Watching a movie or your favourite TV shows before bedtime has been a night time ritual for people since television became accessible in the 60’s.
After our daily grind, the only time we get to switch off from the day and watch television is at night. For some people, they can fall asleep even without turning the TV off.
It isn't ideal to be using electronic devices right before bedtime, but watching TV at night is so ingrained in our routines so it can be difficult to resist.
In this article, we take a look at the effects of watching television before sleeping and how leaving it on at night can potentially affect your sleep quality.
Why do people enjoy watching TV at night?
With so many great TV shows and movies out there, it’s hard to resist a Netflix binge - after all, we humans are hungry for entertainment.
If you have been at school or work all day, switching on the TV screen can be a great way to relax and wind down, plus it’s the only time of the day that you can!
For others, it's a great way to bond with your loved ones, and for some watching TV is a fun family activity.
Movies and TV shows are a great form of escapism and help us wind down after a big day, but do they affect our sleep? If you’re a troubled sleeper, you might want to keep reading.
Will sleeping with the TV on affect my sleep?
The simple answer is yes, watching TV late at night can disrupt your ability to fall asleep naturally.
The light emitted from a television screen is a form of blue light, which we know isn’t great for your eyes or for sleep. Once the brain detects blue light, your melatonin production decreases.
Excessive blue light exposure has been linked to sleep deprivation and also prevents you from going through your normal circadian rhythm.
With less melatonin being produced, your body doesn't get as much deep sleep that it needs to restore your energy fully and to give you that refreshed feeling for the next day.
If you want good sleep hygiene, you should try to fall asleep in a dark and quiet environment. If you fall asleep with the TV on, it’s counterintuitive to a good night’s sleep.
The bright light emitted from television screens takes away the cognitive conditioning of the brain that a bedroom is a place for sleep.
Likewise, the sound emitted by your television can also cause difficulty for people who enjoy sleeping in a quiet environment.
Why do some people need to watch TV to fall asleep?
Your habits or rituals before bed will determine whether or not you’ll have a quality sleep.
In some cases, people fall asleep because the sound coming from the television serves as white noise, which can sometimes cancel out the brain's thought process.
Some people find it hard to sleep because of overthinking and processing thoughts and ideas in their heads, keeping them wide awake.
The ambient noise coming from the television can overlap your thoughts and cancel out the thinking process, which can help your brain be less active.
The inactivity of the brain can be relaxing and allow a person to fall asleep faster.
But that's not to say that it's a great idea, as there might be an unexpected loud noise from the TV that could jolt you awake.
Having background noise from the television can sometimes cause you to wake up in the middle of the night, which may reset your sleep cycle and lessen your sleep quality.
For some people, they enjoy keeping the TV on for the whole night as they are not comfortable sleeping in total darkness - this can be true, especially for young children.
In cases where a TV is being used as a light source, try to replace it with a night light instead and form your sleep habit around that.
How late should I stay up watching TV?
To practice good sleep hygiene and improve your sleep, it's best to stay away from artificial light at least an hour or two before sleeping. So if you go to sleep at 11pm, switch off the TV at 10pm at the latest.
Avoiding blue light-emitting devices such as smartphones, computers, and TV screens are best to allow the body to produce melatonin required for quality sleep.
Developing sleep habits such as staying in a dark, quiet room not only allows you to sleep better, but also allows your body to go through the proper stages of sleep without interruptions.
What are the alternatives to watching TV?
If you like the ambient background noise from the TV to help put you to sleep, it’s not the most effective option for a deep, long lasting snooze.
Some sleep specialists recommend the use of white noise machines or playing white noise in the background to serve as your ambient noise. The beauty of white noise machines and apps is that they produce a constant sound that would not cause any unexpected loudness that may interrupt your sleep.
As white noise may not be right for everyone, playing calming music in the background or sounds of nature can also be a helpful replacement for white noise or TV noise. There are plenty of apps available that play white noise or background sounds.
If you are going to listen to music though, it's best to avoid music with lyrics, as you may end up paying attention to the lyrics and singing along, therefore finding it more difficult to fall asleep than before.
What if I really want to watch TV at night?
We don’t want you to stop watching your favourite shows at night time, but rather be more mindful about when you watch.
Reducing your screen time can be a good option, or setting up a sleep timer for your television. You can still enjoy watching some TV before bed, while ensuring that it won't wake you up in the middle of the night.
While it's very common to sleep with the TV on, it's still not the best way for you to fall asleep naturally.
If you think that it’s affecting your sleep, looking into changing your habits and practising sleep hygiene, which will help you sleep deeper and longer.