9 Tips for Beating the TV Binge and Getting Quality Sleep

Guest Contributor
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A new sleep study from the University of Michigan and Leuven School for Mass Communication Research in Belgium reaffirms what you may already know: binge-watching television leads to poor sleep. If you’ve ever awakened irritable, gritty-eyed, or sluggish after a night spent binging on The Walking Dead, you might raise a hearty “amen” at the news of the study — well, maybe after a cup or two of coffee. Binge-watching seems fun at first, but it often exacts a price on your mood, health, and wellbeing.

While the responsibility for TV binges rests on the viewer, it’s not as though anybody or anything discourages any of us from taking up the habit. Streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, CBS All Access, and Amazon Prime continue to grow in popularity, making it easy to watch almost any show, on any device, for as long as you can keep your eyes open. The situation looks no different from that of the person trying to make healthy eating choices only to come home to a gift of chocolate from a well-intentioned friend.

Still, not every person who receives the chocolate eats it in a single sitting. He or she exhibits self-control. And so can you with the following tips to curb your binge-watching and help get you back to sweet, quality sleep.

  1. Understand what motivates binge-watching. Maybe you watch a show from start to finish because you’re really hooked on it. Perhaps, though, you refuse to shut down the television, computer, or phone because of stress or sleep problems. Identify reasons for binge-watching to address them in a healthy manner.

  2. Watch shows outside the bedroom. You think watching an episode of Will and Grace or Friends while in bed will rock you to sleep like a baby, but the opposite scenario usually proves true. Looking at a screen tells your brain to stay awake rather than go to sleep. To prevent that, commit to watching your streaming content outside, and never inside, your bedroom.

  3. Hold mealtimes sacred. Lose the stream during dinner. It’ll feel awkward at first, but you’ll enjoy getting to know your spouse, partner, or kids again. Plus, turning off the screen during the meal lessens the pull toward watching “just one more episode.”

  4. Play shows during other activities. Don’t want to miss out on the latest episode of Orange is the New Black? Don’t. Watch it while you spin at the gym. You’ll get your exercise and your show in long before the day is done, and you will keep yourself productive. And if you restrict your TV watching to this time, binge-watching means more exercise, so it’ll help you curb your desire for “one more episode” that way, too.

  5. Work toward less streaming. Going cold turkey rarely works out well for anyone. Instead, aim to gradually cut down on the amount you watch. If you regularly watch three hours every evening, decrease the time in half-hour increments. Keep doing so until you reach your desired streaming level.

Similarly, you can set a time limit. If you’ve heard of the Pomodoro Technique or other time management strategies for work, adopt one of them for your favorite shows. Setting boundaries defines what healthy TV habits look like for you.

  1. Impose fines for offenses. Time limits work well once you grow accustomed to them. But starting out, you’ll likely need to either reward good behavior or fine yourself for bad behavior. The choice depends on your personality; some people respond better to rewards than to punishment.

  2. Disable autoplay. Autoplay is a gift from either angels or devils. Considering how it tends to result in binge-watching, the former looks more likely. Take heart — you can disable autoplay on Netflix by customizing your account’s playback settings.

  3. Pursue other activities. Talking through the latest episode of Game of Thrones or Star Trek: Discovery with your friends and coworkers is fun, but think of all the other activities you miss out on. The time spent binge-watching television could be put toward reading a novel, painting, or putting a puzzle together. Let your mind and body unwind in the evening by getting away from the screens, and set aside specific times to pursue other interests.

  4. Invest in some sleep tech. If you discover your binge-watching arises from stress or insomnia, try a sleep aid like the Sleep Shepherd Blue Headband to take back the night. Smart everything exists for sleep, from mattresses and pillows to pajamas and aromatherapy. If those simple solutions don’t bring the relief needed, consider talking with a counselor or licensed medical professional. They will help you find balance — and sleep — again.

If you want to quit binge-watching and sleep better, first figure out why and how you fell into the routine in the first place. You might be addicted to streaming, but you could be using the content to cope with work or relationship challenges. Once you determine the cause, use these tips to address the binge-watching behavior. They can help you take control of streaming and other aspects of your life.