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I rolled over this morning, still groggy from a late night. As I reached to throw off the covers, I realized I was not alone in bed. Sprawled out next to me was a dishy history book about snooty French designers, their upstart American counterparts, and a slew of slinky models staging an epic fashion show in the ’70s.
Anyone who knows me knows that being curled up in bed with a fluffy, yet nerdy book is my idea of a good time. Even though I was too exhausted to actually read (and apparently too tired even to lift a bookmark), I insisted on ending my day with that moment of me-time instead of seeking the sleep I obviously needed.
Apparently there’s a name for that kind of behavior: revenge bedtime procrastination.
The Sleep Foundation defines it as “the decision to sacrifice sleep for leisure time that is driven by a daily schedule lacking in free time.” Apparently, for some of us, the days are so full of work, family obligations, and other responsibilities that the wee hours are the only time we can sneak in some fun. (Ask me how I know.)
But while we’re taking back time for ourselves, we’re actually stealing sleep from ourselves. That’s wisdom from my friend Sation Konchellah. She’s a mental health therapist and yoga teacher—and one of my go-to people when I have questions about healthy behavior.
See also: 15 Yoga Poses to Help You Sleep Better
Why sleep is essential
“You’re actually robbing yourself of rest,” she tells me. “You’re depriving yourself of the most important wellness thing that you can do for yourself.”
I know, I know. As if I haven’t heard enough about how damaging lack of sleep is, there’s a new study that confirms that sleeplessness is actually a health hazard. Even one night of poor sleep puts you at risk of symptoms like body aches, digestive issues, and upper respiratory problems. Study participants also reported feeling angry, nervous, irritable, frustrated, and even lonely.
Another study suggests that lack of sleep ages your cells. So the rest-broken among us not only look older, but we’ll also be at risk for cancer, multiple sclerosis, and heart disease.
Awake with a vengeance
But I’m a night owl, I tell her. Always have been. She gets it; she is too. Having a late sleep schedule isn’t a problem—as long as you’re getting enough sleep overall. (That may be more or less than the proverbial eight hours of shut-eye. It varies somewhat by individual.)
Staying up late with a vengeance is where you need to check your motivations. It suggests something is out of balance.
Konchellah suggests (gently) that re-evaluate my to-do list. She’s right. It’s maddening to look at a calendar overflowing with obligations and find that there’s nothing on the schedule for me.
“A pattern of not putting ourselves first leads to resentment,” Konchellah says. And resentment causes us to act in defiance. “But revenge bedtime procrastination is a short-sighted decision.”
“In the moment, it feels like you’re doing something for yourself. It gives you a sense of control over your time,” she says. But it doesn’t take into account the long-term impact on your well-being or how you’re going to feel the next day when you roll out of bed groggy and off your game.
See also: How to Discharge Tension to Sleep Better
Take some me time
The key is to take control over our time in a healthy, constructive way. Konchellah, who is also a trained self-care consultant, encourages me to be more strategic about adding some me-time to my day. She suggests that I budget time for myself during the day so I don’t have to make withdrawals from my sleep supply.
I don’t have to do anything grand or complicated, she says. But I do have to flip my mindset. Instead of taking time for myself at night, I could feed my spirit in the morning. Rather than jumping out of bed to get cracking early, I can do a short asana practice or a few minutes of meditation first thing.
One of the things I admire about Konchellah is that she won’t hesitate to schedule a nap in the middle of the day. As a counselor, she spends hours absorbing the concerns of her clients. Carving out 30 minutes to lie down gives her a chance to regroup and reset. This seems like a good idea for anyone with a stressful job, a demanding family, or both.
As for me, I think I’ll plan a “revenge 10 minutes playing with the dog.” I tend to stay glued to my office chair for hours at a time. Stepping outside for a breath of fresh air and a quick game of fetch would give me a chance to move and stretch and get a healthy dose of puppy love. And even my workaholic nature can justify 10 minutes out of an eight (10! 12!)-hour day.
Get on a schedule
OK, once I figure out what I want to do, how do I make it stick?
Konchellah says that part takes practice. “The more you get used to caring for yourself, the more you’ll care for yourself,” she says. “You create a muscle memory of what it feels like to have a schedule that actually works for you.”
I can set aside a specific time to read the chapter, take the nap, catch up with a friend. “Schedule it just the way you would schedule an important meeting,” she says. Put it on the calendar and don’t be tempted to push it off. (That temptation may be especially acute for those of us still working from home. It’s harder to put punctuation on the end of our day, she says, but we should do our best.)
Overall, I have to practice getting out of the mindset that being constantly “on the grind” is a badge of honor. Our culture doesn’t value leisure as much as we value work; we don’t get credit for being gentle and kind to ourselves. But rest is essential for a long and healthy life. In the end, self-care is the best revenge.