This article originally appeared in Sleep Retailer eNews on December 14, 2017
With so many streaming apps that allow you to binge-watch whole tv show seasons in one sitting available, indulging in a multi-hour screen-fest is all too easy. Of course, it’s no surprise that this type of activity isn’t great for you. But this study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine indicates that binge-watching has a direct correlation to decreased – and significantly poorer quality – sleep.
Defined as "watching multiple consecutive episodes of the same television show in one sitting on a screen, be it a television, laptop, computer or tablet," binge-watching is popular across age groups, but is particularly prevalent among young adults. Co-authors Liese Exelmans and Jan Van den Bulck gathered online survey responses from 423 people aged 18 to 25 years old. The survey assessed regular television viewing, binge-watching, sleep quality, fatigue, insomnia and pre-sleep arousal – a feeling of being wide awake and alert. A vast majority of respondents reported binge-watching at some point during the month, ranging from just once during the month (40%) all the way to those who binged almost nightly (7%). Given that this demographic contains a large percentage of college students, this might not be unexpected. However, this particular population is also typically known to be above average sleepers, so the fact that there’s been a shift is of particular interest to scientists. Those who reported binge-watching incurred a whopping 98% higher likelihood of poor sleep quality than those who did not identify as binge-watchers.
The TV shows in high demand these days tend to be action-packed with high engagement levels and cliffhanger endings that can easily lead people to watch another episode “just to see what happens.” According to Newsweek, “the stress of uncertainty, of not knowing what is going to happen next, produces corticotropin-releasing hormone. CRH heightens awareness and makes it harder to go to sleep. The way to relieve this stress is to, you guessed it, keep watching.” This cycle can continue to repeat itself without people consciously recognizing just how much TV they’re consuming. In fact, most respondents didn’t intend to binge-watch; about 71% of binge-viewing happened by accident.
What happens when you become more and more amped after watching hours of screened entertainment? It takes a lot longer to wind down. This delayed onset of sleep then carries on into over sleeping or, if that’s not an option, increased fatigue, which has a whole host of negative side effects, like a decrease in alertness (especially dangerous when behind the wheel) and poorer cognitive performance. Not to mention that the copious amounts of blue light emitted from our screens can mess with our circadian rhythm, making for a double whammy of sleep-related health issues.
For an entertaining explanation of some of the other dangers of binge-watching, check out this short TED video:
Given that we live in a world that embraces constant entertainment, how do we “binge responsibly?” The very phrase may sound silly, but the American Academy of SleepMedicine does offer a few commonsense tips for decreasing your risk of unintentional binging. Start by setting an episode limit before you even begin watching, being sure to take a break between each episode to get out of the auto-play loop. And of course, shutting it all down at least an hour before bed, being sure to employ some relaxation or meditation techniques to calm down your brain.
So tonight, whether you’re digging into Stranger Things or settling down to re-watch all ten seasons of Friends, make a promise to yourself to binge responsibly. And if you find yourself thinking that maybe you’ll watch “just one more episode,” just…don’t.
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