Why looking at your phone is terrible for your sleep but watching TV isn't

I do a lot of things that are bad for my sleep.

Case in point: Every night I spend at least half an hour scrolling mindlessly through my Instagram and Facebook feeds, bombarding my eyes with blue light that sends a signal to my brain to stay wide awake.

But it’s always been a consolation to me that at least I don’t — heaven forbid! — watch television before going to sleep. Everyone knows that’s the worst bedtime habit you can possibly have.

Except, well, that’s probably not true.

I recently spoke with Michael Breus, a psychologist and sleep specialist, and he helped me revamp my daily schedule so that I’m less tired and more productive. When it comes to nighttime routines, Breus is an advocate for the “power-down hour,” when you cut yourself off from all screens.

But watching TV before bed, he said, is generally fine. In fact, Breus said he personally falls asleep with the TV on: “I think I’m the only sleep doctor in the world who doesn’t have a problem with it.”

Here’s why he doesn’t see it as an issue.

When you use a smartphone or a tablet at night, you’re usually holding it pretty close to your face, so that the blue light it emits may interfere with your body’s production of the sleep hormone melatonin and keep you awake.

But a TV is usually a few feet away, so the blue light is less powerful.

What’s more, Breus told me that the content you see on social media can be emotionally stimulating: My best friend is having a baby and she didn’t even tell me?!

If you’re watching an old TV show or something relatively boring, or if you’re simply listening to the TV and not really watching it, Breus said there’s a smaller chance that it will keep you awake.

You can also set the TV’s timer to shut off after about 45 minutes so it doesn’t wake you up in the middle of the night.

About a third of adults in one study reported using TV as a “sleep aid.” But research on the effects of watching TV before bed is mixed.

That same study found media use in general before bed — books, TV, music, internet, and video games — was linked to worse sleep quality. Other research suggests people who watch TV before bed often end up staying awake later.

At the same time, another study of university students in Brazil found that watching TV had no impact on sleep quality.

Perhaps the best thing to do is to figure out what works for you. To put it simply, if you’ve got the TV on a low volume as you nod off every night, it might not be a problem. If you’re up all night watching an action movie, it probably is.

NOW WATCH: This is what happens to your brain and body when you check your phone before bed

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