We will start this off with a statement – Netflix is pure evil. Well, at least the binge-watching aspect of it, would you not agree? Let us discuss that phenomenon before we dive into the real subject of this post.
Binge-watching has indeed crawled its way into our culture. If you start researching the facts, you will find that Netflix subscribers watch 140 million hours of TV shows every single day. With shows like Stranger Things and Narcos, it is no wonder too. Actually, according to a Nielsen report, 361.000 people stayed up to watch the whole first season of Stranger Things back in 2016 when it was released. To top that off, further studies suggest that 70 percent of North Americans not only binge but stay up late doing that.
We get sucked into episode after episode, and we love it! Why you might be asking yourself? Engaging in an activity that’s really enjoyable – as binge-watching is – our brains start producing a lot of dopamine. Knowing how our ganglia work, dopamine is the bread and butter of internal reward systems and pleasure. Netflix simply feels good. We should keep doing this – our neurons tell us. What our brain fails to mention is that by doing so, we significantly increase the risk of sleep deprivation and all the turmoil that comes with it. To sum it up, the more we watch, the more dopamine gets produced, resulting in the cultural phenomenon we know and love as binge-watching.
Finally, we get to the million dollar questions – What does this mean for our sleeping patterns and what can we do to keep our dopamine inducing, binge-watching phenomenon at bay?
Binge-Watching and Sleep Deprivation
Seeing as how most binge-watching sessions happen during the evening hours, we often find ourselves sleep deprived. We wake up the next morning tired and exhausted after our 4-hour hour stare at the Netflix shows the night before. Doing this for a while means utterly messing up both the quality and the quantity of your sleep and circadian rhythms. As we are sure we told you before – the circadian isn’t a forgiving bunch of rhythms.
What happens when sleep deprivation hits us on our foreheads? We risk developing an array of problems ranging from physical fatigue, through impaired memory and cognition to mental health issues – anxiety and depression. Not to mention worsening our symptoms of insomnia and other underlying sleep disorders. How does all of this connect to our Netflix habits? You see, binge-watching is an excellent escape from the day to day life. It’s essentially a great stress management tool. A tough day at the office? Anxiety-inducing exam? Let’s put Black Mirror on for a few hours and decompose. What we do not count on though, is the fact that losing those precious hours of sleep to TV shows will only make the next day at the office even tougher and more stressful.
The question is – how can we change our watching habits to complement our sleep and help our sleep-deprived selves? Well, the answer is not that hard. You just need to limit the episode count! Being careful of how!
You see, proactivity is the key to a fulfilled life and it is the key for healthier Netflix binges. It is easy putting Narcos on and not caring where those evening hours fly off to. It will take a little bit of mental effort, but make a conscious decision to limit how many episodes you watch per session. You could even develop a routine of going to bed at the same time every day. That will straighten you out quickly. The only thing you have got to do next is stick to the schedule, no matter the power of a cliffhanger.
We know, we know, to resist the temptation of “watching just another one” is condemning and painful. That is precisely why you will find the following tips and tricks very useful when it comes to improving your Netflix habits and sleeping patterns.
Download a few episodes of your favorite show and block your access to the internet – this will really limit you. The next thing you could do is wait the work week out and only indulge in this guilty pleasure on the weekend – making your overall sleeping routine binge-proof.
Here is another excellent advice – Don’t engage in Netflix alone and bring some friends along for the ride. They will do wonders in holding you accountable for your decisions. There is a hidden advantage to this, as well. Having a couple of friends over means that you can stir up a great discussion about the show after each episode.
Last, but not least, keep the binge-watching confined to the living room, no matter how late you stay awake. Seriously, we can’t stress this enough. Never engage in a Netflix session from bed. The bedroom is sacred, and as such, you should use it for sleeping only. Well, sleeping and sex. On a side note, we have already established our brains do not always work in our best interests. Indulge the idea of Netflix from bed, and you will find your mind identifying it as a place for entertainment. To conclude this piece of advice, just take the time to keep your sleeping area free of any technology, noise, and light to maximize natural melatonin secretion.
The Link Between Pre-Sleep Arousal and Binge-Watching
Now that we have covered the role this cultural phenomenon plays on sleep deprivation, we have to discuss the link between pre-sleep arousal and binge-watching. The idea is quite simple, really. Researchers found that in addition to displacing sleep and affecting melatonin output, being tied up to a screen has the effect of negatively impacting our sleep through cognitive arousal. Binge-watching leads to increased activity in both the central and autonomic nervous systems, which in turn leads to prolonged sleep onset. We experience strong emotional and cognitive involvement during our time with our favorite characters. In other words, continuous exposure to exciting stories and plotlines stimulates the brain, directly affecting the time needed to fall asleep. Eyes wide open at 3 AM after a whole season of Punisher? Ring a bell, anyone?
What to do about it? For starters, manually disable the autoplay feature. Instead of letting the episodes fly one after the other, take a break in between each one. Pace around the house. Make yourself a cup of tea. Bust out your journal and reflect on the previous episode. Follow the 20/20/20 rule – for every 20 minutes of screen time, look away at something 20 meters away for 20 seconds. This will give your brain time to process information, therefore beating both the pre-sleep arousal and the infamous autoplay loop.
You are going to like the next advice since it allows you to continue binge-watching and bypass some of the pre-sleep arousals that come with it. Choose the content with utmost care. Watching Orange Is the New Black isn’t the same as watching BBC’s Planet Earth. The more dramatic the content, the more stimulated we are, the more power pre-sleep arousal has over our sleep hygiene.
Hiding Behind Blue Light
As we have tackled how sleep deprivation and pre-sleep arousal mess up our sleep hygiene, there is another subtle way our exposure to binge-watching negatively impact our sleep – blue light. What is the science behind it, exactly? Blue light is one of the brightest wavelengths on the color spectrum that our brains are susceptible to. In fact, our neurons actually perceive it as natural daylight. As a result, exposure to blue light stops melatonin activation at the right time. As we all know, melatonin is a sleep-inducing hormone solely responsible for taking us to the dreamland.
Okay, but what kind of relationship does this have with Netflix and binge-watching exactly?
You see, your screen (iPhone, TV, Laptop, you name it) this blue light and they do that very actively. Let us not forget another fact – melatonin secretion is highest during the night. Following the previously explained line of logic, the more we engage in binging, the more we suppress the melatonin activation. Netflix and blue light subtly trick our brains into thinking it is still daytime, delaying the hormone’s secretion, thus making it harder for us to fall asleep.
You want to doze off exactly when you planned to and find the solution to limit your exposure to this annoying issue? Control those blue lights! Check out of your binge-watching at least half an hour before bedtime. And no, you should not end the Netflix session only to turn to your phone and the Facebook app. That’s still hiding behind blue light!
Do you know what else you could try to counteract the negative consequences of blue light exposure if you still insist on binge-watching? Turn on the Night Shift option that comes with your device. Don’t be lazy. Check those settings. It is there. We promise. This substitutes the blue with the red lights, which are a whole lot of healthier when it comes to your beauty sleep. Which option will you choose? Blue – staying in the Matrix and living an illusion, or red – getting out and experiencing freedom? Pick wisely!
Another suggestion would be to get as much natural light as you possibly can. Go outside, especially during the daytime. Walk for a few kilometers. Preferably do that without thinking about Altered Carbon. This will make you tired enough and ready for bedtime; Netflix won’t even cross your mind.
We would take the time and tell you to give up binge-watching completely, but we know that would just repel you from our blog. Don’t blame us! We are very concerned about your sleep! Instead, we hope we gave you insight into the roles and connections between this cultural phenomenon and sleep deprivation. And if explaining how pre-sleep arousal and exposure to blue light further diminish both the quality and the quantity of our sleep makes you more careful about your binge-watching behavior, we consider our job done. Yeah, yeah, we certainly know you are still hell-bent on binge-watching instead of sleeping. That’s why we took the effort to advise and suggest all those little tips and tricks found within this post. They will undoubtedly help you in regulating your circadian rhythms and improving your sleep hygiene. The benefits of sticking by these methods are obvious, are they not? Instead of falling asleep to the 12th episode, anticipating and sweating about what happens in the next one, you whisk away to your dreams in a relaxed, calm state. There you have it, folks. With just a little bit of mental effort, you will be counting those sheep to a 100 with a smile in no time.
Co-founder of Counting Sheep and Sleepaholic