young woman sleeping with the TV onShare on Pinterest
Steve Prezant/Getty Images

Getting a good night’s sleep is one of the most important things you can do for your health.

Many people find that sleeping with the TV on helps them sleep. However, experts generally agree that this isn’t a good idea. Sleeping with the TV on increases your exposure to blue light, which can increase your risk for obesity, diabetes, and other health problems.

But that doesn’t mean it’s all bad news if you love sleeping with the TV on. In fact, for some people, it might be an OK choice for a solid night’s rest.

There’s been a lot of research into how the technology we use every day affects our sleep, weight, stress levels, and overall health.

Numerous studies look into how things like social media and 24-hour news cycles affect us. Many studies also examine how the devices we use to view them, like cell phones, laptops, and TVs, impact our health.

While much of this research is still ongoing, the general consensus seems to be the same: If you can avoid using this type of technology while you’re in bed, you should.

That’s why you’ve likely heard it said that you shouldn’t be on your phone right before bed. It’s also why most researchers and sleep experts recommend not sleeping with the TV on.

While you might find that your TV helps you fall asleep, experts warn that the quality of sleep you’ll get will suffer. Plus, sleeping with your TV on has been linked to some negative health effects.

There are several reasons sleeping with your TV on probably isn’t the greatest idea.

Most of these drawbacks have been studied by experts during sleep studies and are backed up by consistent research over the years. Sleeping with the TV on can disrupt your dreams, hormones, and your health.

1. It can increase your sleep debt

Experts recommend that adults get around 8 hours of sleep every night. Any amount of sleep you get that’s less than that 8 hours is referred to as sleep debt.

So, if you get 6 hours of sleep, you have 2 hours of sleep debt. Like any debt, sleep debt is something you want to avoid. It can affect your ability to think clearly and to focus throughout your day. Over time, sleep debt can lead to mental and physical health problems.

When you sleep with the TV on, you might actually be getting less sleep than you think. This can increase your sleep debt.

For example, every time you stay up for one more episode, you’re adding to your sleep debt. Even if you’re only listening to the TV and not actively watching it, it’s easy to stay awake, waiting on one more plot line to wrap up.

2. It decreases your melatonin production

Melatonin is the hormone that helps us sleep. It’s what signals to your body that it’s time to rest and recover from the day. TVs and other devices that produce blue light can reduce the amount of melatonin your body makes.

This can make it hard for your brain to know whether it’s night or day. When your brain thinks it’s still daytime in the middle of the night, it can make falling asleep and staying asleep very difficult.

3. It stimulates your brain

The last thing you want when you’re trying to sleep is for your brain to be stimulated. When your brain is receiving stimulation, it will stay active. An active brain is a brain that won’t shut off, which makes it incredibly hard to fall asleep.

When your brain is stimulated, it can cause the sleep you do get to be restless and not the deep sleep your body really needs.

Experts say watching TV or listening to TV provides too much stimulation to your brain. When you leave the TV on things like flashes of lights, changes in sound, new alerts, and more can cause you to jolt awake.

Plus, we take in the sounds around us for a long time before we hit the deepest part of our sleep cycle. That means that your brain is still catching those bits of dialogue and being stimulated as you drift off. That can lead to strange and even disturbing dreams.

When you have nightmares, it’s often hard to fall back asleep. This can lead to a decline in your quantity and quality of sleep.

4. It can affect your health

Keeping the TV on while you sleep can lead to getting less sleep. Without adequate sleep, you have a higher chance of experiencing a variety of health effects, such as:

  • high blood pressure
  • weakened immunity
  • memory loss

However, the risks go beyond the standard effects of sleep deprivation.

A 2019 study found that sleeping with artificial light, such as that from the TV, was associated with an increased risk for obesity. The study found that this risk was increased even if there was no decrease in the quantity or quality of sleep that participants received.

So, even if you’re getting a great night’s rest in front of the TV, it might still hurt your health in the long run.

Sleeping with the TV on has some serious potential consequences. However, there are a few experts who say it’s not always the worst idea.

For one thing, it’s always better to get some sleep than to stay awake all night. If your choice is between not sleeping at all or sleeping with the TV on, you should pick the TV.

Here are few other reasons it might be OK in some cases.

1. It can act as white noise

Many people use the hum of the TV as a kind of white noise to help them sleep. They’re not listening for lines of dialogue or plot points, but simply enjoying the comforting background noise.

White noise has been shown to be an effective sleep aid.

2. TVs give off less blue light than other devices

TVs give off blue light, but it’s less intense than the blue light you’d get from your cell phone, tablet, or laptop. The less blue light an device gives off, the less potential it has to harm your sleep.

3. Familiar sounds can help people sleep

In contrast to studies about TV or blue light and sleep, older studies have shown that listening to music while you sleep can actually promote healthy sleep.

Music has even been used as an effective insomnia treatment for some people. Some researchers think that listening to any soothing or familiar sounds, even if they come from the TV, could have this same effect.

4. Familiar fictional worlds can reduce stress

We all have TV shows or movies that we find comforting on a bad day. There may even be science behind this.

A study from 2012 found that engaging with familiar fictional worlds can be restorative and help with self-control. Falling asleep to a show or movie you’re already familiar with may help your brain relax.

So, if you need to sleep with the TV on occasionally, it’s likely OK. However, choose the TV you watch carefully. Try to select familiar, low-key shows or movies and avoid action movies or live news channels.

Setting a sleep timer for your TV can also help. The timer will automatically shut your TV off after you’ve been asleep for a set amount of time. This can be a great way to use the TV to fall asleep without keeping it on all night.

Letting the TV shut off after an hour or so will lessen the amount of blue light you get during the night, which could lessen the possible health effects.

Many people sleep with their TV on every night. Experts are generally against this, because sleeping with your TV on can reduce the sleep you get, interrupt your body’s melatonin production, keep your brain overstimulated, and lead to long-term health effects.

If you’re going to sleep with the TV on, there are few ways to reduce the negative effects. Choose a TV show or movie you’re already familiar with, and set a sleep timer on your TV to keep it from playing all night.