This article appears in the November 2017 Family magazine.
Binge-watching “Game of Thrones” or “Ozark” may seem like a good idea at the time, but not when you’re feeling like a zombie the next day. A new study has found an association between cramming in episodes of your favorite shows and your quality of sleep.
New research by the University of Michigan and the Leuven School for Mass Communication Research in Belgium found that higher binge-viewing frequency leads to poorer sleep quality, more fatigue and increased insomnia. Regular TV viewing does not.
“Our study signals that binge viewing is prevalent in young adults and that it may be harmful to their sleep,” said co-author Jan Van den Bulck, University of Michigan professor of communication studies.
About the study
Binge viewing occurs when people watch an excessive amount of the same TV program in one sitting. It’s been on the rise as more American households use streaming services and digital video recorders.
Researchers surveyed 423 adults between ages 18 and 25. They were asked 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. Binge watchers spent an average of three hours and eight minutes binging, and 52 percent said they watched three to four episodes in one sitting.
The study, which was published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, found that nearly double the amount of binge watchers reported poor sleep quality compared with others who didn’t binge-watch TV. People may have slept an appropriate amount of time, which is seven to nine hours for adults, but the quality was not always good, said Liese Exelmans, a researcher at the Leuven School for Mass Communication Research and the study’s lead author.
Just watching television before bed doesn’t have the same impact as binge-watching your favorite show, researchers found. The difference is binging on “peak TV.”
“Bingeable TV shows have plots that keep the viewer tied to the screen,” Exelmans said. “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 keep viewers thinking about the show and what will happen next as they head to bed. This can lead 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 said.
Researchers note that binge-watching frequently happens unintentionally. People get absorbed into 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,” Exelmans said.
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 said.