Netflix, Hulu, and other streaming services have made binge-watching a regular part of most of our routines.
There’s something so satisfying about watching every episode of a TV show in a row rather than having to wait another week for the next episode—but is this habit actually good for us?
Research has found that binge-watching could actually have a big impact on sleep patterns. Unlike “regular” TV watching, in which you just catch one episode per sitting, binge-watching may cause issues with insomnia and low-quality sleep.
Binge-watching makes an impact
A big reason that binge-watching can disrupt sleep is the mental stimulation that comes along with watching several TV episodes in the evening. Contrary to popular belief, TV doesn’t always help your mind take a break at the end of a long day. Instead, it can make you feel more alert and awake, which can make it incredibly tough to settle down for a good night’s sleep afterward.
Binge-watching can also make it tempting to stay up later and later to catch “just one more” episode. This can lead to exhaustion the next day and an overall lack of proper rest throughout the rest of your week. Because binge-watching and the emotions it elicits (depending on whether you’re watching a comedy or drama) can be addictive, staying up late to watch more can become a regular pattern that is tough to break.
To make matters worse, research has found associations between binge-watching and anxiety, depression, and loneliness. Of course, lack of sleep has also been associated with these emotional effects, so it’s hard to tell where the lines begin and end between the adverse impact of binge-watching and the impact of the poor sleep it might cause.
Of course, general research on the negative effects of television pre-date binge-watching by decades. What’s notable, though, is that negative effects were usually found to set in after several hours of TV watching, rather than settling in for just one episode—which is exactly what the binge-watching phenomenon encourages.
Glowing screens can ruin your sleep
Whether your screen of choice is a computer, television, tablet, or smartphone, it can make a dent in your ability to get proper rest. Glowing screens give off blue light, which can interfere with our sleep, especially if we’re exposed to it within about two hours before bedtime. Blue light can disrupt our body’s internal clock and make us feel more alert. This makes it hard to fall asleep and leaves you feeling extra tired when you wake.
If you’re going to binge-watch at night, check to see if your electronic device has a “night mode” setting. These settings can switch up the lighting of your device in evening hours so you’re not exposed to as much sleep-disrupting blue light.
Here’s how to protect your sleep:
If you love your evening TV, there are a few small changes you can make to help protect the quality of your sleep.
- Decide how long you’ll watch before you press “play”
Set a time limit for yourself long before you get absorbed into the world of your favorite characters. Ideally, you’ll only want to watch one or two episodes. Make plans at the end of your viewing session so you’ll be forced to stop when the time is up, or even consider setting an alarm.
- Invite a friend to watch with you
When you watch TV with friends, partners, or family members, you’re a lot less likely to get away with streaming episode after episode for hours on end. It’s a lot more likely that one of you will recognize that you’ve been watching for far too long and be the voice of reason. Even if you do end up binging for too many hours, having someone to discuss each episode with help limit some of the adverse emotional effects of sitting in front of a TV alone for hours.
- Move while watching
Excessive TV watching has been linked to increased risk of death, as well as increased risk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and depression. Experts believe this is mainly because of the sedentary behavior TV encourages. Because of this, consider doing some simple exercises in front of your couch while you watch. A few leg lifts, stretches, or sit-ups while watching is a great way to do something healthy for yourself while still enjoying your favorite show.
- Break up your viewing marathons
If you’re set on spending a full afternoon binge-watching, break up long stretches of viewing with errands or plans. In between episodes, take a long walk, drop by the farmer’s market, or call a friend. Anything that brings you back to life beyond the screen and gives your mind a chance to reset is an excellent start.
There’s nothing wrong with loving a great TV show, but it’s all about balance. Feel free to kick back and relax in front of your favorite show, but don’t forget to protect your sleep in the process!