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Why you should kick your TV out of the bedroom

It’s not only because of blue light, either.

Hand holding a TV remote in front of a blurry TV. Credit: Reviewed / Betsey Goldwasser

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The hour or two before bed might seem like the ideal time to unwind and watch some TV, but you might want to consider the boob tube’s potential impact on your sleep before you switch it on at night. The experts we spoke with say you should be cautious when it comes to TV before bed—and it’s best to keep it off altogether.

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What are the downsides to watching TV before bed?

Woman in bed with a remote in her hand, presumably watching TV.
Credit: Reviewed / Betsey Goldwasser

If you do decide to watch TV before bed, avoid scary movies and action flicks.

Unfortunately, the scientific consensus is that exposure to all screens before bed are bad for sleep. The main reason: The blue light they emit may suppress your body’s production of the sleep hormone melatonin and throw off your circadian rhythm. Once blue light hits the retina in your eyes, it sends a signal to your brain that it’s not actually nighttime and therefore not time to sleep, says Dr. Aarti Grover, medical director of the Center for Sleep Medicine at Tufts Medical Center. This causes melatonin to drop off when it should be peaking. If you’re looking at screens at night, she suggests dimming the brightness and using night mode on your phone or tablet.

“All kinds of research says that if you're looking at a screen, be it on a TV or phone, that is disruptive to sleep overall,” says Dr. Kathryn Boling, a primary care doctor at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland. Therefore, it’s best to take a break from screens for at least half an hour, ideally an hour or more, before you go to bed, says Boling. That includes your phone, iPad, and TV.

But you should also avoid leaving the TV on after you fall asleep because the sound levels might change with commercial breaks or ads, says Boling. This could disturb you in the night even if you aren’t conscious of it the next day. If you can’t break the habit of having the TV on as you drift off, at least set the device's sleep timer so it’s not droning and flashing all night long.

On the, er, bright side, TVs are usually watched at a distance which might lessen their impact on your sleep than, say, a phone, says Wendy Troxel, a senior behavioral and social scientist at the nonprofit RAND Corporation and author of Sharing the Covers; Every Couple's Guide to Better Sleep. Smaller screens can have more of a negative impact because people generally hold them closer to their face and eyes.

How does watching TV in bed impact couples?

A couple hiding behind be sheets while watching a horror movie.
Credit: Getty Images / andreusK

We have bad news for those who enjoy their late-night horror movies.

You may have heard the assertion that the bedroom should only be for sleep and sex. But don’t panic if you also enjoy some Netflix and chill on occasion—watching television before bed isn’t necessarily bad for your relationship.

“For some couples, watching a favorite show together before bedtime can be a form of bonding and a pleasant way to relax and unwind,” says Troxel. “But the key here is that the couples are watching together.”

Many couples watch their own shows on their own devices, which detracts from their ability to connect, says Troxel. Watching together also gives you the opportunity to support each other in placing a limit on when to turn off the TV.

Are some shows and movies better than others before bedtime?

Shows that are action-packed, violent, or ones with cliffhangers can be disruptive to some people’s sleep, says Troxel. Any of the above can key you up or inspire anxiety, which is the opposite of what you want when you’re winding down. It’s important to pick wisely and, if you’re watching with a partner, to be respectful of both people’s needs and sensitivities.

What can I do before bed aside from watch TV?

Try to find a relaxing activity that doesn’t involve screens in the hour before bed, says Grover.

One option is reading an old-fashioned printed book—though some e-readers may not emit blue light, any backlighting can be disruptive to your circadian rhythm. If you don’t have a book on hand, consider listening to a (non-stimulating) audiobook or podcast, or some music. For the latter, Grover suggests choosing tracks that are soothing rather than tunes that makes you feel pumped up.

You can also consider taking a bath or meditating. If you want to do away with screens altogether, a screenless mediation device like the Morphée is worth a try.

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