There are few things we love more than spending an entire night (or weekend!) cozied up on the couch binge-watching our favorite shows. And our love of this activity makes sense — it’s so relaxing at the end of a long day or week to unwind with some snacks and an entire season of Friends or Stranger Things. We’d even call binge-watching a form of therapy. It truly is the perfect way to de-stress and escape into a different world for several hours. Let’s be real: The real world is kind of a scary place, so anytime we can hang out with our favorite fictional characters and forget about the terrifying real ones out there, we’re into it.
But there are clear ways that your binge-watching habit can spiral out of control, and it all has to do with how it affects your sleep. Recent studies published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine investigate how watching TV for hours on end can impact your sleep and it turns out…it’s not great.
In fact, even though more than 70 percent of us have admitted to binge-watching in the past few years — which is likely thanks to streaming services giving us our favorite shows in their entirety at our fingertips — it seems that spending hours at a time watching The Walking Dead is actually terrible for your sleep health.
Researchers from the University of Michigan and the University of Leuven in Belgium worked together to figure out how all this marathon TV watching we’re doing is impacting the amount and quality of our sleep, looking at the habits of 423 young adults between the ages of 18 and 25.
The results are staggering: While regular TV watching (less than 2 hours per day) didn’t seem to affect participants’ sleep, the average binge (about 3 hours or more) was linked to insomnia symptoms, fatigue, and poor sleep quality.
More than 80 percent of the participants considered themselves binge-watchers, with more than 20 percent admitting to binge-watching “at least a few times a week.” And around 1 in 3 participants exhibited poor sleep quality, which means they had a harder time falling asleep, staying asleep, and reported waking earlier than needed, while also exhibiting symptoms of daytime fatigue in the days after a television binge.
Why exactly does this happen? It seems it’s related to how invested we get in the ~drama~ of our favorite shows, and yikes. The authors remark, “A possible explanation might be that binge viewing leads to a stronger sense of involvement into the narrative and identification with its characters than does regular viewing.”
So basically, the more invested you are in what’s going on at Riverdale High, the more your beauty sleep will be impacted. They add, “The narrative structure that characterizes ‘bingeable’ television shows involves a larger number of more diverse storylines that extend beyond one episode, and that often intersect during a season or turn out to be connected with each other in the end.”
The researchers call this “pre-sleep arousal,” which essentially means that when you’re trying to unwind after a long day by watching multiple hours of Netflix, your brain is actually getting all kinds of fired up thanks to the content of what you’re watching. It then becomes harder for you to get the uninterrupted quality sleep that is so crucial for your overall health and well-being.
While the occasional binge-watch seems like a relatively harmless habit, you should certainly limit the amount of stimulation from screens as much as possible. Yes, this includes your TV, laptop, iPad, and phones. Quality sleep is so important for your health, and we’re not suggesting that you quit Netflix altogether (we would never!) but we do think you should check in with yourself and make it a priority to create an environment conducive to blissful sleep when you can.
Try to set reasonable limits for the amount of screen time you’re getting, especially in the evening hours, and your mind and body will thank you. Black Mirror will still be there tomorrow, we promise!