Why catching up on your favourite TV show is bad for your health

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It's bad news for anyone who has spent weekends watching back-to-back episodes of their favourite television show.

Binge-viewing leads to poorer sleep quality, more fatigue and increased insomnia, while regular TV viewing does not, according to researchers at the University of Michigan and the Leuven School for Mass Communication Research in Belgium.

"Our study signals that binge viewing is prevalent in young adults and that it may be harmful to their sleep," said co-author Jan Van den Bulck, University of Michigan professor of communication studies.

Interrupted and insufficient sleep can have detrimental health outcomes such as reduced memory function and learning ability, obesity, hypertension and cardiovascular disease.

Lead author of the study and researcher at the Leuven School for Mass Communication Research, Liese Exelmans said sleep was "the fuel your body needs to keep functioning properly" and studies like theirs were important to better understanding what impacts sleep quality.

"It's very important to document the risk factors for poor sleep," she said.

"Our research suggests that binge viewing could be one of this risk factors."

They asked 423 adults, aged between 18 to 25, about sleep quality, fatigue and insomnia, as well as the frequency of binge watching programs on a TV, laptop or desktop computer over the month prior.

Of those surveyed, 81 per cent reported that they had binge-watched. Of that group, nearly 40 percent did it once during the month preceding the study. About 28 percent said they had binge-watched a few times, while 7 percent had binge-viewed almost every day during the preceding month.


And while men said they had binge-watched less frequently than women, their viewing sessions were nearly doubled that of the women surveyed.

Respondents were also asked about their sleep habits. On average, they slept seven hours and 37 minutes. But for those who binge-watched, they said they had poorer sleep quality and were more fatigued, than those who didn't binge-watch.

Exelmans said addictive storylines of the television shows also led to heightened cognitive arousal prior to sleep, which could impact sleep quality.

"Bingeable TV shows have plots that keep the viewer tied to the screen," she said.

"We think they become intensely involved with the content, and may keep thinking about it when they want to go to sleep.

"This prolongs sleep onset or, in other words, requires a longer period to 'cool down' before going to sleep, thus affecting sleep overall."

And even researchers admitted that not everyone intended to binge-watch when they sat down to catch up on an episode.

"They might not intend on watching a lot, but they end up doing so anyway," she said.