We’ve all done it at some point. After a long day taking part in the daily grind, your only need is to relax and wind down. So, drink in hand and feet up on the couch, you work in a TV-session before you hit the sheets. Does this sound like your nighttime routine? You might have never even given it a second thought! But did you consider the impacts of watching TV before bed? It’s for relaxation, you say, so how harmful can it really be?
Well, as it turns out, watching TV before bed is actually pretty harmful in a lot of ways. As you and two thirds of your TV-habit-peers nod off before bed every night, you increase your health risks, fall asleep later and decrease your quality of sleep.
Poor Sleep Quality/Sleep Inhibition
You might argue that your sleep quality is in no way affected by your TV-watching habits. With eyes drooping you switch your beloved entertainment station off to turn in for the night. You expect to fall asleep right away, but your brain just won’t shut down! This is most probably due to your poor pre-sleep hygiene of watching TV before bed.
Once it gets dark, our bodies produce a hormone called Melatonin. This particular hormone is what enables the human body to sleep at night and stay awake during the day. When you look at your TV and other electronic devices at nighttime, you inhibit melatonin production. As a result, you may find yourself struggling to fall asleep.
Moreover, when you do fall asleep, your body’s deep sleep and Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep is inhibited. Most of us are familiar with the REM stage of sleep. During this “dreaming” stage, your brain’s region used in learning is stimulated to enhance cognitive development. Essentially, the more REM you get, the smarter you become! Furthermore, when you enter REM sleep, your body produces the necessary proteins that it needs to function.
As a result of poor or too little of the REM sleep stage, you may find yourself feeling tired the next day. This translates into poor productivity and a dull mind during the day. In other words, watching TV before bed inhibits REM sleep, which translates into grogginess and poor concentration the next day.
The Dark Side of Blue Light
What is Blue Light?
Like all other electronic devices, TV’s emit rays of artificial or blue light. Scientists have repeatedly proven that exposure to blue light before bedtime can be directly linked to health problems.
Much like the commonly known UV light rays, blue light rays have both good and bad effects. You can find this specific type of light all around you. In fact, sunlight is the most common source of blue light in our lives. The exposure to this type of blue light is perfectly fine, since it is during the day, and comes naturally from the sun. Blue light keeps our brains awake – this is why we find it easy to stay awake during the day.
After sunlight, however, comes man-made blue light. This form of blue light is the crux of our problem. Remember the hormone Melatonin? Well, as it turns out, when your eyes are exposed to blue light your body inhibits the production of this particular hormone. The combination of blue light and other artificial light tells our bodies that it is daytime – a time to stay awake and be alert. This may be one of the biggest causes of the inability to fall asleep since the majority of people use electronic devices before bedtime.
Your Eyes and Blue Light
You see, your eyes are not very good at blocking blue light emitting from TV screens. Usually, our eyes protect the retina (back of your eye) by filtering light through the cornea and lens. In the case of blue light, all light passes through the protective barriers, right onto your retina. Essentially, prolonged exposure to blue light causes a condition called macular degeneration. This happens due to the degeneration of the retina. Macular degeneration causes blurry vision and eventually blindness. The more blue light you are exposed to, the higher your risk for contracting this disease.
In other words, watching TV at night in a dark room can eventually cause your retina to degenerate. You could lose your eyesight due to the habit of watching TV before bedtime!
Your Body and Blue Light
Blue light not only affects the eyes, but also places great strain on your body as a whole. Poor quality of sleep prevents your body from restoring itself and the chemical balance in it. This leads to health problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. A lack of sleep also causes poor immunity, resulting in being more susceptible to common diseases. Poor sleep may also affect your psychological health. This can translate into feelings of negativity that can lead to depression.
In addition to the blue light of a TV affecting REM sleep, there is the entertainment factor that may also keep you awake at night. An exciting movie or series may leave you pondering the story line, when you really should be sleeping. “Just one more episode”, you would say, but did you consider the effects too little sleep?
Just like getting poor quality sleep, too little sleep also affects your overall health, causing very similar symptoms. It is recommended for adults to manage around 7-9 hours of shut-eye every night. When you deviate from this rule, your body falls at risk of the above mentioned health problems. With too little sleep, you are less alert and may experience a decrease in productivity.
What To Do?
We’ve established that watching TV before bed is not a good idea. But what should you do instead of watching TV? After all, we are creatures of habit, and nobody likes their routines to abruptly disrupted.
Start small. Create a “tradition” in your household such as brewing a pot of tea for the family before bedtime. Take a nice warm bath or shower to set your body in a sleepy mood. When your get to bed, remember to dim the lights (keep those to the absolute minimum!), and make use of orange tinted light to keep your body in a state of falling asleep.
Whilst in bed, reflect on the day by writing in your journal. Alternatively, reach for a paperback (with a calm story line) to help you find your way to dreamland. Remember, falling asleep is a process in which your body enters a state of relaxation. Therefore, nothing in your bedtime routine should hinder this process. Most definitely not watching TV before bed!