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Binge-Watching Is Ruining Your Sleep. These Sleep-Friendly Streaming Tips Can Help
We’ve all been there:
It’s late, and you just finished another episode of your favorite show. About 8 minutes prior, you thought to yourself, “I’ll head to bed after this episode”… but the cliffhanger you just watched has you reeling — and before you have the clarity of mind to grab the remote control and shut your TV off, the next episode loads and begins.
Before you know it, you’re three more episodes in and the urge to sleep is nothing more than a whisper in the back of your mind.
It’s an all-too-common scenario: 88% of US adults have experienced sleep deprivation because of staying up late to watch another episode of a TV show.
Let’s talk about the advent of binge-watching, how it affects your sleep and how you can sidestep the sleep disruption — without ditching your favorite characters.
Your Brain on Netflix
Binge-watching is “the activity of watching TV for extended periods of time,” according to Macmillian dictionary.
While it has always been possible to sit in front of the TV for hours at a time, the introduction of streaming services has affected our brains in unprecedented ways. Where you used to have to wait a week to see the next episode of your favorite show, you can now stream an entire new season within a day of its release.
To complicate things even further, it now takes more effort to stop watching than to keep going: streaming services automatically begin playing the next episode within seconds.
These shifts create irresistibly tempting options that are dangerously difficult to sidestep: just one more episode. Just find out what happens in the next scene. Just get past the cliffhanger.
And the worst part is, the features of streaming services are literally designed to grab your attention and keep it for as long as possible. The CEO of Netflix recently cited “sleep” as the company’s biggest enemy.
On the surface, it seems fine: your shows are designed to keep you hooked, sure… but if you’re honest, you kind of enjoy the feeling of being hooked. Is it really such a big deal?
How Late-Night TV Impacts Your Sleep
We all know binge-watching isn’t the most productive use of our time. But is it really that bad for you? According to recent studies, the answer is a resounding “yes.”
While watching 1 or 2 episodes of TV at a time has little effect, binge-watching episode after episode late into the night has been shown to be hugely detrimental to sleep.
A recent study linked binge-watching with sleep deprivation because of something called “pre-arousal.” In a nutshell, exposure to complex and intriguing narratives that span across many episodes and seasons arouses your brain, making it difficult or impossible to relax.
When your brain is in a pre-aroused state, you feel alert, excited and engaged with the characters and the plotline — and that makes it much harder for you to fall asleep (or even to choose sleep over playing the next episode).
Another compounding factor arises from the light emitted from your screen. If you’re like most people, you watch shows on a device that emits blue light, which is the brightest form of visible light. When your brain takes in this form of light, it interprets it the same way it would interpret daylight — so it stays alert instead of winding down for sleep.
The bottom line is this: when you binge-watch your favorite shows at night, you’re telling your brain in no uncertain terms that it’s a bad time to fall asleep, and that it had better stay awake and alert.
And as you can imagine, your sleep suffers when your brain isn’t on board.
How to Watch TV and Get Great Sleep
Fortunately, there are a few ways you can keep your Netflix account without it wreaking havoc on your sleep.
Here are some helpful tips:
Have a Pre-Set Limit
We know this is easier said than done, but it truly helps to set an episode limit before you start watching.
As a guideline, try to limit yourself to 1-2 episodes at a time. And to make sure you stick to it, set an alarm on your phone or schedule an important to-do right after the episode ends. Instead of “planning to binge-watch” as a way of relaxing, plan to watch a few episodes and then relax with your normal wind-down routine.
Don’t Watch Alone
A great way to hold yourself accountable to the limits you set on your TV viewing is to watch with other people.
That’s because the chances of us binge-watching go up dramatically when you watch alone. Feelings of loneliness and even depression increase, too.
So instead of watching solo, make the show a social event. Plan to watch an episode or two with some friends and then save the rest for the next night. It’s harder to let the show roll from one episode to the next in a group.
Have a Wind-Down Routine and Stick to It
One of the most important things you can do for your sleep is to have a consistent nightly routine that signals to your brain that it’s time to relax and ease into sleep.
But there’s an often-overlooked benefit of having a nightly routine as well: it serves as a pattern interrupt. It’s a lot harder to mindlessly watch episode after episode if you’re in the habit of winding down for bed at the same time each evening.
So instead of binge-watching before bed, waiting to feel sleepy, try implementing a wind-down routine that you follow each night before bed. Your routine might include activities like dimming the lights, brushing your teeth and washing your face, reading a book or magazine, drinking hot tea or doing some gentle stretches. Consider including whatever makes you feel most relaxed and ready for bed.
Over time, as you perform these same rituals, your brain will learn that sleep is soon to follow — and you’ll be less likely to thoughtlessly stay up until 2 AM.
Here's to Streaming and Snoozing
The creative storylines and incredible graphics of modern TV shows are thrilling.
It’s hard for our brains to resist the excitement of cliffhangers and following the ups and downs of characters we love — which is why many of us find ourselves watching our favorite shows well into the night.
Fortunately, as long as you’re intentional, you don’t have to stop watching your favorite shows altogether to give your sleep quality a boost.
What’s your favorite strategy for breaking the late-night Netflix trance?
(1) Exelmans, Liese MA et al. “Binge Viewing, Sleep, and the Role of Pre-Sleep Arousal." J Clin Sleep Med, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5529125/. Accessed 23 Mar. 2020.
(2) Forstmann, Delfina. “Binging on Netflix or Hulu and Its Effects on Sleep." Medium, 12 Jan. 2019, www.medium.com/@goboldfish/binging-on-netflix-or-hulu-and-its-effects-on-sleep-e94cdfbcb281
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