We truly are living in a golden age of television. It's almost quaint to think about how many options we thought we had while channel surfing on cable TV, when now we are met with more streaming services than we can even remember. Between Netflix, Hulu, HBO, and the many other options, there are so many great TV shows to watch, that your recommendations list can seem never-ending. Plus, after a long day of work, cuddling up in front of the TV can feel like quite an enticing option. Television can be an escape from the realities of daily life, especially comfort shows that require little mental effort and allow our minds to revisit the familiar content we know and love.
But, like most things in life, too much of anything is usually a bad idea. When it comes to watching TV, it might be a good idea to press the off button long before bedtime to promote better sleep hygiene.
Is It Bad to Watch TV Before Bed?
"Evening time is when we really need to start winding down to pave the way for restorative sleep," David Perlmutter, MD, a board-certified neurologist, told POPSUGAR. "TV is a significant source of blue light. This threatens sleep by inhibiting melatonin, a hormone produced in the brain that allows us to relax." Reduced production of melatonin causes the brain to perceive blue light as daylight and notifies the body to stay awake.
Because of this, in actuality watching TV isn't actually as restful as it feels. "Multiple studies show that, despite this initial perception of relaxation, watching TV before bedtime delays bedtime, contributes to sleep debt, and decreases sleep quality," explained Carleara Weiss, PhD, MS, RN, who specializes in behavioral sleep medicine and circadian rhythms.
But just because watching TV right before bed isn't great for you doesn't mean you have to nix TV from your evening routine completely. If you still want to watch TV before bed, go for it, but try to cut yourself off after two hours, Dr. Perlmutter suggested. This time restriction is supported by a 2015 study in which researchers at Loma Linda University evaluated close to 3,000 adults and found that watching TV more than two hours a day predicted problems falling asleep, middle-of-the-night awakening, and early-morning awakening with an inability to fall asleep again. Dr. Perlmutter also recommended wearing amber-colored glasses to reduce blue-light emission.
How Can I Relax Before Bed?
Though pre-bedtime TV might seem relaxing, it's difficult for your brain to tune all that information out. Even when you fall asleep with the TV on, the brain recognizes and processes the sounds and lights coming from it. As alternatives to watching TV before bed, Dr. Weiss recommends screen-free activities such as reading, meditation, yoga, or writing a to-do list for the next day. And if you're used to your evening TV routine, she suggested "starting small by reducing TV time by 15 times each day before cutting it off completely."
"We are just beginning to recognize how sleep so powerfully influences our health," Dr. Weiss said. "A big step in the right direction is doing our best to remain healthy and taking a look at how well we are doing in the sleep department."