It may seem harmless, when you’re stuck inside in front of the TV over a long weekend blizzard or after a surgery or bout of the flu – and find yourself binge-watching TV for a loooong stretch of time. This is a relatively recent phenomenon, with the label popping up in the last couple years when the ability to watch multiple episodes and whole seasons of a television show became available on demand. According to a survey by Netflix last year, 73% of their audience define binge-watching as watching “between 2-6 episodes of the same TV show in one sitting.” Depending on the show, that’s anywhere from one hour to six plus hours straight.
So is this new behavior having any effect, other than maybe a boring weekend calendar and hefty take out bill? According to researchers, it’s a resounding yes – there are many ill effects on our health, brains and mood:
According to John Higgins, MD, associate professor of cardiology at The University of Texas Health Science Center even one long binge-watching episode can have ill effects on your health and the more you binge-watch the higher your chances for long term effects, including:
- Weight Gain
Excessive media consumption has been linked to increased calorie consumption, mindless eating and less healthful food choices. Plus, higher consumers of media are also less likely to exercise the 30 minutes to one hour daily recommended by the American Medical Association (AMA). And even if they are exercising, new studies are showing that that exercise is still not enough to combat the negative health effects of sitting most of the day.
Research has shown that the blue light from televisions, computers, smartphones and other devices impacts the production of melatonin, a hormone that helps promote sleep. But it doesn’t just make it harder to fall asleep; according to research from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston it affects the level of sleepiness and alertness into the next day. And if that’s not bad enough, poor sleep has been linked to other health problems including obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease as well as an increased risk of certain cancers.
Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh reported that every hour spent sitting can increase the risk of developing Diabetes by 3.4%. After a day-long binge, that could be as much as a 30% higher risk.
A study done at the University of Texas at Austin has linked binge-watching television and depression. After surveying hundreds of millennials (ages 18-34) they discovered a correlation between excessive or marathon TV watching and feelings of depression, loneliness and guilt. And this impact may be more pronounced for viewers with existing mental health disorders, as exposure to intense or emotional programs has been shown to affect disposition and outlook, at least temporarily.
Researchers are beginning to associate excessive TV watching with other well-studied impulse disorders like binge-eating or shopping. In the study reported in January of this year from the University of Texas, results have shown that those who binge-watched the most TV reported symptoms similar to those who suffer from addiction, including lower levels of self-control and higher rates of loneliness and depression. These results point towards the importance of understanding the possible damage that obsessive behaviors can have on overall and mental health.