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Netflix, Hulu, Amazon. The three streaming content giants have radically changed American TV-viewing habits.
Over 60 percent of young adults use streaming services as their primary method of watching television, according to research from the Pew Research Center. The trend is most pronounced among young viewers, but older demographics are catching up.
In the last 10 years, household subscriptions to streaming services have grown 450 percent. Today, there are over 200 streaming services available in the U.S, and 70 percent of us regularly binge-watch our streaming content.
Clearly, binge-watching is common. Netflix claims people enjoy it. But how is it affecting our sleep?
We surveyed over 1,300 Americans to find out.
If you watch streaming content in bed, you’re like most people.
Over 85 percent of American adults watch streaming content while they’re in bed.
How do your watch habits compare with other Americans who match your age, gender, or relationship status?
It turns out the answer is yes. Of states where we surveyed a statistically significant amount of people, residents in the following states are the most and least likely to watch streaming content from bed:
Is it a coincidence that Coloradans and Wisconsinites are less likely to stream content from bed, given that these states house some of the best cities for sleep? We think not.
While the vast majority of Americans (81.3 percent) watch less than two hours of streaming content from bed per day, an alarming 18 percent of us watch two hours or more.
Our tendency to stream for longer periods of time differs by age and gender.
When it comes to streaming services and sleep, are they friends or foes? To find out whether streaming services are a friend or enemy of sleep, we asked respondents how they felt streaming content impacted their sleep.
Only a third of adults feel like streaming content is negatively affecting their sleep, but are they getting enough sleep to begin with?
Some people know for sure that their binge-watching is negatively affecting their sleep. These are the brave souls who stay up all night just to binge-watch their favorite TV show.
Ready for even more frightening news? Many of us are willing to stay up multiple times a year to watch streaming content.
For more than half of survey respondents who pulled an all-nighter to binge-watch streaming content in the past year, it was a regular occurrence. Fourty-four percent of respondents pulled an all-nighter once a year, 35 percent did so between 2 to 5 nights a year, and a concerning 12 percent did so for more than five nights a year.
Not all streaming content is equally binge-worthy. We asked respondents which types of shows they were most likely to watch from bed.
The most popular genres of content we like to binge-watch from bed are comedies, action and adventure, and dramas.
Ours is not the first survey to review people’s streaming habits and how they impact sleep. Many academics have sought out to measure the effects of binge-watching on sleep. Unfortunately, their research supports our own findings: streaming content is no friend to sleep.
A 2017 study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine (JCSM) found that one-third of binge-viewers experience poor sleep. Likewise, 35.72 percent of our survey respondents felt that having access to streaming content contributed to them not getting enough sleep.
Specifically, the JCSM researchers found that binge-watchers experience less restful sleep and more symptoms of insomnia than their non-binge-watching peers.
We may be lying down when we watch streaming content, especially if we’re doing so from the comfort of our beds, but the research indicates that our brain and nervous system are feeling anything but relaxed. Researchers call this “pre-sleep arousal.”
People become engaged in the drama and plot line of the shows they’re watching, activating their nervous system. The effect is only heightened with dramas, thrillers, and any show that uses the element of suspense. If you remember from our survey, Action and Adventure and Dramas are two of our favorite genres we enjoy streaming from our beds.
The effect isn’t isolated to our nervous system. When we watch streaming content, we’re typically watching via a television, tablet, or smartphone device. Each one of these tech devices emits blue wavelengths of light. Unfortunately, that blue wavelength is the one our brain perceives the most intensely, and it’s also one our brain confuses for sunlight. The more you watch streaming content, the more your brain interprets what it’s seeing as daylight, so it keeps you up instead of letting you fall asleep.
This is why it’s dangerous to use streaming content as a sleep aid. You may think you’re relaxing, but your brain and body are wide awake.
Even worse, additional research suggests that streaming content hurts more than our sleep. Several studies have linked binge-watching with higher rates of loneliness and depression, poorer mental and physical health, and eight of the top causes of death in the U.S.
In a perfect world, sleep and streaming content don’t mix. If you’d like to adjust your binge-watching behavior to enjoy better sleep, follow these tips.
The absolute best way to keep streaming content from interfering with your sleep is to stop watching in your bedroom.
Your bed should be reserved for sleep and sex only. By watching TV in bed, you encourage your brain to associate your bedroom as a place for stimulating mental activity, instead of a place for relaxing and winding down to sleep.
Commit to only watching streaming content from other rooms in your house.
Remove all electronics from your bedroom. The more you can transform your bedroom into a technology-free haven for sleep, the better.
If you watch streaming content on a smartphone or tablet, enable the red-light filter whenever you watch at night. These filter out those piercing blue wavelengths that wake up our brain and trick it into thinking it’s seeing daytime instead of your favorite TV show.
If your streaming device doesn’t have a red-light filter built in, download one of these apps.
In your device settings, set your red light filter to automatically activate at a scheduled time each night. This way, you don’t have to remember to do it yourself. Plus, when you notice the colors change on your screen, you’ll know it’s time to go to bed.
Is your streaming time cutting into your sleeping time? Along with your daily appointments, schedule your sleep and TV times.
As for your binge-watching, set an appointment for TV time, or limit yourself to a set number of episodes you can watch each day.
Schedule time to catch up on streaming content during the weekends, instead of making it part of your daily or nightly routine.
Binge-watching is a difficult habit to break. Make things easier on yourself by turning off the autoplay function in your streaming service settings.
In between episodes, force yourself to take a break, even if it’s just to stand up and stretch out for a minute. This mental break may motivate you to go do something else, instead of sitting back down to watch another episode.
Before you start watching, download the number of episodes you want to watch. Then, turn off the wifi on your streaming device. Auto-play or not, when your episodes end, you won’t have anything left to watch.
To transition yourself from streaming to sleeping, turn off your streaming content at least 30 minutes before bed.
If you used to make a habit of watching streaming content right up until you fell asleep, replace binge-watching with a bedtime routine. In those 30 minutes before bed, fill your time with relaxing activities such as aromatherapy, meditation, reading, or taking a warm bath.
If you’ll be streaming content at night, make sure it’s of the less-stimulating variety. Opt for light-hearted comedies over intense dramas, so your nervous system has less to recover from during that 30 minutes before bed.
We surveyed 1,394 Americans using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. Respondents ranged in age from 18 to 80, with an average age of 34.56 percent of respondents identifying as female, and 43 percent identifying as male.
While our data does align with similar findings from the CDC regarding sleep quantity, it’s important to note that all of the data was self-reported. As a result, it’s subject to the typical biases and limitations inherent with self-reported data, such as selective memory, inaccurate estimation, and over- or under-exaggeration.
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