If you’ve gotten into the habit of binge watching Netflix (or any other streaming video content for that matter) then you are certainly not alone. The fact that movies and television shows are so easily accessible in our lives through TVs, computers, and mobile devices means that more people than ever are taking in video content at an astounding rate!
One survey recently reported that more than 360,000 people binge-watched all 9 episodes of ‘Stranger Things’ second season on the day that it was released. Other surveys have shown that most Netflix users tend to watch between 2 and 6 episodes of a series in one sitting, often finishing an entire season within just one week.
While a majority of people report that successive watching of shows gives them positive feelings. This I no surprise since the continual watching of favorite shows releases dopamine in the brain—which is a ‘feel good’ substance. In this way, many people find that binge-watching can be a temporary stress reliever and a release for escaping the anxiety of real life.
But there may also be an underlying dark side to this popular pastime of Netflix binging. This behavior has also been linked to bouts of isolation, depression, stress, and anxiety. And as Netflix binge-watching increases in popularity, another statistic that seems to be growing is reports on people who are having problems with insomnia.
The latest studies show that around 60 million Americans are affected by insomnia. And at least 10% of adults in America have chronic insomnia, meaning that it is an ongoing problem in their lives that they may seek medical attention for.
Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder out there today, and it can be linked with a whole host of dangerous issues such as obesity, depression, car accidents, and even drug overdoses. But even the lesser issues, such as bad moods, headaches, and poor work performance, are not to be ignored. And these can all be more obvious in people who take part in binge-watching Netflix or other streaming services.
How Does Netflix Affect Your Sleep?
As scientists are considering what binge-watching can do to the brain, it is interesting to take a look at how Netflix affects your sleep. In most cases, experts agree that watching any type of continuous series of television shows (Netflix isn’t the only culprit!) can be interruptive of healthy sleep patterns.
Let’s take a look at what it is about binge-watching that hijacks sleep:
Staying Up Too Late
“Just one more episode,” we say to ourselves late into the evening. But one cliffhanger leads to another and all of the sudden it’s two o’clock in the morning. And staying up too late obviously means that you simply aren’t going to clock the hours of sleep that your body and brain need.
Electronic screens in a variety of forms can cause our brains to be all abuzz. Whether you’re watching Netflix, playing video games or looking at Facebook on your phone, the blue light from your screen cause your brain to think that it is daytime. This makes your brain think that you should be awake instead of falling asleep.
Blue light not only makes it hard for you to fall asleep at night, but also makes it difficult to stay awake and alert during the day. Your brain begins getting days and nights mixed up. And the result is a feeling akin to jet lag.
Brain Arousal Prior to Sleep
Healthy sleep habits allow your brain to relax and chill out in the evening in preparation for sleep. While watching Netflix may feel like rest because your body is doing very little, your brain is in a very different place. When you’re invested in a show, you brain connects with the feelings of the characters. Suspense in a good storyline creates nervousness, anxiety, heart pounding, attentiveness, and a general feeling of arousal. And these are the exact opposite of what your brain and body need in order to fall asleep.
So even if you don’t stay up “too late” watching Netflix, if you’re watching in the evening at all, you’re probably creating a sense of arousal that will make it harder for you to fall asleep when it’s time.
How to Reduce Binge Watching
As binge-watching releases dopamine in the brain, it has been likened to other addictive behaviors such as gambling, sex addiction, and drug use. That’s not exactly small and we would be wise to make decisions to protect ourselves from the negative impact of binging.
Here are some tips for keeping binge watching (and sleep deprivation!) to a minimum:
Change Your AutoPlay Settings
Did you know that you can set Netflix (and Hulu, Amazon, or whatever) to not play episodes without stopping? Look in the settings of your subscription to find out how to do this. Then you’ll have to make a conscious choice at the end of each episode to watch another one.
Choose Content Wisely
Reports have shown that Sci-fi, crime shows, and thrillers are the most likely to be binged so you should save those for a Saturday morning session. In the evening, pick shows that are less likely to be addictive, such as sitcom.
Don’t Binge in Bed
If you can make yourself slightly less comfortable while watching binge-worthy TV, you’re less likely to stay. Don’t put your pajamas on and get in bed with your tablet to watch ‘Bloodline’. You’ll never stop! Instead, stay in the living room while still wearing your jeans, where you’re not as likely to hunker down and have a marathon.
Stop in the Middle
It probably seems crazy, but the end of a show is the worst place to try to stop watching because there’s sure to be a cliffhanger. Instead, stop in the middle—during a lull when the action has died down. You’ll avoid the dopamine rush and can just pick up later right where you left off.
Watch with a Friend
People who watch alone have less accountability and tend to go deeper into binging. Making plans to watch with a friend means that you’re less likely to stay up into the middle of the night. When you pace yourself with a friend, it creates a more enjoyable shared experience, and you get the added benefit of anticipation.
Turn off Your Wifi
Hook your Wi-Fi up to a timer so that it turns off at the same time each night (or set an alarm to do it yourself), with ample time for your brain to wind down before going to sleep.
Although binge-watching Netflix probably isn’t the worst addiction you can have, it could end up taking over your life if you aren’t careful. Pay attention to your habits and take back the control of your life by maintaining healthy sleep habits and warding off the insomnia that can come along with binge-watching Netflix. Your brain and body will thank you!