A study links binge-watching in young adults with poorer sleep quality, more fatigue, and increased insomnia. The findings suggest that the mechanism explaining this relationship is increased cognitive alertness resulting from binge-watching.

Results show that more than 80% of young adults identified themselves as a binge-watcher, with 20.2% of them binge-watching at least a few times a week in the previous month. Those who identified as a binge-watcher reported more fatigue, more symptoms of insomnia, poorer sleep quality, and greater alertness prior to going to sleep. Further analysis found that binge-watchers had a 98% higher likelihood of having poor sleep quality compared with those who did not consider themselves to be a binge-watcher.

“We found that the more often young people binge-watch, the higher their cognitive pre-sleep arousal,” says principal investigator and lead author Liese Exelmans, a doctoral candidate in the School for Mass Communication Research at the University of Leuven in Belgium, in a release. “That in turn negatively affected sleep quality, fatigue, and insomnia.”

Study results are published in the Aug 15 issue of the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.

The study involved 423 young adults who were 18- to 25-years-old, with an average age of 22 years. Sixty-two percent of participants were women, and 74% were students. They completed an online survey assessing regular television viewing, binge-watching, sleep quality, fatigue, insomnia, and pre-sleep alertness. Binge-watching was defined as “watching multiple consecutive episodes of the same television show in one sitting on a screen, be it a television, laptop, computer, or tablet.” An average binge-watching session lasted 3 hours and 8 minutes, with 52% of binge-watchers viewing 3 to 4 episodes in one sitting.

Exelmans says people might sleep an appropriate amount of time (7 to 9 hours for adults), but the quality is not always good. “These students have flexible daytime schedules,” she says. “Chances are they are compensating for lost sleep by sleeping in.”

“Bingeable shows often have a complex narrative structure that makes viewers become completely immersed into the story,” says co-author Jan Van den Bulck, PhD, professor in the Department of Communication Studies at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. “This intense engagement with television content could require a longer period to ‘cool down’ before going to sleep, thus affecting sleep overall.”

According to Exelmans and Van den Bulck, interventions and treatments to reduce alertness before sleep, such as relaxation techniques and mindfulness, could be valuable approaches to target sleep problems associated with binge-watching. Because binge-watching often occurs unintentionally, it also has been suggested that streaming services such as Netflix should enable viewers to pre-select their maximum viewing duration before beginning each viewing session.