We live in a “golden age of TV,” so many families gather around the TV. Staying awake to catch ‘one more episode’ is a common refrain, and many people sleep with the TV running for ambient noise.
There’s no denying the advantages of sleeping with a TV on. The background noise prevents the brain from focusing on sounds that could disturb your sleep, especially in a noisy city.
Sleeping with a TV on has disadvantages, mostly surrounding sleep disturbances. The light confuses your circadian rhythms, blue light can disturb sleep, and the brain absorbs disturbing sounds.
Try switching visual entertainment to audio, like a radio, audiobook, or podcast. A white noise machine, like a fish tank, provides ambient noise. Also, watching fish helps you fall asleep.
Reading, meditation, and ASMR can also relax you sufficiently for a good night’s rest.
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 believe that engrossing ourselves in familiar fictional worlds, awake or asleep, provides feelings of familiarity and emotional safety.
Alas, if you regularly sleep with the TV on, the side effects include:
- The steady accrual of sleep debt, especially when watching TV 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 TV, solely relying on it for background ambient noise, the brain is likely still absorbing the media.
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 off the TV at least 1 hour before bed is recommended. This involves avoiding all screens – don’t turn off the TV and 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.
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 the last hour of the night.
You may be surprised by how much time you spend preparing your bedtime ritual. Undertaking these activities after switching off the TV will help you prepare for sleep without keeping you awake.
How To Sleep Without Watching TV
It may take a while to adapt to sleeping without the TV.
You’ll change your bedtime routine, so expect the brain to rebel. You’ll likely think, “One episode of my favorite show won’t hurt,” or “I need the ambient noise because I can’t sleep without it.”
The latter may be true, so don’t attempt to go from sleeping with a TV to no stimulation. You’ll likely find the silence deafening and struggle to sleep.
Instead, experiment with these alternatives to sleeping with the TV on:
The most obvious solution is to turn off the TV and listen to the radio. A radio won’t emit blue light like a TV due to the absence of a screen, and if it runs on batteries, there’s less risk of fire.
You could tune into a talk show, with the soft babble of voices easing you to sleep. Try to find a subject you don’t find particularly interesting because a dull conversation is likelier to help you sleep.
You could play music on the radio at bedtime. Choose your station carefully. Mainstream, eclectic stations will play various music, and a screaming heavy metal guitar riff could rouse you at 3 AM.
In many respects, podcasts are a 21st Century alternative to radio. You can choose the content you’re interested in listening to and download episodes to a smartphone, tablet, or computer.
If you’re engrossed in a podcast, you’re just as unlikely to sleep well as if you’re watching TV. So, save the latest episode of the true-crime podcast that everybody talks about for your waking hours.
There are advantages to choosing podcasts over the radio at night—most podcasts last an hour.
You can set your podcast to play. You’ll start dozing, and the sound will cease when the episode concludes, reducing the risk of being unexpectedly awoken.
White Noise Machine
Radio and podcasts deliver content directly to your ears and, by extension, the brain. A white noise machine will still create ambient sound, but this won’t be anything you can focus 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 get a machine that makes specific sounds.
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 easily sleep.
If you have a large bedroom, consider purchasing a fish tank. The tank releases white noise, and watching fish is just as entertaining and relaxing as TV.
Sleeping right next to a fish tank isn’t recommended. If you have space, the tank lights won’t bother you.
Read a Book
Consider reading at night if you’re ready to start moving away from ambient noise to silence. This is a great way to escape into a fantasy world.
Reading a book or magazine in paperback or hardback form is recommended.
Get yourself a dim lamp and avoid the blue light associated with screens. According to PloS One, this light and 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 you may need to actively switch off the story when ready to sleep. Otherwise, the story will run and run, requiring you to replay the same chapters.
Meditation is almost the opposite of leaving a TV playing while you sleep.
While sleeping with the TV running involves flooding the brain with ambient stimulation, meditation involves clearing the mind of 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, hence why it’s 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 to sleep.
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 low euphoria.
Perhaps the best thing about ASMR at bedtime is the process doesn’t 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 that can be broken. Try these alternative approaches and always exercise patience. You’ll soon find that you no longer need to rely on television to fall asleep.