As our days in quarantine stretch from weeks into months, we’ve all come to rely heavily on binge-watching for entertainment. A day spent curled up in a comfy blanket, watching an entire season of our favourite show while munching on a variety of snacks is something we’ve all been doing a lot more of this year.
Sounds amazing, doesn’t it? And yet, while we are all engaging in this activity that supposedly makes us happier, there has also been a pointed increase in memes and other content (which immediately go viral because we all like and share them) casually highlighting our mass depression and anxiety. Could this be linked to our binge-watching habits? Unfortunately, studies say yes.
According to a survey done by Netflix, 61% of users regularly watch two to six episodes of a show in one sitting, which suggests that our bodies are giving us positive feedback (dopamine) for this behaviour. As a result, we do it more and more. However, in a study done by the University of Toledo, binge-watchers reported higher levels of stress, anxiety and depression.
Binge-watching comes with a wide range of negative side effects on our health, including:
- Eye strain and blurred vision
- Back problems
- Sleep issues
Sleep issues is an entire category within itself, with most binge-watchers displaying a range of symptoms of insomnia, including having trouble falling asleep or waking up, experiencing a general sense of fatigue and sleep deprivation, and more. This is because how long you sleep isn’t as important as the quality of your sleep (although the two are closely linked). Binge-watching has been found to disrupt regular sleep patterns; the light emitted from our phones interferes with the production of melatonin (this helps us sleep) and negatively impacts our overall sleep cycle, leading to poor quality sleep and a consequent sense of fatigue.
A key factor when it comes to binge-watching is that most of us do it alone. In addition to the negative effect this has on our ability to socialise and maintain balanced relationships, the pairing of isolation with insomnia creates the perfect cocktail for mental health issues (like the stress, anxiety and depression mentioned earlier).
While the short term effects of binge-watching may seem trivial, they can lead to much more severe issues in the long run, including heart problems, diabetes, deep vein thrombosis and even obesity (due to the higher amounts of unhealthy snacks we consume while binge-watching, coupled with the lack of adequate exercise).
When you look at all of these health risks combined, binge-watching paints a pretty scary picture – it definitely isn’t the solution to our quarantine-induced anxiety and loneliness.
Having said that, we don’t have to give up binge-watching completely. The key lies in balancing your time, making sure your doing a variety of activities during the day and not overdosing on TV time. Setting a time limit for your binge-watching could really help you feel more in control, and force you to take a break. Balancing your TV watching with exercise and chores will also help. It might also help to make binge-watching a social event – have a buddy watch with you, and discuss the episode you watched together once it’s over. Most importantly, don’t watch TV for at least an hour before bed. This will help your body wind down properly, allowing for a good night’s sleep. Books can be a great alternative that will keep you entertained and leave your sleep cycle intact. (If you would like a few recommendations, click here.)
At the end of the day, streaming content can still be a source of relaxation and entertainment, as long as we keep a watchful eye on ourselves. Limiting our TV time and balancing it out with other activities will help us be able to enjoy ourselves without negatively affecting our health.
Alam, Danesh A. “Three Ways TV Affects Your Health”. Northwestern Medicine. Web. <https://www.nm.org/healthbeat/healthy-tips/emotional-health/binge-watching> as seen on July 16th, 2020.
Birch, Jenna. “How binge-watching is hazardous to your health”. The Washington Post. June 3rd, 2019. Web. <https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/wellness/how-binge-watching-is-hazardous-to-your-health/2019/05/31/03b0d70a-8220-11e9-bce7-40b4105f7ca0_story.html> as seen on July 16th, 2020.
Page, Danielle. “What happens to your brain when you binge-watch a TV series”. NBC News. November 5th, 2017. Web. <https://www.nbcnews.com/better/health/what-happens-your-brain-when-you-binge-watch-tv-series-ncna816991 > as seen on July 16th, 2020.
Roy, Sree. “How Binge-watching Impacts Health”. Sleep Review. April 4th, 2019. Web. <https://www.sleepreviewmag.com/sleep-health/binge-watching-impacts-health/ > as seen on July 16th, 2020.
Umesh, S, and Swarnali Bose. “Binge-Watching: A Matter of Concern?.” Indian journal of psychological medicine vol. 41,2 (2019): 182-184. doi:10.4103/IJPSYM.IJPSYM_279_18 <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6436420/ > as seen on July 16th, 2020.