There’s no doubt about it: Binge-watching is the new American way. In fact, studies show that binge-watching TV has usurped week-by-week viewing in the United States, with 60 percent of users watching two or more episodes of a show in a row each week. And the format is largely considered a benefit to all. Consumers love it because it provides a totally immersive viewing experience with no breaks, and networks—including binge-watching pioneers like Netflix—benefit by keeping users engaged with their service for long periods of time.
But too much of a good thing sometimes leads to a bad thing, and that can be true in many cases with binge-watching. Here are a few of the ways consistently binging on your favorite shows can lead to serious health issues down the road.
1. It Can Cause Back and Neck Issues
If you’ve ever awakened with a stiff neck or tense muscles, you know that the complex back and neck system is susceptible to getting bent out of shape when held for too long in the wrong position. Watching TV for long periods of time can do the same thing, by putting undue pressure on the spine. You can avoid this by making sure your lounge space is ergonomic and supports the natural curves of your spine. A recliner or lounge chair offering plenty of lumbar support can help. Tip: Feeling back pain from too many good episodes in a row? Try laser therapy for back pain to get some relief.
2. It Can Lead to Obesity and Other Problems
Unless you’re logging your marathoning hours on the treadmill, there’s a good chance the time you spend watching TV and movies is relatively inactive. Perhaps you tend to keep the snacks and candy flowing while you’re deep into a series. We all know that a sedentary lifestyle and an unhealthy diet can lead to obesity and muscle weakness, which can, in turn, lead to life-threatening conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Taking periodic breaks for vigorous exercise can help curb your likelihood of weight gain.
3. It Can Worsen Sleep Quality
The National Sleep Foundation warns that night time TV watching messes with the body’s natural clock and even causes the brain to stop producing melatonin, the natural hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle. Marathoning can also affect our sleep by causing us to stay up way past our bedtime. (We all occasionally push back bedtime because we have to find out what happens next.) Like our weight, the quality of our sleep affects our physical and mental health in more ways than meets the eye. Poor sleep quality is incompatible with good mental health, physical health, and the overall quality of life.
4. It Can Lead to Depression
Studies have linked consistent binge-watching with detrimental mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, loneliness, and a lack of self-control. The reasons why make perfect sense. When you’re feeling depressed or lonely, binge-watching can bring some comfort and relief. It may be the only thing you have the energy to do and one of the few things that lift your spirits, at least initially. At the same time, binge-watching and being sedentary in general causes you to feel guilty and triggers the feeling that you’re a failure, which worsens your depression.
5. It Can Prevent You From Being Social
Binge-watching is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it fosters strong in-person and online connections between fans. Talking with others about the show, either with friends or strangers online, can strengthen feelings of social connection and belonging. Many people attend watch parties or share binge-watching sessions with close friends. We’ve all connected with others based on a shared love of a certain show or movie, and that’s a great thing for our mental health.
On the other hand, binge-watching is also an addictive activity – it releases a surge of dopamine in the body, giving you a drug-like high. And, like all addictive substances, it may deter you from spending time with friends and loved ones or attending work, which leads to feelings of loneliness and depression.
6. It Can Damage Your Eyes
We are starting to fully understand the detrimental effects of spending long periods of time staring at our screens, whether that is a computer, a tablet, or the TV. Screens give off blue light, which can cause everything from dry, itchy eyes to headaches, and blurred vision. Unfortunately, excess blue light can have long-term effects on the health of your eyes, too. It has even been linked to cataracts and macular degeneration. Taking regular breaks and scheduling annual visits to the eye doctor can help prevent eye damage.
There Are Benefits, Too
While it’s clear that too much TV can threaten our physical and mental health, especially if practiced consistently for long periods of time, it’s also clear that, in reasonable quantities, marathoning your favorite TV show might bring some benefits, too. Studies show that the activity can lead to improved emotional intelligence, stronger feelings of empathy, reduced stress, and beneficial social connections.
What Can You Do? Practice Moderation
So, we know that bingeing brings some pros and cons. If you find that a good binge-watching session brings you joy and helps alleviate some stress, there’s no reason why you should cut it out of your life completely. The best thing you can do is to practice moderation and set limits for yourself, such as a certain number of episodes per week or a set amount of hours per week. Be sure to lounge in positions that support your spine, take routine exercise breaks, and skip the unhealthy sofa snacks, too!