Written for Doctify

Have you finished watching Mindhunter yet? How about Stranger Things? And then there’s The Sinner, Big Mouth and countless other shows on streaming services like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Video. With the rise of 24/7 streaming capabilities, people have started to embrace the habit of “binge watching” television. Not only are we consuming more TV than ever before, instead of having to wait a week (gasp) for a new episode, we simply wait for the autoplay to count down the next episode.

But what effect is this having on our health? Is our sleep being disturbed or diet ruined? Doctify asked Cognitive Behaviour Therapist, Mr Alexander Hedger about the effects of binge watching TV whether there might be a ‘sweet spot’ that balances stress reduction and mood enhancement without interfering with long term life, career and relationship goals.

What effect does excessive TV watching have on our mental health?

In general, whenever the word excessive comes up in psychology it means that something is not working correctly. If you would describe your TV use as ‘excessive’ then it may be, in which case it would be useful to explore why this is the case.

If you consider your TV use excessive, but in reality there aren’t too many overall costs to you, then you might be being overly hard on yourself. It could be useful to explore your thinking patterns more closely as there might be a wider issue around how you treat yourself or your belief systems in regards to the amount of TV use you have over a certain period of time.

Could binge watching be considered an addiction?

No, it wouldn’t be considered an addiction. This is because you are not ingesting a chemical and there is no dependency. However, it could be considered an unhelpful, or possibly compulsive behaviour. Key warning signs have not been easily defined yet but it is important to assess if your TV use is costing you anything in your life.

If there are more costs overall than benefits, this is certainly a warning sign, but TV may not be the sole contributor to the costs in your life. For example, compulsive TV bingeing will likely be a signal of a wider problem such as life stressors, depression problems and relationship problems.

Can it cause depression?

I’m not aware of any evidence that would suggest watching TV directly ’causes’ depression. However, unhelpful TV usage could certainly play a part in maintaining an episode of depression by preventing us living the type of life that gets us closer to achieving our goals.

In some situations, can binge watching actually help our stress levels?

In terms of stress, sometimes having an alternative place to focus our attention (such as TV) can be a useful exercise to gain a temporary respite from an acute stressor. However, ultimately it is about striking the balance and not using TV as a way to avoid dealing with a stressor.

Does watching TV at night affect the quality of our sleep?

Yes, watching TV usually invites us to concentrate intensely on something which is the opposite of what your body does during sleep. This stimulation will make it harder to ‘switch the mind off’ and fall into a restful sleep. Also, by watching TV, we are receiving artificial light and this can ‘confuse’ the brain into thinking it may not be time to sleep. Certain types of hormones involved in sleep (e.g. Melatonin) are partially regulated by light levels and are therefore staring at a light source can interfere with the natural balances of chemical processes that occur when our body prepares for sleep. This could increase initial insomnia (struggling to get to sleep) and also lead to more frequent waking through the night.

TV has become one of the world’s new favourite pastimes and “binge watching” is growing – especially with the advent of 24/7 streaming services. Whether we admit it or not, TV could be affecting our daily life and more importantly our sleep. If you are concerned that your TV consumption may be masking a more serious condition, you should think about seeking the advice of a specialist.

 


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