Are You Binge-Watching Your Way to Insomnia?

We know that spending hour after hour of couch potato time watching TV is bad for our health. Prolonged sitting raises the risk of obesity, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, stroke and even dementia. Whether you’re watching on a big-screen TV or your tablet computer, you need to take a break now and again and walk around. Or rig up a TV in front of your treadmill and get some exercise while viewing your favorites.

If watching too much TV is bad for us, does what we watch factor in as well? An intriguing new study from University of Michigan suggests that “binge watching”—viewing multiple episodes of a TV series without a break—may have a detrimental effect on sleep quality.

Not so long ago, binge watching wasn’t even an option. Networks doled out one episode per week of a program, and that was that. But now, with streaming services, on-demand cable and whole seasons of TV series ready to check out from the library, it’s possible to watch episode after episode, one after another.

The University of Michigan team studied the TV watching habits and sleep patterns of a group of college-aged people, and found that those who binge watched reported more tossing and turning at night, and more daytime fatigue than did the viewers who watched a variety of programming. For one thing, the ability to watch “just one more episode” tempts us to postpone going to bed, so we might not be getting the recommended amount of sleep.

And even if we do go to bed at a reasonable hour, said the study’s lead author Liese Exelmans, binge watching can lead to poor-quality sleep. We have trouble settling down, our heart beats harder, and we have heightened mental alertness. Exelmans explains, “Bingeable TV shows have plots that keep the viewer tied to the screen. They become intensely involved with the content, and may keep thinking about it when they want to go to sleep.”

Poor-quality sleep is linked with a host of health conditions—just about the same list that’s linked with prolonged sitting. So, though it might be tempting to have your own Game of Thrones marathon so you’ll be able to join the conversation when the final season starts, it’s best to dole out the episodes more slowly. Do some channel surfing. Switch over to I Love Lucy reruns to wind down. Or better yet, read a book before bedtime.

Source: IlluminAge reporting on a study from University of Michigan.

The information in this article is not intended to replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Talk to your doctor or a sleep specialist if you are experiencing sleep problems.