight no matter what!” —I literally never do.
In defense of me-time
These late night hours are my time to be selfish. To think of me—and me only. In this world of motherhood, we don’t often get time or space to put our needs first. Because throughout the day, the needs of others must be filled. But late at night, my people are all safely, peacefully sleeping, and I can focus on whatever is calling to me in the moment.
It’s my time to be choosey in a life that consists mostly on making choices for and on behalf of other people.
Every time these free, peaceful hours are calling to me, I try to tell them I need sleep. That sleep is good for my brain and my body and my soul. But they always counter argue with the fact that staying up late and fitting “me time” in is even better for me. And they usually win.
Mostly, I stay up late because it is one way I stay sane in this very intense life of mothering young children. This quiet, uninterrupted time to myself fuels me in a way sleep can’t right now. (And yes—I’m sure sleep experts out there would argue otherwise!
So maybe when my kids are a little older, I’ll get more sleep…maybe not.
Either way—for now—you can find me wide awake at that alluring, quiet midnight hour happily doing, well… whatever I want.
A version of this story was published on August 20, 2018. It has been updated.