Everyone has their own nightly routine that they think gets them ready for sleep. For some it could be a hot cup of tea or a book, but for many of us it's television. But does watching TV before bed actually help?
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The Truth Behind How TV Affects Sleep
With the multitude of articles online on the subject, it has become deeply ingrained in society that having any kind of engagement with TV before bedtime is a bad idea. Yet, statistics from the National Sleep Foundation say that over two thirds of adults worldwide fall asleep to their favorite shows nightly and few with any repercussions on their sleep cycles whatsoever. So, what is the truth behind winding down with a little TV at the end of your day? The answer may be more complicated than the first page of Google makes it out to be. In the end it may come down to whatever helps you get your eight hours of rest the best. Let's take a look at the arguments for and against winding down with TV before bed.
The Argument Against TV Before Bedtime
One of the main reasons cited by critics of watching TV when winding down is the blue light emission from the screen inhibiting Melatonin production, the hormone responsible for lulling us off to sleep. Several studies have been done on this reduction of Melatonin due to blue light emulsion and researchers have found that it is particularly pronounced in young people. In addition, according to one study, blue light exposure is said to delay the onset of REM sleep and can effect wakefulness and energy in the morning after waking.
Another argument against watching television before bed is the cognitive stimulation caused by watching that new Netflix thriller as you are trying to nod off. This cognitive stimulation is what keeps us up saying 'one more episode,' or watching the evening news to hear the breaking story, long after we should have been asleep. Some research has shown that watching TV can be one of the most engaging activities you can participate in while sitting still which keeps your brain running and unable to wind down and rest.
In Support of TV Before Bedtime
On the flip side, a new way of thinking says that using television to sleep is relatively harmless so long as it's done with certain measures in mind. Those that give the okay to TV before bedtime cite studies on blue light emissions inhibiting Melatonin production. Though it is accepted that blue light can wreak havoc on the sleep cycle, many of the studies used to detract from using television as a sleep aid didn't actually use television in their studies at all, employing methods such as using tablets on subjects or using actual blue LEDs in order to test blue light emission. In a 2016 article from VICE, Stuart Quan, a Harvard medical physician specializing in sleep and circadian disorders, says this of studies on sleep and light emission:
"There have been studies about alcohol and drug use that look at sleep quality. I haven't seen anything about television. Most of the studies look at whether you're exposed to the light or not, but not what you're actually doing."
In fact, one of the few studies to actually make use of a television set on test subjects, done in Brazil in 2010, found that watching TV before bed had no discernible effects on sleep. In addition, the cognitive stimulation of television may not be as amplified as originally thought, especially when considered alongside activities such as using social media or reading from a tablet screen before bed. In a recent Business Insider article, Michael Breus, psychologist and sleep specialist, makes note that, along with TV sets being located further away than handheld screens, eliminating the risk of blue light exposure, listening to a rerun or lighthearted show in the background while falling asleep is far less likely to keep you awake than engaging with social media or reading from a tablet.
With all this conflicting research how do you know if it's okay to wind down with your favorite sitcom or if you should be sure all screens are powered down an hour before bed? Well, the truth is, knowing the research, knowing yourself, and making a decision on what works best for you is really the only way to ensure that you're getting enough quality rest whether or not you decide to indulge yourself with some television before bedtime or not. If you find that the blue light and stimulation from watching TV before bed is effecting your sleep patterns and keeping you from waking up and feeling energized in the morning, perhaps abstaining from your late night watching habits is best, but if you're falling asleep to old Seinfeld episodes and waking up ready to conquer your day, perhaps TV isn't the worst thing you can inflict on your sleep cycle.
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