Why binge-watching box sets could be seriously damaging your health

Box sets can be seriously bad for your health, research has found
Box sets can be seriously bad for your health, research has found
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Binge-watching box sets like 'The Walking Dead' could leave you feeling like a zombie yourself, according to new research.

Shows such as Game of Thrones, House of Cards or Orange is the New Black are worse for your health than viewing the same amount of regular TV, say scientists.

The reason is fans get so involved in their favourite programmes their pulse has speeded up by the time they go to bed.

A racing heart, or one that beats irregularly, and being mentally alert can create a 'arousal' when a person's head hits the pillow.

The study of more than 400 young people found those who binge watched reported poorer sleep quality, more fatigue and increased insomnia.

It showed increased mental arousal - in other words, being mentally alert - is the mechanism keeping them awake.

The rising popularity of on-demand streaming services like Netflix and Hulu have made it easier than ever to have uninterrupted access to full TV series.

Collins Dictionary even declared 'binge-watch' the word of the year for 2015.

Extra screen time

Lead author Liese Exelmans, a researcher at the University of Leuven's School for Mass Communication, Belgium, said: "Bingeable TV shows have plots that keep the viewer tied to the screen.

"We think they become intensely involved with the content, and may keep thinking about it when they want to go to sleep."

"This prolongs sleep onset or, in other words, requires a longer period to 'cool down' before going to sleep, thus affecting sleep overall."

Her team pointed out binge watching frequently happens unintentionally. People get absorbed into their shows, watch "just one more episode" and fail to go to bed in time.

Ms Exelmans, a PhD student, explained: "They might not intend on watching a lot, but they end up doing so anyway."

Not getting enough sleep has been linked to physical and mental health problems including reduced memory and learning ability, obesity, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.

Co author Jan Van den Bulck, professor of communication studies at the University of Michigan, said: "Our study signals binge viewing is prevalent in young adults and that it may be harmful to their sleep."

Rise in streaming

The phenomenon, in which people watch an excessive amount of the same programme in one sitting, has been on the rise as more households use streaming services and digital video recorders.

To get to the problem of its effects the researchers recruited 423 adults aged 18 to 25 who were asked about sleep quality, fatigue and insomnia, as well as the frequency of binge watching on a TV, laptop or desktop computer, for the last month.

More than eight in ten (81 percent) had binge-watched, almost 40 percent of whom had done it once during the period, and 28 percent 'a few times'. And seven percent of them had binge-viewed almost every day.

Although men did it less frequently their viewing sessions were almost twice as long as women's, reports the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.

Participants indicated they slept, on average, seven hours and 37 minutes but those who binge-viewed suffered poorer sleep quality and more tiredness.

Ms Exelmans said people might sleep an appropriate amount of time - seven to nine hours for adults - but the quality is not always good.

She said: "These students have flexible daytime schedules. Chances are they are compensating for lost sleep by sleeping in."

Added Ms Exelmans: "Basically, sleep is the fuel your body needs to keep functioning properly.

"Based on that research, it is very important to document the risk factors for poor sleep. Our research suggests binge viewing could be one of these risk factors."

Previous research has found adults who binge watch TV shows have weaker muscles.