"Netflix and chill" is the ubiquitous new booty call of choice. But have you ever heard of "Netflix and sleep?" Probably not...because Netflix and sleep really don't mix.
As a current Yale student, technology plays a huge role in my sleep and that of my peers. To sum it up? My friends and I just spend too much time on the Internet. Binge-watching shows and shopping online are a popular, time-consuming way to put off work - or even sleep. My teammate Laura needs to watch television before bed. "I can't fall asleep unless I am actively watching Netflix," Laura said. She re-watches shows like How I Met Your Mother, Arrested Development, and The Mindy Project. She falls asleep to the familiar voices of her favorite sitcoms, dozing off as Netflix auto-plays episode after episode. My roommate is similar in her Netflix use. Even her phone is part of her bedtime routine: "The last thing I do [before I go to bed] is look at my phone, and the first thing I do [when I wake up] is look at my phone. It can't be healthy."
"90% of Americans use their devices within the hour before they go to bed at least a few nights a week."
In fact, it isn't. On average, college students lose 46 minutes of sleep each night due to phone usage. Perhaps at the root of this issue is mere accessibility; younger people are likelier to keep their phones within reach of where they sleep. A 2014 study from Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts shows that such screen time before bed not only makes falling asleep more difficult, but also affects next-day alertness. The study had participants alternate between five-day periods of reading on an iPad and reading printed books before going to bed. iPad readers had a harder time falling asleep, secreted less melatonin (a necessary sleep regulator), and were more tired than book readers the following day, even with a full eight hours of sleep. In addition, researchers found the iPad users to be less sleepy at night. Because iPad readers feel more alert, it is possible that screen time forces people to stay up later, causing further detriment to sleep. Yet, despite its negative attributes, screen time before bed is very common; 90% of Americans use their devices within the hour before they go to bed at least a few nights a week. What are we to do about this devastating trend?
"Sleep procrastination pushes bedtimes further and further back, causing its sufferers to get less sleep overall and feel more tired during the day."
The best way to insure the highest possible quality of sleep is to avoid the use of light-emitting screens at least an hour before bedtime. But let's be real, such a habit is nearly impossible for hyper-connected millennials. The next best alternative? A filter that blocks blue light. As it turns out, blue light serves a valuable purpose. Blue light is emitted from the sun, and its shorter wavelengths were originally intended to inform our brains to be active in the daytime. The sun setting, and a decrease in blue light emission, was meant to signal the time for our brain to switch off and rest. Yet, the advent of electricity, and smartphone use before bed, has completely foiled this mechanism. Blue light emitting from bright screens signals us to stay active, long after the sun has set.
"In order to ensure the best night's sleep possible, researchers insist that the bed should be left a place only associated with sleep; no other stimulating activities should be done in its vicinity, like homework or watching Netflix."
And while many of my friends claim that Netflix before bed helps them fall asleep, evidence suggests that restlessness is in fact caused by "too much Netflix." Studies have begun to examine the use of Netflix as a procrastination method, even as a form of sleep procrastination. Sleep procrastination pushes bedtimes further and further back, causing its sufferers to get less sleep overall and feel more tired during the day. The advent of handheld devices and easy access to shows through websites like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime has revolutionized our television habits. According to the Washington Post, in 2011, 78 percent of people reported watching more than five hours of online television per week. What ties this statistic to the issue of sleep deprivation? The setting of such Netflix watching. In order to ensure the best night's sleep possible, researchers insist that the bed should be left a place only associated with sleep; no other stimulating activities should be done in its vicinity, like homework or watching Netflix. I can personally attest to the ease of lying comfortably in bed watching One Tree Hill, saying, "I'll just watch ONE more episode." But this mindset is at the root of sleep procrastination and much of the sleep deprivation prevalent in college kids. So the next time you embark on a late-night Friends binge, think twice - you'll be restless tonight and sleepy tomorrow!
This post is part of our series on sleep culture on college campuses. To join the conversation and share your own story, please email our Director of College Outreach Abby Williams directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. And you can find out here if the #SleepRevolution College Tour will be visiting your campus, and learn how you can get involved. If your college is not one of the colleges already on our tour and you want it to be, please get in touch with Abby.