Binge-watching curse: just one more episode, please!

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Compulsive viewing or binge-watching has done considerable damage over the last ten years. Various studies continue to be published on the topic, but here it is approached from the perspective of sleep health. 💤

Binge-watching is watching movies and TV series night after night without being able to stop. While in the past, people went to bed to sleep or enjoy sexual activities, now couples lie in bed, holding hands for hours on end, and lose control to binge-watch their favourite series.

Since 2013, binge-watching has become one of the most popular ways to relax, especially among people aged 18–39. Gender difference regarding binge-watching is quite insignificant, the split is more or less fifty-fifty. Women tend to watch more comedies and drama series and movies, whereas men prefer science fiction and fantasy movies. Studies also show that people are more likely to binge-watch alone.

Unfortunately, this type of activity leads to isolation and a feeling of loneliness. As a result, people can become addicted to binge-watching, as they do to video games – the mechanism is similar. There is currently no good research available on whether activities such as binge-watching cause symptoms analogous to those of addictive disorders.

According to a study in which one group binge watched and another group did not, no major differences in mood were observed. The only notable difference was that the subjects of the binge-watching group had slightly higher scores on two scales – less openness and less agreeableness.

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The main negative consequence of binge-watching, among other things, is that it can affect one’s relationships with a partner or friends. Since people often actively binge-watch in the evenings, at the expense of sleep time, it can also lead to weight gain – people start eating too late which results in changes in eating habits.

Binge-watching is nevertheless cautiously observed in societies of sleep medicine because it is an activity that generally takes place in the late hours and is practised at the expense of sleep time. If a person does not go to bed on time, they become sleep deprived. The consequences of sleep deprivation are fatigue and drowsiness, also general physical exhaustion. It reduces one’s cognitive abilities and certainly affects the mood. In a polysomnographic study, the results of a patient suffering from chronic sleep deprivation show a decrease in the patient’s N3 sleep (deep or slow-wave sleep). This happens when a person has not had a long period of proper, uninterrupted sleep. N3 sleep is linked to energy restoring processes, which is why fatigue often creeps up on us during the day.

Scholars have noticed that young people often take naps during the day in order to recover from fatigue, but the naps are of wrong duration and are taken at a very wrong time. Sleeping for more than 30 minutes during the day may help to bank extra sleep in advance and delay the sleep that night, but it does not necessarily mean that late bedtime will get you enough sleep. If the melatonin level in your blood is sufficient at 10pm, it may not be so at 2am and no matter how much sleep you get the next morning, you will still be sleep deprived. It is important for a person to know their sleep chronotype, i.e. the body’s natural propensity to be asleep and awake at certain times, and how much sleep they need.

Unfortunately, physical fatigue cannot be relieved in just two or three days – it takes more time and requires a stable sleep pattern. Once you have established a steady sleep pattern and maintained it for a month, the effects of sleep deprivation may slowly start to disappear. It’s generally a good idea to set a strict rule to wake up at a certain time each day, taking a 20-minute nap before 3pm during the day, if necessary. Then, every 7 days, you need to go to bed 15 minutes earlier to see if you can sleep longer. On average, an adult person needs at least 7 hours of sleep. Personal experience suggests that this need is even higher.

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To get rid of the unhealthy habit of binge-watching, it’s good to set a daily schedule. While binge-watching is certainly an engaging form of entertainment for young people today and there’s no point of banning it entirely, it is important to set flexible boundaries. It’s best if you can bring your binge-watching a little forward in the evening and watch series more regularly, so that you don’t end up with a backlog of your favourite series and need to spend 2–3 days to quickly catch up on a huge number of episodes. For example, you could do it for 2–3 hours every day, between 7pm and 9.30pm, take a 30-minute break from the screen and then go to sleep. Of course you could also take days off from binge-watching but this is where you need to decide what is best for your health.

I recommend that if you binge-watch:

  • Watch the screen in a well-lit room, don’t sit in the dark as it’s not good for sleep, and dim the lights 1.5 hours before going to sleep – that is, according to this pattern, dim the lights at 8.30pm to go to bed at 10pm.
  • During screen-free time, do simple things: brush your teeth, make plans for the next day, read a book, listen to music, etc.
  • It’s definitely a good idea to get some physical exercise, too, and if you take a walk at a brisk pace for at least 1.5 hours, say, between 5pm and 7pm, it will definitely benefit your sleep as well.


/Kene Vernik
Psychologist and sleep counsellor

Studies mentioned in the text are based on the following sources:

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