Is watching TV before bed bad for sleep?

Ask Shannan: Is watching TV before bed bad for sleep?

Millions of Americans watch tv every night. Watching tv in a dark room at night impacts sleep differently than looking at your phone, while watching tv in a bright room.

TVs, computer screens, phones, lightbulbs and other digital devices emit blue light, which is a specific frequency of light. The sun also produces blue light, so blue light isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

The issue with screens and television is that it exposes our eyes to blue light in concentrated amounts. There is some research to suggest that continued exposure to blue light is associated with vision problems.

Let’s examine the effects of blue light exposure in relation to sleep.

Light Exposure and Sleep

In a perfect world, we would wake before sunrise, have sun exposure during the day, see the sunset, and limit light exposure before bed. This is the best way to reset your circadian rhythm, which dictates sleep.

Is that reality? Not so much.

Blue light from screens shines into the retinas, which suppresses the production of melatonin. Melatonin is the hormone associated with sleepiness, enabling you to fall asleep.

Blue light signals the brain to be aroused and perhaps even wake while sleeping. Lowering the amount of blue light you experience in the evenings will help you naturally produce melatonin to promote sleep.

Habit to Break: Falling Asleep with TV

If there is one habit that you should break, it is falling asleep with tv on. Continued light exposure, even while you are sleeping, will stimulate wakefulness and contribute to poor quality sleep.

During a typical night, you do wake between sleep cycles. If there is light exposure during these wakings, the light signals the brain through your retinas to wake up.

Many people habitually fall asleep with the tv on, so how do we break this habit?

Try initially covering the tv, so you can still listen to your show, but block the light. Then, transition to listening to a podcast, radio, or white noise app while falling asleep.

If you are going to watch tv at night, watch tv on the couch in a living space, not in your sleeping space. Turn off the overhead lights and use lamps instead, if possible. If you don’t have a lamp, turn off at least half of the overhead lights in the room.

Light Reduction Strategies

Turn at least half of the overhead lights off in all rooms one to two hours before bed.

Turn all computer, phone, digital device screens to night mode one to two hours before bed.

Wear blue-light blocking glasses.

Invest in blackout blinds for bedrooms.

Try a sleep mask.

Cover or dim electronic devices in the room while you sleep.

Discover more strategies to get a better night’s sleep tonight.

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Hi, I'm Shannan.

I help adults make confident choices for a lifetime of good health.


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