Is it dangerous to sleep with the TV on?

Sleeping with the TV on can disrupt your zzz, even if you don’t realize it.

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How bad is it really? clarifies all the habits and behaviors you’ve heard might be unhealthy.

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When it comes to sleep habits, there are some people who sleep with the TV on and others who don’t. The former group swears by the tube’s power to put them to sleep, while the latter opposes it just as passionately, saying it messes up their snooze. But really, is it bad to sleep with the TV on?

Well, as with most things in life, there may not be a one-size-fits-all answer.

That said, we enlisted sleep expert Wendy Troxel, PhD, a senior behavioral and social scientist at RAND Corporation and author of Sharing the Covers: Every Couple’s Guide to Better Sleep, to help us settle in (or at least shed some light on it). To bring dark ) this sleep debate.

First, are there any benefits to sleeping with the TV on?

For some people, falling asleep with the TV on is a necessary part of their nightly ritual. Turning it on before bed helps them de-stress from the day and relax, says Troxel.

Similarly, while you sleep, the sound of the TV serves as a pleasant, soothing white noise that can drown out other distractions (like noisy neighbors or noisy traffic).

These relaxing effects may explain why sleeping with the TV on is so popular. In fact, a sample of more than 800 adults found that nearly a third rely on television as a sleep aid, according to a January 2014 study in ​Behavioural Sleep Medicine​​.​

4 Ways Sleeping With TV On Can Be Harmful

Still, nodding off to Netflix or the late-night news can sabotage your sleep (and maybe even your relationships). Here are some reasons why sleeping with the TV on is bad:

1. It disrupts your internal clock

“Televisions, like other electronic devices, emit blue light, which can disrupt sleep, circadian rhythms, and hormonal balance,” says Troxel.

According to Harvard Health Publishing, blue light actually blocks your body’s production of melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate your circadian rhythm (ie, your internal 24-hour clock) and helps you fall asleep.

And it doesn’t even take a lot of light to affect your melatonin levels: Even the small rays emitted by a table lamp can affect you, according to Harvard Health Publishing.

If you watch a binge-worthy TV show before bed, chances are you’ll stay up into the wee hours for another episode (or two or three).

This is the finding of the ​Behavioural Sleep Medicine​ study: people who used media such as television to fall asleep had later bedtimes.

To make matters worse, “streaming TV shows are designed to be very immersive, which makes it very difficult to stop watching,” says Troxel. “In fact, Netflix’s CEO has said their biggest competitor is sleep.”

But here’s the thing: staying up late and not getting enough regular zzzes leaves you vulnerable to a host of health problems. Yes, insufficient sleep is associated with a higher risk of depression, diabetes, and cardiovascular problems, according to Harvard Health Publishing.

3. It interrupts your sleep

Watching TV before bed not only keeps you up later, but can also disrupt your sleep after you’ve drifted off into dreamland. Once again, highly stimulating content is often the culprit.

For example, if you fall asleep while watching a horror movie, the images can haunt your and cause nightmares. “I personally know that I had to quit certain shows that I love simply because I knew they induce bizarre or scary ,” says Troxel.

“Even watching the news can be very taxing these days, which is counterproductive when trying to fall [and stay] fell asleep,” she adds.

In other cases, the noise from the tube is responsible for disrupting a peaceful sleep. For example, the change in volume that often occurs when a new show or commercial is on can shake you up.

Or, ironically, even the sound of the TV turning off can wake you up. “A lot of my clients set an alarm on their TV to go off at a specific time, but over time this becomes a habit and their brain becomes conditioned to that timing so they wake up when the TV goes off,” Troxel says .

And these common sleep disorders can interfere with your daily functioning. Case in point: A September 2014 study in ​Psychology and Aging​ found that people with interrupted daytime sleep performed worse cognitively than those who slept uninterrupted at night.

4. It can cause conflict with your partner

This is “an important (and often neglected) consequence to consider,” says Troxel. “In couples who a bed, sleep and sleep patterns are interdependent.”

That said, if one partner likes to doze off with the TV on and the other doesn’t (because it negatively affects their sleep quality), it can create conflict and resentment in the relationship, says Troxel.

How to change your TV habits

If you can’t fall asleep without the TV on, you may be dealing with a more serious problem like insomnia or another sleep disorder, says Troxel. In these cases, the TV is only acting as a band-aid, so it’s best to seek professional help (more on that later) to resolve the underlying issue.

In the meantime, here are some ways you can change your TV viewing habits to reduce the negative impact on your sleep quality.

1. Skip stimulating content

“When you watch TV, pay attention to the content,” says Troxel. In other words, there’s a world of difference between watching a light-hearted comedy before bed and a heart-pounding, action-packed thriller.

When you’re engrossed in something super stimulating, your brain stays alert. “But that mental activation just before bedtime can last into the night and make it difficult to fall into deeper sleep stages,” says Troxel. So go for content that is light, funny, or calming.

To avoid procrastinating on bedtime, set a firm deadline — about an hour before you fall asleep — for highly stimulating or addictive content, says Troxel. And if you find yourself going to bed later and later, you can even set an alarm on your phone as a reminder, she adds.

If you lean on the TV to calm white noise, limit the volume in the hours before bed. A low volume TV is less likely to wake you up and sabotage your sleep cycle.


Maintaining a consistent bedtime and sleeping in a cool, dark room can also help you, according to the CDC.

Alternatives to sleeping with the TV on

“There are better strategies [than sleeping with the TV] to find comfort before falling asleep and to calm the mind,” says Troxel.

Break the habit forever with these alternatives:

When it comes to channeling calm and relaxing vibes from under the covers, meditation and deep breathing are powerful tools, says Troxel.

In fact, an April 2015 study in ​JAMA Internal Medicine​ found that adults with chronic sleep problems who practiced mindfulness meditation (compared to those who received sleep training to improve their sleep habits) had less insomnia, fatigue, depression, anxiety and experienced stress.

If you prefer background noise to help you fall asleep, Troxel recommends considering a sleep app.

From guided sleep meditations to nature sounds and soothing music, sleep apps abound in the white noise department and are a great way to get a good night’s sleep without the TV.

Another way to hear surrounding noises is to listen to calming music or a podcast before bed.

A March 2020 study in ​JMIR Mental Health​ found that auditory stimuli (like listening to tunes) do not negatively affect bedtime in the same way that visual stimuli do.

But remember, the same rules still apply to podcasts: keep the content calm and light. That means no mind-bending murder mysteries or glitzy sci-fi epics to keep you up late.

4. See a sleep specialist

If you really have trouble falling asleep and think that watching TV is the only way to close your eyes, Troxel recommends seeking professional treatment. “You may have a sleep disorder like insomnia or chronic nightmares,” she says.

If that’s the case, using the TV to help you fall asleep is only treating the symptoms, not the cause.

But here’s the good news: “There are highly effective behavioral (ie, non-drug) treatments that can treat these conditions,” says Troxel. A sleep specialist can help you address your problem and create a treatment plan to help you achieve long-lasting relief from sleepless nights.

So how bad is it really to sleep with the TV on?

In short, it’s generally bad to sleep with the TV on. “In the long run, it’s preferable to find a way to fall asleep and stay asleep quickly and deeply without the TV,” says Troxel.

So for all you pro-TV folks, while it might be difficult to develop new habits before bed, it’s probably in the best interest of your health.

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