October 29, 2018
With the advent of streaming video services like Netflix and Hulu, the term “binge-watching” entered the lexicon, and the activity itself has practically become a national pastime. Binge watching refers to watching multiple episodes of a TV show in one sitting, as in “I binged the new season of Orange is the New Black this weekend.”
While watching TV or movies can be a pleasant form of escapism, we all know that too much of a good thing can be bad news. Watching TV for hours at a time, especially at the expense of sleep, is associated with a host of health problems.
Netflix recently released the results of a study on binge watching. Among their findings was the fact that about 70 percent of Americans are doing it. Not surprisingly, the shows people are most likely to mainline are fast-paced psychological thrillers, horror, and sci-fi, like Breaking Bad and American Horror Story. Crime shows, superhero shows, and “dramatic comedies,” like Orange Is the New Black, are consumed a little slower, while the least intense binge sessions center around political and historical dramas like House of Cards and Mad Men.
Perhaps the most immediately apparent negative side effect of a hearty binge watching session is its impact on your sleep. A recent study examined people who watched an average of three hours of TV before bed and found that the binge watchers were 98 percent more likely to experience sleep problems than those who only watched one episode of a show. Gorging on TV is a multi-pronged problem when it comes to sleep. Binge watching sessions are associated with higher levels of what’s called “pre-sleep arousal,” meaning that many people find it hard to fall asleep after watching an engaging show because the brain just doesn’t want to stop processing the story.
In addition, the type of light emitted by our devices, including computers, phones, and newer TVs, is on the blue end of the light spectrum, which inhibits the production of melatonin. Also, what you’re not doing before bed could be part of the problem. The brain needs time to transition from waking to sleep, and staying engaged in a TV show doesn’t allow that. It’s better to watch an episode or two and then allow time for relaxing activities, such as yoga, meditation or reading, before trying to go to sleep.
When it comes to the impact TV has on your health, binge watching can have a snowball effect. Because it can cause or contribute to sleep problems, you’ll have to deal with the effects of sleep deprivation, which even in the short term include anxiety, depressed mood, memory problems, and daytime sleepiness. In addition, sitting for several hours at a time slows down circulation and metabolism, which is why we often feel like giant sloths after devouring half a season of Game of Thrones. Habitual sedentary periods also increase the risk of serious health problems including diabetes, heart disease and cancer – even in people who exercise regularly.
Binge watching is fine once in a while, but it’s better for your body and your mind if you set guidelines for yourself and stick to them. For example, set a hard limit of two episodes per night so you don’t fall into the “just one more episode” trap. You’ll get more enjoyment out of your favorite show if watching it doesn’t make you feel like crap the next day.