Have you ever spent a full weekend doing nothing but watching your favorite shows? Or have you sat yourself down after work only to be surprised by midnight that you’ve already blazed through an entire mini-series – and still instinctively saying just one more? If so, you’re far from alone.
The CNBC reports that as many as 70% of US consumers binge-watch shows, with millennials watching more shows online than on traditional television. Although binge-watching isn’t really a new phenomenon, the rise of streaming sites has made it more popular and convenient than ever before, alarming researchers and health professionals, who warn against the many ways binge-watching can be detrimental to health.
As it turns out, there are plenty of reasons why streaming sites like Netflix and Hulu might just need to come with a health warning label.
It’s highly addictive
Binge-watching shows can be fun and satisfying, but the downside is that it can also be highly addictive. Although there’s nothing technically wrong about watching television shows, addiction to watching them can negatively affect other aspects of life. As explained in a previous feature on addiction here on Psych2Go, negative consequences and loss of control are all too common among people who suffer from addiction. Being addicted to binge-watching can lead you to miss out on important commitments and zone out of class, or otherwise end up watching six episodes when you were only planning on watching three.
Clinical psychologist Dr. Renee Carr likens binge-watching to more sinister addictive habits like taking drugs or alcohol. “When you binge-watch your favorite show, your brain is continually producing dopamine, and your body experiences a drug-like high,” she explains. “The neuronal pathways that cause heroin and sex addictions are the same as an addiction to binge-watching.”
It affects your sleep
Moreover, frequent binge-watching has also been associated with poor sleep quality and insomnia-like symptoms.
Patient.info explains that this is because binge-watching affects the way our bodies produce melatonin, or the hormone that regulates sleep and wakefulness. Since our bodies naturally produce melatonin at night, unnatural light from the television, laptop, or mobile screens can throw our melatonin levels drastically out of balance, further worsening the addictiveness of the habit. This can lead you to feel more fatigued and restless.
It negatively affects both physical and mental health.
A recent survey of over 2,000 people found that binge-watching an entire series at a time could increase mental health risks. The NY Post reports that some of the most common symptoms among those surveyed include feelings of loneliness, depression, anxiety, and emptiness. These results are attributed to both exposure to artificial light as well as the content of the shows themselves.
On top of these issues, binge-watching also has some serious detrimental effects on our bodies. Prolonged sitting and sedateness has been linked to increased risks of cardiovascular diseases and cancer.
The good news is, there are ways to mitigate the effects of binge-watching and keep yourself from getting too addicted. For starters, try your best to take breaks between episodes and avoid snacking while you watch. Set parameters for how many episodes you’re planning on watching at a time, and keep track of these religiously. If you must watch during the evenings, use screen settings that filter blue light or stream on your television instead of a mobile device.
In addition, consider watching the series next to someone else to keep you both in check. Or even better – why not try some stretches or simple exercises while watching? That way, you can keep your body active while catching up on the lives of your favorite television characters.
Does this mean that you should cancel your subscription and say goodbye to your favorite TV show? No, but like other guilty pleasures, binge-watching is best enjoyed in moderation.