Is watching TV before bed a bad idea?

Don't let Jack Bauer terrorise your sleep routine! Credit: sunnyd_57’s photostream Flickr/Creative Commons

Watching TV is a common pastime in the evenings. Yet many sleep experts would tell you that watching TV before bed is a bad idea if you want to get a good night’s sleep. Turn the TV, and all other electrical devices (computer, radio, computer games), off at least two hours before sleep time, they say. Or should it be three hours before? Ultimately, I think, it depends on:

  1. what you’re watching immediately before you go to bed and how you’re affected by it; and
  2. whether you’re able to control (i.e. limit) your TV viewing so that it does not encroach on your sleeping time.

Taking each point in turn:

1. What you’re watching and how you’re affected by it

If you watch a violent or tense TV programme before bed and you’re sensitive to these images, it follows that you’re unlikely to be relaxed enough to sleep immediately afterwards. For me, watching 24 immediately before bed is a no-no, as I’m too wired to fall asleep.

Similarly, if you’re watching a TV programme that you find very stimulating (for me, this might be Question Time or The West Wing) just before bed, then it’s likely that you’ll find it difficult to sleep as your brain will be too active. You’ll need to do something relaxing and peaceful afterwards, to slow down your mental activity in preparation for sleep.

Having said this, in my experience watching TV can help to calm an overactive mind at the end of a busy day and, for some, it may be an important cue for bedtime.  In my days as a city lawyer I often used TV (and the odd glass of wine too) as a way to switch off before bed. And my other half regularly spends the last 15 minutes or so of the day watching the music channels to relax before bed.

2. Controlling your evening TV viewing

A study carried out by the BBC’s Newsround programme (as reported on the BBC Breakfast show on 19 February 2010) concluded that modern technology keeps our children up at night, preventing them from getting a good nights’ sleep. The study suggested that children miss out on sleep because they stay up watching TV or playing on computer games.

It’s not just children who stay up too late watching TV when they should be sleeping. A study published in the Journal Sleep by Drs. Mathias Basner and David F. Dinges in June 2009 (“Dubious Bargain: Trading Sleep for Leno and Letterman”) found that many Americans let television dictate when they go to sleep. They concluded that “giving up some TV viewing in the evening should be possible to reduce chronic sleep debt and promote adequate sleep in those who need it”.

This is interesting. Just the other night I accidentally started watching The Bodyguard on TV. I’ve seen it many times before, but despite my good intentions for an early night, suddenly I was hooked and I ended up watching it until it’s conclusion (an hour after I’d planned to go to bed).

If this regularly happens to you and your sleep is suffering, it’s time to alter your bedtime routine to make it more sleep-friendly. Set yourself a cut-off time for TV viewing (any must-see viewing after this cut-off point could be recorded using Sky Plus or your DVD recorder) and do something less engaging and relaxing instead.

A word on watching TV in bed

Again, many sleep experts warn against watching TV in bed. They advise us to reserve our beds for sleeping and romance only, so that we associate our beds and bedrooms with falling asleep. This rigid approach may be necessary for some, but if watching a little TV in bed helps you to relax and drop off to sleep, don’t worry. Do be careful to turn the TV off when you start dozing though, otherwise it’s likely to disturb your sleep during the night.

Ultimately, I think, it’s about personal choice and common sense – enjoy your evening viewing if it helps you to relax but don’t let your TV take precedence over your precious sleep.

Sleeping beauties: celebrities love sleep too

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Ever wondered how your favourite celebrity always looks so good? The secret could be as simple as getting enough quality sleep.

Sleep and skincare experts agree that good quality sleep is one of the best beauty and anti-aging treatments available. While we sleep, our bodies heal and repair damage, such as from daily stresses and UV rays, that can age us. So the more quality sleep you get, the better – and younger – you’ll look and feel.

The proof? Here’s a selection of beautiful people who reportedly love their sleep:

  • Elle MacPherson says her number one beauty tip is sleep – read more by clicking here.
  • Catherine Zeta-Jones reveals to Vogue that sleep is her big beauty tip – click here.
  • Gwyneth Paltrow tells readers of her lifestyle website, Goop, to get some sleep – read it here
  • Kim Kardashian says that sleep is her best beauty tip. Click here and here to read more.

  • Kate Moss reveals that sleep is one of her top beauty secrets – click here.
  • Eva Mendes says “no thanks” to kids and “yes please” to more shut eye. Read more by clicking here.
  • Lisa Snowdon tells The Sun that “beauty starts in bed”. Click here for more.
  • J-Lo claims to sleep 8 hours every night – read more by clicking here.
  • Cameron Diaz reportedly likes her sleep too much to become a mum – click here.
  • Denise Van Outen looks after her skin by getting plenty of sleep – click here for more.
  • Evangeline Lilly’s heath tip is to get eight hours of sleep – read it here.

My top tip: Swap the expensive creams and facials for more good quality sleep….then buy a new dress with all the cash you’ve saved!

New study links lack of sleep to an early death!

If I didn’t have enough reasons already to improve my sleeping habits, here’s another one to add to the list. New research, reported in the journal Sleep, found that people who regularly slept for less than six hours a night were 12% more likely to die prematurely over a 25 year period than those who slept for the recommended six to eight hours each night.

To read the BBC News’ article about the findings, click here.