Now Streaming: Binge-watching. Is it affecting your sleep?

Binge-watching. The phenomenon which has people of all ages pushing back their bedtimes in favor of watching just one more episode.  According to the latest 2017 Media Consumer Survey by Deloitte Australia, watching TV and video content on any device is the preferred entertainment activity for 59% of Australians and the majority watching content this way are binge-watching three or more consecutive TV episodes in a single sitting.

Following my most recent Netflix binge, where I devoured every episode of ‘The Sinner’ over two epic nights, I was left wide-awake, gazing at the ceiling and feeling a bit ashamed of my lack of willpower.  And I doubt I was the only one.

A new study has been published by The Journal of Clinical Sleep linking binge-watching to the quality of our sleep.  It seems this new phenomenon has less to do with our lack of willpower to stop watching and more to do with binge-worthy on-demand TV shows which are designed to keep us glued to the screen.   The unfinished plots and our need for closure keep us pressing play, and by watching multiple episodes we become more emotionally invested in the characters than watching a single episode, which gets us hooked.

Researchers of the study at The University of Michigan and Belgium’s University of Leuven surveyed the viewing habits and sleep characteristics of 423 young adults aged between 18-25 years old. Binge-watching was described as “watching multiple, consecutive episodes of the same TV-show in one sitting” and almost 80% of participants considered themselves to be regular binge-watchers with almost 20% of these having binge-watched a few times a week over the past month.

The study found that, post-binge, the participants sleep suffered. The more frequent the binge-watching, the poorer the sleep quality, which was in turn experienced via daytime fatigue and increased insomnia.  Interestingly, researchers directly linked these findings to ‘increased cognitive arousal’ at night which is the feeling of being mentally stimulated.  They also noted that binge-watching seemed to be accidental with participants having no intention of watching as much as they did when they started.

So it seems while our back-to-back evening viewing may feel relaxing at the time, it may just be having the opposite of the winding-down effect we are seeking.  I’m sure the binge-watch novelty will wear off for me, but for right now I’m not quite ready to hang up my gloves until I have tried a few more.  Next episode of Outlander starting in 8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1…..

Source: Exelmans L, Van den Bulck J. Binge viewing, sleep, and the role of pre-sleep arousal. J Clin Sleep Med. 2017;13(8):1001–1008.

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