It’s 10 PM and I have just changed into new clothes, made some noodles and a fresh cup of coffee, and jotted down a to-do list. It’s not that I have not done anything all day and need to catch up with work, more like I’ve been so busy that I never had time to do anything for myself. Until now.
I’ve been doing this for quite some time, purposely delaying sleep late into the night for some “me time,” and now a recent tweet has given me the vocabulary to express my nighttime habit: “Revenge Bedtime Procrastination.” Apparently, a Dutch university paper had coined the term “bedtime procrastination” in 2014 to explain how our lack of self-discipline results in us failing to go to bed at the intended time. When Chinese social media added the word “revenge” (becoming 報復性熬夜), it gave the phrase the additional emotional intensity it needed and went on to spark viral threads across social media.
For years I have procrastinated on going to bed in order to salvage from my packed day some precious hours of freedom. At night, I light a candle and I write. I watch videos for an online course I have enrolled in. (Botany! Gerontology! Asian Cinema!). I read. I draw. I water my plants. I respond to texts. (All my friends who get “Hi, sorry for the late reply was busy earlier in the day!” from me at 3 AM and wonder if I am in a different time zone — now you know what’s up.)
My night life is invigorating, unrestrained, irresistible. I delight in the freedom of hours where I don’t have to respond to emails and no one is knocking at my door. The day time doesn’t belong to me; it belongs to the person that I have to be, whether it be the journalist that I am now, or the student I was in the past.
I grew up in Singapore, in what one might call a multi-generational household, except there was a void in the middle: my parents were absent often, leaving me with my grandfather and my younger brother. When I was 15, I would get up in the morning and make breakfast for them, clean my grandfather’s urine or feces from the night before, walk my dog, get my brother ready for school, and then get to class myself, all before 7:30 AM. At the end of the school day, I would have a whole host of errands: pick up toilet rolls or bread, go to the post office, cook lunch, prepare medications, wash the clothes, hang the laundry, feed the dog, walk the dog, clean the house, go through my brother’s homework with him. Then it’s dinner time and the routine repeats.
When everyone goes to bed, my body finally relaxes. Finally, I could turn inwards and check in with myself: What do I need?
When I was younger, what I needed was often to do my homework. Later in life, I would live with roommates in New York but my job, social obligations, and a boy I loved would continue to eat away at the hours of my day, so I continued this same regime at night. When everyone goes to bed, my email inbox finally stops its activity and nobody buzzes my phone. I have the capacity to think about how I was doing and ask: What can I do to be thoughtful to myself or delight myself right now?
Revenge bedtime procrastination, to me, isn’t about sitting in bed and scrolling through social media. It’s a time to be alive and live on my own terms and take joy in the hours of being me. Sometimes that means I take a really long shower and play good music. Sometimes I go to the bodega and buy myself flowers late at night and press the petals to my face while walking home, or I sit at a 24-hour coffee shop and read. Sometimes I read the articles I couldn’t read in the day, or watch the movie or video clip that was attached in a newsletter that caught my eye this morning that I haven’t had a chance to take a closer look at.
When I had a partner, this habit still came and went. Lovely as it was to fall asleep in the warm cranny of his chest, I would often go to bed with him and then slip out, easing my little body under his arm and then slipping as softly as I could out of the room. Sometimes he would smile his sweet knowing smile, perhaps thinking to himself: there she goes again, going to do her thing.
I’m not sure if “revenge” is the right word; maybe it’s more like vitality? A few hours of “me time” would do wonders for anyone who finds themselves lost in the drudge of quotidian daytime obligations. Pushing the boundaries of when you go to sleep is a way to focus, to tune out the noise. I have learnt to carve out a sacred, loving space for myself out of the silent calm of the night.
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