How Bad Is It to Fall Asleep to the TV?

How Bad Is It to Fall Asleep to the TV?
Photo: tommaso79, Shutterstock

There are two kinds of people in the world, and I’m the kind that cannot fall asleep if a TV is playing anywhere near me. Fortunately, I married someone who feels the same way. But plenty of folks love to fall asleep with the TV on — and some 60% of Americans watch it in the hour before bed, according to one 2011 survey. So how bad is it, really, to fall asleep to a flickering screen?

Screens before bed can mean less sleep

The two biggest problems with falling asleep in front of the TV apply to any kind of screen. Whether you’re scrolling news feeds or watching TikTok videos or puzzling over one of the unlimited-play Wordle variations until the wee hours, you’re just not going to end up sleeping as much.

One reason relates to blue light and melatonin. Although the supposed dangers of blue light are overblown, any light in your eyeballs right before bed is not helping your body understand that it’s sleepytime. Our bodies naturally produce melatonin in response to darkness, so light exposure interferes with that process. Blue-blocking glasses, screen coatings, and night modes don’t really change that very much; a lit-up screen is still a lit-up screen.

The other reason is simply that if your TV show is engrossing, your brain will be too busy paying attention to be able to relax and let you sleep. Anyone who has stayed up until 3 a.m. reading “just a few more pages” of a novel that’s nearing its climactic ending knows this phenomenon well. So if the show is interesting at all, watching it is probably eating into your sleep time.

But TV can be a soothing distraction

Those are the cons. There are, however, a bunch of pros. The main one is that listening to something as you drift off to sleep can help to block out mental distractions. That’s the whole idea behind white noise as a sleep aid. Nobody says that the soundtrack to your dreams has to be white noise; any subtle, comforting sound can do the job.

There is even research to suggest that watching a familiar TV show can help us deal with stress and get back to feeling in control of our lives. That can definitely be helpful before bed, especially if your mind is racing and you’d otherwise be too anxious to sleep.

Should you choose to fall asleep to the TV, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Just ask yourself if it’s actually helping you fall asleep. Consider facing away from the screen, putting on a familiar but boring show, and using the sleep timer to make sure you won’t wake up to blaring commercials in the middle of the night.

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