Binge-watching your favorite show could be ruining your sleep and leaving you exhausted the next day.
“Our study signals that binge-viewing is prevalent in young adults and that it may be harmful to their sleep,” says Jan Van den Bulck, professor of communication studies at the University of Michigan and lead author of a new study that appears in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.
Binge-viewing—in which people watch several episodes of the same TV program in one sitting—is on the rise as more American households use streaming services and DVRs.
Researchers surveyed 423 adults between the ages of 18 to 25 in February 2016, asking about sleep quality, fatigue, and insomnia, as well as the frequency of binge-watching programs on a TV, laptop, or desktop computer for the last month.
Most of participants (81 percent) reported that they had binge-watched. Of that group, nearly 40 percent did it once during the month preceding the study, while 28 percent said they did it a few times. About 7 percent had binge-viewed almost every day during the preceding month. Men binge-watched less frequently than women, but when they did, they watched for nearly twice the time.
Respondents indicated they slept, on average, seven hours and 37 minutes. Those who binge-viewed reported more fatigue and less sleep quality compared to those who didn’t binge-watch.
People might sleep an appropriate amount of time (seven to nine hours for adults), but the quality is not always good, says lead author Liese Exelmans, a researcher at the Leuven School for Mass Communication Research.
“These students have flexible daytime schedules. Chances are they are compensating for lost sleep by sleeping in.”
Further, the study shows that increased cognitive arousal prior to sleep (i.e., being mentally alert) is the mechanism explaining the effects of binge-viewing on sleep quality.
“Bingeable TV shows have plots that keep the viewer tied to the screen,” Exelmans says. “We think they become intensely involved with the content, and may keep thinking about it when they want to go to sleep.”
A racing heart, or one that beats irregularly, and being mentally alert can create arousal (or pre-sleep arousal) when a person tries to fall asleep, leading to poor sleep quality after binge-viewing.
“This prolongs sleep onset or, in other words, requires a longer period to ‘cool down’ before going to sleep, thus affecting sleep overall,” Exelmans says.
Binge-watching can happen unintentionally, researchers say. People get absorbed in their shows, watch “just one more episode,” and fail to go to bed in a timely manner. “They might not intend on watching a lot, but they end up doing so anyway,” she says.
Sleep insufficiency has been connected to physical and mental health consequences, including reduced memory function and learning ability, obesity, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease.
“Basically, sleep is the fuel your body needs to keep functioning properly,” Exelmans says. “Based on that research, it’s very important to document the risk factors for poor sleep. Our research suggests that binge-viewing could be one of these risk factors.”