Snooze University
Tools

Why Do You Fall Asleep When Reading or Watching TV? (3 Reasons)

by Dale Cudmore | Updated: Mar 02, 2022

It’s fairly common to feel sleepy while reading or watching TV.

However, it can result in unwanted naps that interfere with sleeping at night, or lower sleep quality that interferes with your energy the next day.

Falling asleep in these situations can mess up your sleep schedule, and sleeping outside your bed can end up being uncomfortable and even giving you unexpected soreness.

So even if you’re tempted to use TV or books to fall asleep, it can backfire. Understanding why they work can help you find a better alternative, which is what we’ll look at here.

The 3 Main Causes of Sleepiness While Reading or Watching TV

There are 3 potential reasons that these activities can make you sleepy, but they may not all apply depending on the situation.

TV and Even Books Can Function as White Noise

The most common problem that prevents people from sleeping is having a racing mind, typically due to anxiety.

In modern life, your conscious mind is always busy thinking about things you need or want to do, and how to solve problems in your life (e.g. financial, relationships).

The noise of TV and your inner voice from reading essentially distracts and quiets the conscious mind.

It gives your mind something simple to focus on that also doesn't take a ton of attention so it’s not stimulating.

Now here’s the important part: The reason this makes a lot of people sleepy is because they’re tired to begin with. Once the conscious mind is distracted, the subconscious can finally do what it wants, which is often to put you to sleep.

Watching TV and Reading Both Help You Relax

This can vary based on what you’re watching or reading, but in general, both these activities are relaxing.

You can get comfortable on a chair or couch, forget about any stress you have in your life, and just relax without much effort.

You Associate Reading or Watching TV With Sleep (It Becomes a Habit)

Most people get up and go to school or work, then come home and take care of any activities or chores that need to be done.

It’s extremely common to then read or watch TV for a while before going to bed.

Over time, your brain associates these activities with going to sleep, so it’s possible to feel sleepy even while reading or watching TV during the day.

Is It Bad to Fall Asleep While Reading or Watching TV?

Other than some discomfort or messing up your sleep schedule, is it really that bad to fall asleep during these activities?

In most cases it’s not too bad, but there are some side effects.

Most studies show that watching TV before bed can lower sleep quality and lead to more fatigue during the following day. This may be from the blue light emitted from the screen, or unexpected sudden noises you hear.

Falling asleep while reading is less of a concern, as the screen (if you’re reading on a tablet) should shut off by itself unless you’ve disabled it for some reason.

Better Alternatives to TV to Fall Asleep

If you’re relying on TV to get to sleep, there are better alternatives that will help you get to sleep while also letting you have high quality sleep.

The biggest things to avoid are:

  • Blue light (and light in general)
  • Sudden noises

In the short term, you can try a white noise machine (or app), which will give you background noise, but no sudden noises that will cause your brain to become more alert.

In the long term, you can work on becoming more mindful to learn how to keep thoughts from spiraling out of control. This is most commonly done through meditation.

You may also benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) if you find that you have high levels of anxiety while trying to sleep.

What If You Don’t Want to Fall Asleep While Reading or Watching Something?

As someone who’s fallen asleep while studying, it’s not ideal to get sleepy while reading.

There are a few things you can do to discourage this:

  • Stop reading or watching TV always before bed - This will break any habits that have built up.
  • Do it in a less comfortable position - Reading on a stiff chair at a table is much less comfortable that lying down on a couch.
  • Take occasional breaks to look around - Staring at a book or screen can have an almost hypnotic effect over time. Taking just 20 seconds every 20 minutes or so to look around can re-energize you and reduce eye strain.

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.