Watching TV in Bed: The Common Habit that Spoils your Sleep

Do you watch TV before going to bed? Odds are, you do. According to the 2011 Sleep in America poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation1

  • 95% of people use an electronic device within an hour of their bedtime. 
  • 2/3 of people aged 30-64 and half of people aged 13-29 watch TV within an hour of going to bed almost every night. 

Though many people use television as a way to relax before nodding off, falling asleep to your TV can actually be damaging to your sleep quality. Learn why, and how you can catch up on the latest Game of Thrones episodes without compromising your night of sleep. 

Turn off the TV Before Bed

There are a couple main reasons watching the tube at night can damage your sleep quality. 

Reason #1: Blue Light

The artificial light emitted by your TV screen contains a high proportion of blue light. This blue light blocks melatonin production and interferes with your circadian rhythms, essentially telling your brain it’s time to be alert and awake. This can make it harder to fall asleep and make you more restless when you finally do. Learn more about why blue light is bad for your sleep.

Plus, leaving even dim lights on while you’re sleeping, such as the light emitted by a running TV screen, could have negative mental effects. A study2 conducted at Ohio State University found that when hamsters were exposed to constant dim light, they showed symptoms indicative of depression and their sleep-wake cycles were disturbed.

Our bodies are evolved to respond to darkness at night, so make sure you turn off the lights when it’s time to sleep!

Reason #2: Peak Noises

If you fall asleep to the television running in the background, you’re going to be getting quite a bit of background noise that could also wake you up. While we are asleep, our brains continue to register sounds on a basic level, meaning that excess nighttime noise can be disruptive. When sounds as commonplace as birdcalls, or even a familiar din such as a bustling city, can sometimes wake us up, the high-volume audio of some TV shows are sure to upset our sleep. 

Why is TV especially disruptive, as opposed to background noises like a fan or even music? The answer lies in the distinction between regular background noise and disruptive “peak” sounds. Background noise can actually be beneficial by reducing the difference between ambient noise and startling, higher-volume blasts. The constant variation in television audio means that “peak” sounds–like a clapping audience, a soap opera shouting match, or a fight scene in a mystery drama–are much more common.

Tips to Keep the TV From Ruining Your Sleep

If you’re worried that your television habit could be compromising your sleep quality, there are some good alternatives to flipping on the screen every evening. Or, if you just can’t go without your daily TV fix, there are some things you can do to minimize its effects on your circadian rhythms. 

  1. Always remember to turn off the TV before falling asleep. This is the easiest and simplest measure you can take to protect your rest. This way, the TV can no longer be a distraction once you’ve actually shut your eyes. 
  2. Swap out the TV for some music. Though results are mixed, in general studies have shown3 that listening to music before and during sleep can have a moderate positive effect on sleep quality.A soothing, somewhat monotone album can actually act as white noise, improving instead of disrupting your sleep. 
  3. Try reading without electronics. Picking up a print book, magazine, or newspaper gives you a chance to wind down while turning off the electronics and avoid the negative effects of blue light.
  4. Consider a blue-light blocking screen or glasses. If you just can’t set down the electronics,there is an option. There are blue light screens that can be purchased to block the amount of blue light that is emitted, and will reduce the amount of blue light exposure.

Are you concerned that you or a loved one is excessively sleepy during the day? Take our sleepiness quiz and share the results with your doctor.

Sleepiness Quiz


1) “Annual Sleep in America Poll Exploring Connections with Communications Technology Use and Sleep.” Reporting on the 2011 Sleep in America Poll. The National Sleep Foundation. 
2) Fonken, Laura K. et al. “Dim light at night increases depressive-like responses in male C3H/HeNHsd mice.” Behavioral Brain Research.
3) De Niet, G., Tiemens, B., Lendemeijer, B. and Hutschemaekers, G. “Music-assisted relaxation to improve sleep quality: meta-analysis.” Journal of Advanced Nursing,

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Photo Credit: espensorvik. “TV, Television and remote controller – stock photo.” Creative Commons License.


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    sleep. This is consistent with a study that tracked nearly 1200 French children from the age of two: Kids who watched more TV when they were two years old were more likely to experience frequent night wakings through their h birthdays (Reynaud et al 2016).

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