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The Negative Effect Binge Watching Has on Your Health

By Paige Brettingen ; Updated April 10, 2018

Binge watching your latest Netflix obsession might mean you’ll never have to tolerate another cliffhanger. But according to new research, it might not be doing your sleep — or your health — any favors.

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That’s right, that four-hour “Game of Thrones” marathon could be massively disrupting your sleep patterns, and the more exciting the show, the worse the aftereffects.

Researchers at the University of Michigan and Leuven School for Mass Communication Research in Belgium have found that binge watching a show — which is characterized as “an excessive amount of the same TV program in one sitting” — leads to poorer sleep quality, greater fatigue and more chance of insomnia when compared to regular TV viewing. Though binge watching has yet to be scientifically quantified, the unofficial, crowdsourced definition is that four episodes at a time can be considered binge watching. So we’re pretty much all doing it, right?

Although the respondents who binge watched said they slept an average of seven hours and 37 minutes a night — which falls within the National Sleep Foundation’s recommended sleep range — the quality of their sleep was of concern.

“Bingeable TV shows have plots that keep the viewer tied to the screen. We think they become intensely involved with the content and may keep thinking about it when they want to go to sleep,” said Liese Exelmans, the study’s lead author and a researcher at the Leuven School for Mass Communication Research. “This prolongs sleep onset or, in other words, requires a longer period to ‘cool down’ before going to sleep, thus affecting sleep overall.”

In particular, TV shows that get your heart “racing” are ones that can especially affect your sleep onset and require more time to wind down before being able to fall asleep, she says.

The study found that of the 423 participants (age 18 to 25), 81 percent binge watched — a widespread and growing trend among young adults, the researchers note. Among those, men typically binge watched less than women, though their binge watching sessions were double the length of women’s.

Researchers also acknowledged that binge watching tends to be an unintentional activity; but as harmless as it may seem to watch “just one more” episode, poor sleep quality can have serious health implications that impact memory and learning ability. It can also trigger hypertension, cardiovascular disease, obesity and increased inflammation, which can then lead to diabetes and cancer.

So, by all means, take a day now and then to curl up and catch up on your favorite shows. Just don’t do it every night.

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