Who can resist watching episode after episode of Game of Thrones or Breaking Bad? What about James Corden on YouTube? I for one count myself among the thousands (millions?) addicted to binge watching.
BINGE WATCHING AND SLEEP
However, research on our appetite for immediate and unlimited access to media content has suggested it may result in difficulty sleeping. The data indicate that what matters is not just total TV watching time but the quantity of time in front of the screen in one sitting. What constitutes binge watching varies but watching 3 or more episodes would be considered a binge. Apparently, many of us binge watch and don’t even realize it. According to surveys of binge watching up to 70% of young adults binge watch.
Surveys of binge watchers, report insomnia, daytime fatigue, and poor sleep quality. It is important to note that not all binge watchers report this association. The authors of the study suggest there may be a group of binge watchers that have been desensitized to the arousal that often occurs with binge watching.
WHY IS BINGE WATCHING DIFFERENT?
The proposed difference between binge watching and typical TV viewing is a type of immersion that invokes more intense emotional and cognitive engagement, that is, we think about them more after viewing. This prolongs sleep onset and requires a longer “cool down” period.
This research is new and needs to be replicated to clarify cause and effect. For example, does binge watching lead to insomnia or does insomnia lead to binge watching? In other words, could people with insomnia binge watch because they are simply up at night with nothing else to do.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
If you are having poor sleep quality, insomnia symptoms, or daytime fatigue you may want to monitor your screen time more closely and become aware of excessive binge watching. In other words, if you are already having trouble falling asleep you should consider avoiding spending endless hours in front of your screen of choice late at night.
If you want to monitor your media consumption more closely you may even, consider using one the smartphone apps available now.
You may want to introduce a more relaxing environment before bed. These could include mindfulness and various relaxation techniques. You could consider listening to relaxing nature sounds or music. Some of these resources can be enjoyed for free.
Eric Dec, MD and Adrian Vilalta, PhD
Exelmans, L., Van de Bulck, J. Binge viewing, sleep and the role of pre-sleep arousal. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, vol. 13, number 8, 2017.