Is it Bad to Watch TV Right Before Bed?

Fact-Checked

Using TV as a sleep aid is a fairly common practice, with about 60% of adults watching television (1) in the hour before they sleep. Watching TV before bed can be a relaxing way to unwind after a stressful day.

That said, this nightly TV habit may be doing you more harm than good. We’ll discuss the benefits and drawbacks of watching TV before bed and how you can modify your bedtime routine to help improve your sleep quality.

Are There Benefits to Watching TV Before Bed?

For many, watching TV before bed offers a much needed chance to relax. This familiar bedtime ritual adds background noise. If you’re dealing with stress, it can help you tune out the anxious chatter in your mind, a major contributor to insomnia (2).

The comfort that watching TV before bed provides contributes to its popularity. In one survey, nearly one-third of adults (3) reported using TV as a sleep aid.

What Are the Risks of Watching TV Before Bed?

Watching TV before bed may be a common way to lull yourself to sleep, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it's a healthy habit. The majority of emerging research shows that too much screen time, especially right before bed, can negatively impact your sleep quality.

Generally, using electronic devices right before falling asleep is associated with poor sleep quality and time shifting (3), a process that results in later bedtimes and later rise times. Bedtime use of media containing visual stimuli, like TV, is also associated with increased stress and fatigue (4).

We’ll take a closer look at some of the ways that falling asleep watching TV can reduce your sleep quality:

  • Late-night TV watching disrupts your internal clock. Exposure to artificial light later in the evening can disrupt your circadian rhythm and melatonin levels (5).
  • Watching TV before bed keeps you up later. A stimulating show keeps your brain alert, preventing you from falling asleep. You’re also more likely to stay up later to finish another episode, or two, or three (6).
  • Keeping the TV on overnight interrupts your sleep. If you fall asleep watching TV, you’re more likely to get woken up by the sound of a new show starting or the change in volume during a commercial break. Frequent sleep disruptions lead to poor cognitive performance during the day (7).

Not all TV viewing habits carry the same risks. You’re less likely to suffer from the above pitfalls if you turn the TV off before you go to bed, rather than falling asleep with it still on.

What About Young Children?

More and more kids have easy access to electronic devices, whether it's one of their parents’ smartphones, their own tablet, or a TV in their bedroom. With this noticeable cultural shift, it’s natural for parents to worry about the effects of their toddlers watching TV before bed.

More screen time with electronics is associated with delayed bedtime and decreased total sleep time (8) in young children. Watching TV has a similar effect. Children who have a TV in their bedroom are more likely to watch TV later at night, sleep less, and have poor sleep quality (9).

What if I Can’t Sleep Without TV?

If you’ve been falling asleep with the TV on for years, you can’t expect yourself to cut the habit in one night. It takes time to build new, healthier habits that allow you to fall asleep without the drawbacks of screen time right before bed.

Fortunately, there are many alternatives to TV. Reading offers a less stimulating but still engaging way to wind down before bed.

If you prefer the ambient sound of TV and need some form of background noise in order to fall asleep, consider listening to music, a podcast, or white noise before bed. One study found that auditory stimuli like listening to music didn’t have the same negative impact on sleep (10) as visual stimuli.

That said, if you want to watch TV before bed, try adjusting this nightly habit so it fits in with the best practices for proper sleep hygiene. Sleep hygiene means having a nightly routine and a bedroom environment that promotes consistent, uninterrupted sleep. We’ll cover a few ways you can modify your TV habits to improve your sleep hygiene.

1. Watch TV Earlier in the Evening

Screen time right before bed can detract from the quality of your sleep, but that doesn’t mean you can’t watch TV at night. Watching TV earlier is less likely to impact your sleep duration or sleep quality.

Try shifting your nightly TV watching habit to an earlier time. Take small steps at first if you’re dealing with a deeply ingrained habit. Start by turning the TV off 15 minutes before you want to fall asleep, then increase that time to 30 minutes, 60 minutes, and longer.

The most important point is to turn your TV off before falling asleep. This will help you begin to remove the association between TV and sleep that can make it feel impossible to drift off without the TV on.

2. Set an Episode Limit

When you hunker down to watch one of your favorite shows before bed, set an episode limit and stick to it. A binge-watching habit is more likely to lead to poor sleep. Limiting yourself to just one or two episodes of a show can prevent late night TV binging that prevents a full night’s sleep.

3. Keep the Volume Low

If you’re worried you might still fall asleep with the TV on, try keeping the volume on a low setting. This provides you with the comforting sound of background noise, but it is less likely to startle you awake and disrupt your sleep cycle.

4. Avoid Anything Action-Packed

Lastly, choose your bedtime TV material wisely. Avoid watching something new that’s more likely to captivate your attention and tempt you to binge through a whole season in one sitting.

You should also skip anything that's too stimulating and more likely to keep you awake. Instead, keep your bedtime viewing light and familiar.

Falling asleep watching TV isn’t the best habit for proper sleep hygiene. But with a few adjustments, you can make your nightly TV habit part of a healthier routine that follows proper sleep hygiene.

 

References

+ 10 Sources
  1. 1. Accessed on March 9, 2021.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24340291/
  2. 2. Accessed on March 5, 2021.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29797753/
  3. 3. Accessed on March 5, 2021.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25313639/
  4. 4. Accessed on March 5, 2021.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32175912/
  5. 5. Accessed on March 5, 2021.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30311830/
  6. 6.   Accessed on March 5, 2021.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28728618/
  7. 7. Accessed on March 5, 2021.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25244484/
  8. 8. Accessed on March 5, 2021.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29502749/
  9. 9. Accessed on March 5, 2021.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30987948/
  10. 10. Accessed on March 5, 2021.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32175912/

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