Tune Out Before Bed
I'm one of those people who doesn't have a TV. If you start talking about a cool commercial or an exciting pilot I'll probably remind you, with just a hint of smugness, that I barely even know how to use a remote. It's been that long since I owned a television set. But probe me enough and I'll finally cop to watching the occasional show or movie on my laptop via Hulu or Netflix. My favorite place to veg out and watch? In bed, natch!
Watching TV in bed is one of my guilty pleasures -- it's part of why I love staying in hotels. But TV viewing from my laptop has made it all too easy to crawl between the sheets with my favorite sitcoms and shows on demand. I may push play with the intention of watching for just 22 minutes -- the length of a half-hour show, minus the commercials -- then get sucked into a full-blown Modern Family marathon. It's happened to me more times than I'd like to admit, and chances are it's happened to you too.
That's because watching TV shows always seems like an easy escape after a long day at work. For me, it was a chance to chill out, to do nothing. But when bedtime neared after I'd watched my screen for an hour or so, one of two things would happen: I would either feel wide awake and keep watching, or I would feel wide awake and try (without much luck) to doze off. Maybe it was the action on the show; maybe it was the light from the screen. Whatever the cause, watching TV shows in bed did anything but prep me for sleep.
Luckily it didn't take a cataclysmic event to help me break this habit. I simply realized that I felt better -- and slept better -- when I skipped the pillow talk with my friends on Parks and Recreation. Now I'm back to my old habit of reading before bed, and I doze off almost as soon as I turn off the light.
Are you having a hard time kicking your TV- or Netflix-in-bed habit? Unsure of the toll it's taking? See if any of these excuses resonate with you:
But... I want to relax. "People think watching television is restful because it’s so easy to do -- you just sit on the couch and watch," says Marc Berman, Ph.D., a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Michigan. "But people get irritated and tire out afterward; they just don’t realize it." If you find yourself getting irritable after a few hours in front of the telly, it's a sure sign you're mentally taxed -- which was probably the reason you wanted to watch TV in the first place.
But... what if I watch something relaxing? "A lot of television is designed to keep you totally engaged and not let you go," says Berman. So although you may feel different while watching a documentary about the rainforest than you do when viewing an action flick, your brain is equally taxed: The shows gather all of your attention resources, thanks to the sights, sounds and information exchange. Comedy, action or drama -- they all require your full focus. And that's hard to dial down.
But... when else am I going to watch my shows? Maybe a total tube turn-off isn't completely realistic, but if you're indiscriminate in your TV viewing it may be time to set some parameters. Start by focusing on the shows you want to watch, and eliminating the programs that come on in the 30 or 60 minutes between these faves. Then, use a tool like DVR or Roku to set your own schedule for watching and to cut out all of the extras, like commercials. This will enable you to watch TV at a more optimal time, and for fewer minutes.
But... what if I watch movies instead of TV shows? Sorry to burst your bubble, but screen time is screen time, whether you're watching TV, streaming a movie or surfing online. People who have Internet access in their bedrooms tend to go to bed later and rise later, according to a study from Belgium. So it takes more than just shutting down your TV -- consider shutting down all of your gadgets earlier in the night. Your alarm clock won't sound nearly as harsh in the morning.
But... when else am I going to watch TV in my bedroom? You're worried about getting your money's worth from that new flatscreen? Healthwise, you'd be a lot better off selling your entertainment center. People who have a TV in the bedroom watch almost two hours more television than people who keep their bedrooms TV-free, according to researchers at the University of Vermont.
But... how should I pass the time between tucking in and lights out? There are a ton of options! Do a little yoga or stretching, read a book, write a couple of postcards to old friends. Just find something that helps you feel restored, not wired, and adapt it into your pre-bedtime routine.
But... I have to watch TV in bed in order to fall asleep -- and I don't watch it on my computer because I know about the blue-light issue. OK, OK, I hear what you're saying. If you're absolutely convinced that you must have the TV on in order to fall asleep and I definitely can't talk you out of it, at least try this: Set your TV's timer so the set will shut off after a selected period of time (say, half an hour). That way, the sound and flickering light won't interfere with the deep sleep you need.