Is watching TV before bed bad for you?

For the last 4 years I followed the same routine: I would open up my laptop, go to Netflix or YouTube and then pull up a video or movie to fall asleep.  I don’t know why or how I got into this routine, but I do know that It became a habit that’s necessary for me to catch some Z’s.

When I was younger, I would watch TV for hours on end before I got tired, but now, I can easily fall asleep after the title sequence. At first, I never recognized it was a problem, but then I began reading a few articles that told me the opposite.

In a study that was conducted by the National Sleep Foundation, over 95% of Americans use some type of electronic device within an hour of falling asleep. The study also reported that 60% of Americans watch TV right before bed. If so many people are falling asleep with their TV’s on, then why is it bad?  

The NSF reported that electronic devices emit a blue LED light (a wavelength of light that comes out of most of our electronic devices) that interferes with your melatonin: a hormone that regulates your circadian rhythm.

The hypothesis is that blue light stops the production melatonin, which tells your body that it’s time to sleep.  By interfering with your melatonin, you will essentially make it harder for yourself to fall asleep, you will be more alert right before bed, and you prevent yourself from going into a deep sleep.

A large percentage of the population falls asleep with the TV on, but there’s not much research on why and the effects it may cause. According to a Michael Breus, a sleep doctor who works with insomnia suffers, the biggest problems with these studies are that they are expensive, and no one is really concerned with TV’s effect on sleep.  

Breus also said that this study may be of interest to big networks, like Netflix, to sponsor the study, but once corporate money is involved, then science vs. what will bring in ratings can become a problem to their research. Due to these limitations, doctors can only make educated guesses about the impact on TV on our sleep.

In another study, a researcher discovered that people use the TV as an escape from their life before bed. The constant stress of notifications and always staying connected causes many people to experience more stress, anxiety, and depression. When people lay down to sleep, everything that they pushed off comes back to them, causing them to experience all of these emotions at once. This is also known as autonomic arousal, a disorder that causes your heart rate to rise as you start to think about your problems more.

Watching TV before bed allows people to forget about their problems and explore another world.  Although there is no clear answer on if TV is bad before bed, it’s an outlet that helps many people relax after a long day.  It’s a gateway to focus on something other than your own life and it helps millions of people, like me, get the sleep that they need.