Watching TV or streaming your favorite show may seem like a way to relax and wind down before bed, but using TV as a sleep aid has its downsides. Research suggests that the average adult spends almost three hours per day watching TV, with viewing times being highest between 7 p.m. and 10 p.m.
Studies show that watching TV for more than two hours per day results in sleep disturbances. Screen time usage on handheld electronic devices and computers has been linked to shorter sleep duration, decreased sleep quality, insomnia, and reduced daytime functioning.
Between 2018 and 2020, screen time increased an average of 2.6 hours per week, from 25.9 hours to 28.5 hours. Because computers, phones, tablets, and TV make binge watching increasingly accessible, it’s important to understand why using them close to bedtime and while in bed can impact sleep.
What Is Binge Watching?
Binge watching is a recent phenomenon that describes watching multiple episodes of a show or TV series back-to-back. The behavior has become more popular in the last few years due to streaming platforms such as Netflix and Hulu.
Studies show that almost two-thirds of Americans binge watch regularly. While more research is needed, an increasing amount of evidence suggests that binge watching can lead to sleep problems, lack of sleep, and bedtime procrastination.
Why Watching TV in Bed May Impact Sleep
There are several reasons why watching TV in bed may impact your sleep, most of which tie back to the body’s biological clock. Your biological clock is an internal clock in your brain that regulates circadian rhythms, including your sleep-wake cycle. The circadian rhythm that affects sleep uses external cues like light and temperature to regulate feelings of sleepiness and wakefulness as well as melatonin production.
Light and sound from TVs and other technology used for binge watching can trick the brain into thinking it’s in a different part of the sleep-wake cycle.
Blue light is one type of light that emits from fluorescent and LED lights as well as from TVs, computers, tablets, and smartphones.
When you’re exposed to blue light, it signals the body to suppress melatonin production. If this happens at night when the body is supposed to naturally produce more melatonin, it may cause difficulty falling asleep and nighttime awakenings.
Environmental Light in the Living Area and Bedroom
Exposure to white light, which also contains blue light, in your living area or bedroom close to bedtime can impact your ability to go to sleep. Your eyes use light to inform your brain whether it is daytime or nighttime.
Exposure to bright light close to bedtime can make it more difficult to fall asleep because of environmental light cues that suggest it is time to be alert and a lack of melatonin production.
Noise levels play a role in the ability to fall asleep and sleep soundly. Studies suggest that having the TV on close to bedtime can increase the likelihood of having trouble falling asleep. Experts also believe that noise while sleeping can cause sleep disturbances. Therefore, falling asleep with the TV on may impact sleep quality.Shop the Best Mattresses of 2023
When to Shut Off Screens Before Bedtime
Experts recommend that you avoid handheld devices and other electronics in the 30 minutes leading up to bedtime. It’s also suggested that you limit light exposure within two hours of going to bed.
If you disconnect from your devices prior to starting your bedtime routine, you’re more likely to fall asleep faster and have more restful sleep. After shutting off your electronics, there are additional sleep hygiene steps you can take to support good quality sleep.
- Develop a consistent bedtime routine: Develop a bedtime routine where you wake and go to bed at a similar time each day. This includes being consistent with bedtimes and awakenings on weekends, holidays, and vacations.
- Practice relaxation techniques: Relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises, taking a warm bath, or reading have been shown to promote good sleep.
- Improve your sleep environment: Experts suggest keeping your sleep environment cool, dark and, if possible, free of TVs, computers, and handheld devices. Doing so will allow for more restful sleep.
- Avoid lying in bed awake: If you find yourself unable to fall asleep, do not lie awake in bed for more than 20 minutes. It’s best to avoid reaching for your phone or other electronics. Instead, experts recommend getting out of bed and doing a relaxing activity until you feel sleepy.
- Avoid alcoholic drinks before bed: Drinking alcohol can impact sleep quality and your ability to sleep through the night. It’s recommended that you limit alcohol intake close to bedtime in order to promote restful sleep.
Tips for Watching TV in Bed Without Disrupting Sleep
If omitting screen time and binge watching before bed isn’t practical, there are a handful of strategies for how you can watch your favorite show or series in bed without disrupting your sleep.
- Use blue light blocking glasses: Consider using blue light blocking glasses which can help block exposure to the blue light that comes from electronics and TVs.
- Turn down the volume on your TV: If you are going to binge watch a show or watch TV in bed, consider watching with the volume turned down. A quieter bedroom environment will decrease the likelihood of sleep disruptions.
- Use the automatic sleep timer for devices: Put an automatic turn-off timer on your TV in case you forget to turn it off before going to bed. If it turns off within a set time, it has less of a chance of impacting your sleep throughout the night. Many TV remotes or smart TVs have settings to program a sleep timer for the TV.
Set limitations for TV consumption: Set a limit on how many episodes of a show you will watch in one sitting.