Another minute in the dark

On revenge bed-time procrastination

My eyes want to close. I can feel my body shutting down, welcoming the arms of lethargy around me. The light from my phone screen hurts my eyes, even though it is dimmed, even though I have installed different screen tints. And still, I open up another news article. Still, I watch just one more video. Just to stay up a little later. 

I learned of the term Revenge Bedtime Procrastination a few months ago. I often find myself making some such excuse for not going to sleep when I am so clearly tired; I need time to relax before going to sleep, I won’t have other time to be able to indulge in the TV show, the game, the podcast. The list goes on.

The revenge part of Revenge Bedtime Procrastination emanates from the idea that we are resisting or attempting to compensate for a lack of control in our day to day lives. For me, this agency so often comes at the cost of my next morning, where I will be tired and lethargic. And this pattern of behaviour seemed to peak at the beginning of quarantine.

In the past I’ve found it useful to put a label on my maladaptive behaviours, to better understand them, find resources on them and explain them to myself and others. It helps to find communities of people also struggling. And so, when I came to a possible explanation of behaviour that I usually dismissed as a result of a lack of self-restraint and discipline, I spoke to people about it. My social group it seemed was filled with people who  also over-commit their time to activities and people outside of their own needs and wants. And yet, I wondered:  what about the sanctity of time spent to oneself? Shouldn’t there be a case for engaging in the gentle ease of activities without the expectation of it being productive or working towards a goal? And, why do we feel we can only participate in these behaviours at night?

While I undervalue the opportunity for rest by denying it for myself, staying awake is one of the few methods I have of delaying the next oncoming day, where I again will force myself into a schedule that feels uncompromising. And now, when we as a society are encouraged to stay home and avoid travel, I am surrounded by the pressure and monotony of walls around me. No longer do I, like many, have the physical distinction between work, university, and time for myself. Left without those boundaries and suffering as many do with a continually growing to-do list and feelings of obligations that I must always be working, I have found myself taking solace in the liminal space of witching and twilight hours. I cannot stop myself from seeing night time as distinct, though it involves no actual change in my surroundings. The world is different at 2am. It is quieter. There are no expectations, no reprimands. And this shift in my frame of mind has allowed me to build my own world where I can waste time and spend it how I like to.

In a way, it is quite lovely to slip into the blameless world of After Dark where it is too late for the brain to be working. I tread the line between meditation and numbness in a time that is decidedly my own. And yet I like to sleep. I know that staying up won’t put off the next morning; it will only make it worse. I feel at once disappointment and resentment at a culture that has raised me to feel guilty to take time for myself, to an extent where I feel the only time I can do it is at night, like hiding under the covers with a book and a torch when I was little. If I’m going to stay awake, I want it to be for that child-like enthusiasm for the end of a chapter, not some awful mix of guilt, anxiety and despair.

I wonder, as I watch icons dash on and offline, how we each make the trade-off between sleep and our daily obligations, freedom and the need for discipline. I don’t want to romanticise poor habits or unhealthy sleep schedules. Yet there is something oddly comforting about the fact that, while I am staying awake, luxuriating in long moments of unbroken silence, there are others with me keeping the midnight vigil. 

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