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Sleeping With the TV On: Good or Bad?

Netflix, Hulu, HBO, Amazon Prime, Showtime, and the upcoming Disney+... There’s simply too much TV. Not to mention, TVs and tablets are so lightweight and portable, you could have a TV in every room if you wish. 

When you get home from work each day, you might want to wind down by watching the latest and greatest show. Then, for some, that means taking the TV watching experience up to bed with them because there aren’t enough hours in the day to stay TV-relevant. 

Your show rolls on—all the while you drift off to sleep. Now, your TV is still on and, of course, whichever streaming platform you’re using is going to continue playing until it asks: “Are you still there?” Your TV continues to emit blue light and sound, which may be disruptive to your sleep cycle and could lead to other health consequences. 

Is Sleeping With the TV That Common?

It has become a nightly ritual for many Americans to sleep with the TV on. According to a poll done by the National Sleep Foundation, 60% of Americans watch TV right before falling asleep.1 To support their claim, an LG electronics survey found that 61% fall asleep with the TV on.2 The habit is fairly common for a couple of reasons. 

Dr. Vikas Jain, sleep medicine specialist at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital in Illinois, speculates that sleeping with the TV on has simply become a ritual for a large number of Americans. The background noise produced by TV may have the same effect as a white noise machine for people—or perhaps most people forget to turn their TV off before bed. But how much can TV affect your sleep? 

Blue Light and the Circadian Rhythm

Your circadian rhythm is the natural, internal process that regulates your sleep-wake cycle that repeats every 24 hours. The cycle can be affected by how much exposure you have to light—a crucial component of that light exposure is how much you’re exposed to during the day. Consequently, if you’re experiencing an excess of light at night, then your circadian rhythm may be hindered. 

Blue light is a particular type of visible light with a wavelength between 400-495 nanometers.3 Computers, televisions, smartphones, and tablets oftentimes emit blue light when they’re in use, which can trick the brain into thinking that it’s still daytime, essentially. When your brain is tricked into thinking it’s daytime, melatonin production may be suppressed. Melatonin is a natural hormone that your body produces to regulate your circadian rhythm. 

According to Dr. Vikas Jain, blue light may delay the time it takes to fall asleep due to its potential effect on your melatonin product. Furthermore, a TV and its varying light intensities and loud noises may impede your ability to maintain healthy sleep cycles throughout the entire night. Strobing effects and modulations in the sound are common in shows and movies—and aren’t controllable. 

Nightly Light Exposure May Lead to Weight Gain

Preliminary research done by the National Institute of Health suggests that too much light exposure at night could lead to weight gain.4 It’s important to note that these findings require further research, but they give credibility to the notion that too much blue light at night could pose health risks. 

Dale Sandler, the lead author and a scientist with the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, says: “Evolutionarily, we are supposed to be sleeping at night, in a dark place. It’s much more important than people realize for a whole variety of health reasons.”

Your circadian rhythm maintains your sleep-wake cycle, which is involved in regulating hormone production, blood pressure, and other bodily functions. If your blue light and noise exposure at night disrupts your sleep-wake cycles, those other benefits of sleep could be affected and pose health implications, such as obesity. The study found that those who reported to sleep at night in a room with a television on were about 30% more likely to become obese. 

More studies need to be done to establish the correlations between nightly blue light exposure and weight gain. However, Dr. Phyllis Zee, an expert in sleep and circadian rhythm disorders at Chicago’s Northwestern University, claims, “properly timed light should be considered as part of a healthy lifestyle along with exercise and good nutrition.”

Tips to Reducing TV Exposure at Night

Like any habit, you can train yourself to limit the amount of light you’re exposed to at night:

  • Turn the TV off an hour before you intend to fall asleep
  • Use a noise machine to produce background noise as you fall asleep
  • Read a book before bed
  • If you must use an electronic device, turn the warm light settings
  • Dim the lights in your bedroom
  • If you must fall asleep to a TV, set a timer on the TV to turn off after a certain amount of time. 

Along with properly-timed light exposure at night, it helps if your bedding is at its most comfortable. Browse our Sleep Better blog for more articles on sleep health.