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Is It Bad to Watch TV Before Bed? (Research-Backed)

by Dale Cudmore | Updated: Jul 13, 2021

Many people watch TV before going to sleep.

Many people also have sleep issues.

Is it just a coincidence, or does TV have an effect on sleep quality?

While there’s not much experimental data on this topic, there’s enough correlational data to get a good idea of the effect watching TV has on sleep.

Do People Think That It’s Bad to Watch TV Before Sleep?

A questionnaire was sent out to adolescent students to find out more about their sleep habits (1).

Students were asked about the things they thought were good for getting to sleep, and the things they thought made getting to sleep harder.

Watching TV was right near the top on both lists, which can’t be correct in this context.

It explains a part of why students are likely to have insomnia.

The Effect of Watching TV in Bed on Sleep Quality

Research clearly shows that watching TV in bed is associated with poor sleep quality:

  • A study of medical students found that time spent watching TV in bed led to significant reductions in sleep duration and overall sleep quality score, and increased daytime dysfunction (2).
  • A study of college students found that in-bed media use of any kind (TV, phone, computer) was associated with insomnia (3).
  • In school children, both daily television viewing amounts and increased television viewing at bedtime were correlated with sleep disturbances. The effect was even worse with a TV set in the child’s room (4).
  • In preschool children, the mere presence of a TV in a child’s bedroom was associated with lower quality sleep (5).

SummaryWhile it would be nice to have interventional studies, these results still paint a pretty clear picture that watching TV at night negatively impacts sleep.

Is It Bad if The TV Continues to Run?

Some people fall asleep with the TV still running, and this could be even worse.

ICU patients are well-known to have poor sleep due to the noise and lighting of the environment. One study found that television was one of the major contributors of noise that disrupts sleep (6).

SummarySo while it’s far from certain, it’s possible that having a TV running in the background while sleeping lowers sleep quality.

Why Is It Bad to Watch TV Before Bed?

The main reasons that watching TV or using any media device before going to sleep is bad are:

  • Blue light - Blue light is a specific range of light frequencies that stimulates arousal in people, and screens emit quite a bit of it. See how blue light causes insomnia for more detail.
  • Stimulation - Some shows are nice and relaxing, while thrillers or dramas can leave you on the edge of your seat. Depending on what you watch, a show might leave you more stimulated and less ready to enter sleep than when you began.

How to Lessen The Impact of Watching TV Before Sleeping

While it would be ideal to not watch any TV for your sleep hygiene, that’s not realistic for most people.

But there are some things you can do so that watching TV doesn’t impact sleep quality as much:

  • Use a blue light blocking mode - Many modern TVs have a nighttime viewing mode that limits blue light emissions. This is similar to computer programs like fluxor Windows’ Night light.
  • Use blue light blocking glasses - You can get a relatively cheap pair of glasses that block most blue light. These are proven to reduce the negative impact of using screens at night.
  • Don’t watch TV in bed - At the very least, watch it in another room so that you don’t associate your bed with stimulating activities.

Summary: Watching TV Before Bed

While many people might think that watching TV helps them sleep, it lowers sleep quality in the majority of people.

There’s a clear link between watching TV before bed and lower sleep quality (sleep duration and disturbances).

If you need to watch TV at night, don’t do it in bed. Additionally, try to stick to “boring” shows that won’t stimulate your mind, and reduce blue light through the methods we looked at above.

References

  1. Adolescents’ Sleep Behaviors and Perceptions of Sleep
  2. Association Between Sleep Hygiene and Sleep Quality in Medical Students
  3. The Association Between Use of Electronic Media in Bed Before Going to Sleep and Insomnia Symptoms, Daytime Sleepiness, Morningness, and Chronotype
  4. Television-viewing Habits and Sleep Disturbance in School Children
  5. Impact of television on the quality of sleep in preschool children
  6. Identification and modification of environmental noise in an ICU setting

Medical Disclaimer: The information on SnoozeUniversity.com is not intended to be a substitute for physician or other qualified care. We simply aim to inform people struggling with sleep issues about the nature of their condition and/or prescribed treatment.


About the authorDale is the founder of Snooze University and a sleep researcher. I overcame my sleep issues and now I'd like to help you do the same by summarizing the latest sleep studies for you.