Seconds tick off to watch yet another TV episode, tempting viewers immersed in what happens next.
Binge-watched shows on streaming services such as Netflix are often popular for that reason: Complex narrative, intense character development and emotional story lines running across multiple episodes.
For teens and young adults, researchers now are linking such binge-watching to sleep issues because of cognitive alertness, meaning individuals keep thinking about a show or can’t “cool down” for slumber, a recent study says.
“The narrative complexity in these shows leaves viewers thinking about episodes and their sequel after viewing them,” said co-authors of the study, “Binge Viewing, Sleep, and the Role of Pre-Sleep Arousal.” It was published this past August in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.
“This prolongs sleep onset or, in other words, requires a longer period to ‘cool down’ before going to sleep.”
The survey included 423 respondents ages 18-25 in 2016. More than 80 percent identified themselves as binge-watchers. For the study, binge-watching was defined as watching multiple consecutive episodes of the same TV show in one sitting, be it on a TV, laptop, computer or tablet.
An average binge-watching session lasted three hours and eight minutes, with 52 percent of the binge-watchers viewing three to four episodes in one sitting.
Binge-watchers had a 98 percent higher likelihood of having poor sleep quality, compared with respondents who didn’t consider themselves to be binge-watchers, researchers said.
Devon Grant, a Spokane sleep researcher, wasn’t involved in the study but agrees that teens and young adults are more susceptible to experiencing trouble falling asleep after binge-watching an intense show. It’s something parents can help monitor.
“You can image if you’re watching something that’s emotionally charged, good or bad, you are going to have a difficult time winding down and creating a good buffer zone to go to bed,” said Grant, with the Washington State University Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine’s Sleep and Performance Research Lab.
She said intense binge-watched shows tend to affect individuals much like an emotional conversation with family or friends would, in that the person who has gone to bed in a quiet room continues to process what happened.
“They’re not watching really happy-go-lucky ‘Friends’-type episodes,” Grant added. “They’re watching ‘13 Reasons Why,’ or they’re watching really intense dramatic shows that do their job in that they’re creating a reaction in you.
“Teenagers aren’t emotionally developed as much as say an adult, so it may be more difficult for them to really process or try to diffuse what they are watching and make sense of the interaction they’ve had.”
Exceptions exist, she added, because some people sleep just fine if they stay up late and watch a show on occasion. Content of a movie or TV episodes is a consideration, depending on intensity, and if parents are in the picture, they can help.
“Parents might need to remove technology from the bedroom,” she said. “Parents can make sure technology is turned off and not available at least an hour before bedtime.”
The sleep academy also offers tips around watching shows and getting a better night’s rest. Some include setting a limit on the number of episodes and taking breaks between segments.
Many people who view multiple shows in one sitting can access that entertainment through digital recorders, streaming services and internet downloads, the study said. About 63 percent of American households use an online streaming service, according to researchers.
The AASM claims the recent study is the first to analyze binge-watching’s effect on sleep quality, fatigue and insomnia.
“We found that the more often young people binge-watch, the higher their cognitive pre-sleep arousal,” said the study’s lead author, Liese Exelmans, in a news release. She is a doctoral candidate in the School for Mass Communication Research at the University of Leaven in Belgium.
“That in turn negatively affected sleep quality, fatigue and insomnia.”
The study’s co-author is Jan Van den Bulck, a professor in the Department of Communications Studies at the University of Michigan.
Among the respondents, 62 percent were women, and 74 percent were students. All the study participants were Belgians. They completed an online survey assessing their television viewing, any binge-watching, sleep quality, fatigue, insomnia and pre-sleep alertness.
Researchers focused on studying young adults because they’re often considered to be the most avid binge viewers.
Sleep researchers also suggest people try to relax or meditate before bedtime, eliminate distractions and create a soothing nightly routine as part of a natural transition to slumber.
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