We live in a so-called “golden age of TV,” so many families in America and worldwide gather around a TV set at night. Staying awake to catch ‘just one more episode’ is a common refrain, and many people sleep with a TV still running for ambient noise.
There’s no denying some theoretical advantages to sleeping with a TV on. The background noise will prevent your brain from focusing on other sounds that would potentially disturb your sleep, especially if you’re used to living in a noisy city.
Sleeping with a TV on comes with side effects, many of which revolve around disturbances to sleep. Your circadian rhythms will grow confused by the light, and blue light from a screen can disturb sleep. Your brain may also still absorb disturbing sounds.
Try switching visual entertainment to audio, such as a radio, audiobook, or podcast. A white noise machine can provide ambient noise, as will a fish tank – and watching fish also helps you sleep. Reading, meditation, and ASMR can also relax you enough for sleep.
Is It Bad To Fall Asleep with Your TV On?
Falling asleep with the TV on is comforting to many people. Social Psychological and Personality Science claims that engrossing ourselves in familiar fictional worlds, awake or asleep, provides feelings of familiarity and emotional safety.
Alas, there are also numerous risk factors that you may not be aware of. If you’re regularly sleeping with the TV on, side effects can include:
- The steady accrual of sleep debt, especially if you’re distracted by the TV and watching when you should be sleeping.
- Weight gain due to exposure to blue light.
- Circadian rhythm confusion, as the brain detects light and struggles to distinguish night from day.
- Being woken up by loud, sudden noises coming from the screen.
- The skin absorbs radiation from blue light emissions.
- Risk of electrical fires as the appliance remains in constant, unsupervised use.
Even if you’re adamant that you’re not watching or paying attention to the TV, solely relying on it for background ambient noise, your brain is likely still absorbing the media.
Disturbing news reports, or scary images accompanied by a soundtrack of screams, may disturb your mind while you sleep, leading to nightmares and otherwise disturbed sleep.
When to Stop Watching TV Before Bed
Most of us like to unwind in front of the TV after a long day at work.
Switching the TV off at least an hour before bed is advisable. This involves avoiding all screens – don’t turn off the TV, then start flicking through your phone or tablet.
Ideally, avoid watching TV in a bedroom altogether. The International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity explains that keeping a TV out of a bedroom won’t necessarily change how much time we’re sedentary, especially in children and teens.
However, you’ll benefit from a psychological separation if your screen time is spent in a den or living room. Your brain won’t connect the area you sleep in with the stimulation of television. You can commence with a sleep hygiene routine for this last hour of the night.
You may be surprised by how much time you can pass when preparing your bedtime ritual. Undertaking these activities after switching off the TV will help you get ready for sleep without keeping you up late.
How To Sleep Without Watching TV
It may take a while to adapt to sleeping without the TV. You’ll be changing your bedtime routine, so expect your brain to rebel. You’ll likely think, “one episode of my favorite show will not hurt,” or “I need the noise; I can’t sleep without it.”
The latter may be true, so don’t attempt to go from sleeping with a TV to completely absent stimulation. You’ll likely find the silence deafening.
Instead, experiment with these alternatives to sleeping with your TV on:
The most obvious and straightforward chance is to turn off the TV and listen to the radio instead. A radio won’t emit blue light like a TV due to the lack of a screen, and if you run it on batteries, there’s less fire risk.
Radio also provides you with choices. You could tune into a talk show, with the soft babble of voices steadily easing you into sleep. Try to find a subject that you don’t find particularly interesting, as a dull conversation is likelier to shepherd you into sleep.
You could alternatively play music through the radio at bedtime; choose your station carefully if this is the case. Mainstream, eclectic stations will play various music, and a screaming heavy metal guitar riff could rouse you at 3 am.
The Journal of Advanced Nursing claims that classical music improves sleep quality and reduces insomnia.
At the same time, the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory claims that classical music improves cognitive function the next day.
In many respects, podcasts are a 21st Century alternative to radio. You can choose the content you’re interested in listening to, downloading relevant episodes to your smartphone, tablet, or computer.
This could be a double-edged sword. If you’re engrossed in your podcast, you’re just as unlikely to sleep well as if you were watching TV. Try to save the latest episode of the true-crime podcast that everybody is talking about for your waking hours.
There are advantages to choosing podcasts over the radio at night—most podcasts cap at an hour in length. You can set your podcast to play, start dozing, and the sound will cease when the episode concludes, reducing the risk of being unexpectedly awoken.
Don’t sleep with a computer by your head or your tablet or phone under your pillow so you can hear. Purchase a wireless speaker and keep your appliances on another side of the room. Just keep the speaker close in case you want to reduce the volume.
3/ White Noise Machine
Radio and podcasts will deliver content directly to your ears – and, by extension, your brain. A white noise machine will still create ambient sound, but this will not be anything that you can concentrate on.
A basic white noise machine will create a sound akin to the humming of an electrical appliance that works in the background. Alternatively, you could investigate machines that make specific sounds.
Many modern white noise machines come with various settings. If you prefer to listen to heavy rain against a window, waves crashing on a sea wall, or even the din created by sirens and car horns if you miss living in a busy city, you can ease yourself to sleep.
4/ Fish Tank
If you have a large bedroom, consider purchasing a fish tank. This will serve two purposes that’ll aid sleep. The tank releases white noise, and watching fish is just as entertaining as TV. According to Environment and Behavior, it’s also much more relaxing.
We mention that you should only attempt this approach if you have a large bedroom, as sleeping right next to a fish tank is not ideal. If you have the space and the lights used in the tank won’t bother you, an aquarium is an unparalleled substitute for a TV set.
5/ Read a Book
If you’re ready to start moving away from ambient noise at night and into silence, consider taking up reading at night. This is a great way to escape into a fantasy world. As discussed, this calms the mind and encourages sleep.
Reading a book or magazine in paperback or hardback form is best. Get yourself a dim lamp and avoid the blue light associated with screens. As per PloS One, this light and associated visual fatigue are also associated with many e-readers.
If you’re not much of a reader but still enjoy storytelling, you could listen to audiobooks at night. This would take the same form as listening to podcasts. Download an app like Audible for your appliance, and listen through a wireless speaker.
The only issue with audiobooks is that you may need to actively switch off the story when ready to sleep. Otherwise, the story will run and run. That may not be a significant concern, but you may need to keep replaying the same chapters repeatedly.
Meditation is arguably the polar opposite of leaving a TV playing while you sleep. While sleeping with the TV running means low-key flooding the brain with ambient stimulation, meditation involves clearing the mind of any external distractions.
You can build meditation into your evening sleep hygiene ritual. Don’t attempt to meditate and expect to become an instant expert. It takes time to build the skill to clear your mind – that’s why this is known as practicing meditation.
Search “guided meditation for sleep” on YouTube, or download a meditation app for your smartphone or tablet (the latter will be devoid of ads and cease sound eventually.) The aural instructions will place you in an almost hypnotic trance, gently lulling you into sleep.
7/ Embrace Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR)
ASMR is an extension of the idea of guided meditation. You’ll find countless sleep-centric ASMR videos on YouTube. The purpose of ASMR is to make the skin tingle through sound, which results in a low level of euphoria.
Perhaps the best thing about ASMR at bedtime is that the process does not require your attention. You can lay back and relax, steadily start to feel fantastic, and drift off into a deep and restful sleep.
Sleeping with the TV on is a habit for many of us, but one that can be broken. Try these alternative approaches and exercise patience. You’ll soon find that you no longer need to rely on the television to fall asleep and remain at rest.