Binge Watching TV Disrupts Sleep By Increasing Cognitive Arousal Functions

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Researchers believe that binge watching habits can lead to fatigue, insomnia, anxiety, and depression.
Researchers believe that binge watching habits can lead to fatigue, insomnia, anxiety, and depression.

Remember when you had to wait from one week to the next to find out what would happen on your favorite television show? You contemplated with your friends and co-workers about what might happen next to your favorite characters. Now, you can turn to Netflix for your favorite show and watch the complete season in a day, if you are a devoted binge watcher. However, there is evidence that this behavior could lead to poor sleep.

University of Michigan researchers performed a regression analysis of 423 adults and their television viewing habits.1 Over 80% of the participants binge watched television at least a few times a week over the course of a month. Of those, over 32% said that they felt that binge watching television caused them to have poor sleep quality.

The more that they binge watched, the higher the fatigue and symptoms of insomnia. Regular television viewing did not seem to cause a problem. Watching multiple episodes at a time leaves the viewer to think about the show longer compared with watching 1 episode. The viewer then needs longer to “cool down” before going to sleep.

About 63% of Americans now use a streaming device or digital recorder to watch television programs. About 70% of viewers between 13 and 49 years of age say they binge watch at least occasionally. Research indicates that these habits can lead to increased anxiety, depression, and fatigue. Screen time affects sleep through its effect on pre-sleep arousal.  Research has shown that playing video games causes increased activity in the central and autonomic nervous systems, and this new evidence shows that binge watching television may do the same.

Whether it is binge watching or regular television viewing, watching television before bed may affect sleep. The intensity of the show we are watching, the amount of time spent in front of the screen, or the light produced in the room, can all affect sleep.  When assessing someone who has difficulty falling asleep, be sure to ask about their television viewing habits. When I have patients with significant difficulties falling asleep, I suggest trying other activities such as reading to help ease them into slumber.

Sharon M. O'Brien, MPAS, PA-C, is a practicing physician assistant and health coach in Asheville, NC. 

Reference

  1. Exelmans L, Van den Bulck J. Binge viewing, sleep, and the role of pre-sleep arousal. J Clin Sleep Med. 2017:13(8):1001-1008.

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