Scientists and your average insomniac have long known that factors from stress to overly hot bedrooms to a partner's snoring can cause poor sleep.
Now, there's another item for the list, one that goes in the "life is unfair" column − because it turns out that binge-watching Netflix (your source of joy, stress reduction and water cooler conversations) can cause poor sleep and insomnia.
Netflix may have tweeted that sleep is its "greatest enemy," but in real life, it is wreaking havoc. Binge-watching Netflix, Hulu or other streaming services causes sleep deprivation, according to scientists from the University of Leuven in Belgium in a 2017 study published later in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. The researchers surveyed 423 people ages 18 to 25 and concluded that among poor sleepers, almost a third (32.6 percent) had a poor sleep quality associated with being a binge viewer.
Credit: Pawel Szpytma/Dreamstime
Credit: Pawel Szpytma/Dreamstime
Increased levels of binge-watching made the bad effects worse, including daytime fatigue and insomnia symptoms, from bad moods to a higher risk of being in a workplace accident or drowsy driving crash.
Ugh! Why would these good doctors say such things about binge-watching a series like "The Good Wife?" The science behind the findings goes beyond the obvious explanation of, "If you're watching, you're not sleeping."
Researchers found binge-watching adversely affected sleep in two areas. The first, pre-sleep arousal, may sound like an element of "The Eddy" or some other bingeable series, but it actually refers to the way the content you're watching activates your brain and body, according to Tuck.com, with a mission of "advancing better sleep."
At some point during the binge, you get invested in the show, becoming nervous about what happens next or thrilled about some relationship development.
That's great for the entertainers and great for the viewer, but not so good for prospects of a good night's sleep. Why? Those feelings don't stay in your cerebrum: They make your heart pound and your whole body become more alert. "When your body and brain are that activated, it's the opposite of the relaxation and 'shutting-off' period your body needs to induce sleep," Tuck.com noted. "Even if you're just lying there, your body feels 'on.'"
The second factor that makes binge-watching so damaging to healthy sleep is the blue light coming from the TV, phone, tablet or computer that enables binge-watching. "When your brain senses blue light from an electronic device, it perceives it as sunlight," Tuck.com explained. "As a result, it assumes it's still daytime, so it's not yet time to kick off melatonin production. Melatonin is a hormone that regulates your sleep-wake cycle. It releases at night, inducing sleep. The longer your brain delays melatonin release, the harder it is to fall asleep, and stay asleep."
Of course, you can know how the binge-watching ends (or rather doesn't end with a good night's sleep) and still crave just one more episode.
Happily, you don't have to choose between binge-watching and good sleep. "You can stream your favorite shows and movies without sacrificing the sleep you need each night," American Academy of Sleep Medicine President Ronald Chervin said. "Responsible binge-watching is the way to balance your personal entertainment with your health and well-being."
Here are tips for creating a binge-watch/sleep compromise from AASM and Tuck.com:
Adjust the light. Consider binge-watching as part of the overall light that cues your sleep-wake cycle. Spend plenty of time out in natural light, particularly early in the day, Tuck.com recommended. "This will boost your alertness so you're less tired during the day, but it will also make you sleepier by the time bedtime rolls around."
Filter the blue. When you feel the need to binge-watch, turn on your device's native red-light filter to filter out strong blue wavelengths or download an app that does it for you.
Schedule viewing and sleep time. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, essentially training your body to naturally be alert or tired at predictable times each day, Tuck.com advised. Take the same approach with binge-watching, setting a limit for how many episodes you'll watch and at what times and sticking to it.
Avoid temptation. Download only the episodes you have allowed on your schedule and then turn off the WiFi on your device so you can't sneak in a few more episodes. It's also a good idea to watch with a buddy who will help you stay accountable.
Turn off all your electronics at the same time each day. Bringing the binge-watching to a halt helps, but if you're still on the phone checking e-mail, your brain is still getting cues from blue light. Shoot for turning off electronics 60 minutes before bed.
Turn off "auto-play" in your settings. This goes for Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Video alike.
Select low-key binge content late at night. Save those juicy dramas and pulse-quickening thrillers for afternoon or sick-day sessions. Close to bed, try those restrained but amusing sitcoms that are still bingeable, like "One Day at a Time" (a Tech Junkie pick, so it's bound to be good).
Pick a good spot to binge watch. Back to that "life's unfair" theme again. Bed is the worst place to binge-watch if you're hoping to sleep well later. "Your bed should be reserved for sleep and sex only," Tuck.com noted. "The more activities you introduce to your sleep environment, the more you confuse your brain into forgetting it's a place to wind down and fall asleep. If you spend hours binge-watching, your brain may come to associate your bed as a place you lie for hours without falling asleep."
Cut the cliffhanger rush. According to Lifehacker, another way to diminish the hold of bingeable shows without sacrificing enjoyment of watching is to stop watching an episode during a lull in the action. When you choose to stop at a point that's not a cliffhanger, you minimize your chances of going for "just one more episode," and avoid the dopamine release that's so bad about encouraging insomnia. The action tends to die down in the middle of the episode or about three-quarters of the way through. Stop there and save the drama for the next viewing session.