Sleep and Your Television: What’s Going Wrong?

We have known for some time that television watching can disturb sleep. In fact, several studies have demonstrated that in children, adolescents, and adults, television watching not only inhibits falling asleep, but also staying asleep, even after it is turned off. We now have a study published in the March issue of the journal Chest titled Sitting and Television Viewing: Novel Risk Factors for Sleep Disturbance and Apnea Risk? Results from the 2013 National Sleep Foundation Sleep in America Poll.
Over 1000 volunteers in this study were asked questions about how long they sat watching television daily, and questions about the quality and duration of sleep. They also answered a questionnaire that is very sensitive for sleep apnea.
The findings were truly remarkable. As expected, sitting for long periods was associated with poorer sleep quality. However, sitting in front of the television for prolonged periods was associated with a longer time to fall asleep, waking up too early in the morning, and a “high risk” of sleep apnea.
We have known for some time that sedentary behavior can cause sleep problems. In fact, several studies have shown that people who exercise regularly report better sleep quality and duration. Another study published in the journal Sleep in 2011 titled The Effect of Exercise Training on Obstructive Sleep Apnea and Sleep Quality: A Randomized Controlled Trial, demonstrated that exercise independent of weight loss resulted in an improvement of sleep apnea in individuals performing 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity aerobic exercise.
This is the first study to demonstrate that sitting while watching television is associated with sleep apnea. Interestingly, this relationship held for both obese and non-obese subjects. It certainly makes sense that those who are more physically active spend less time in front of the television. However, as to why those who sat in front of the TV, as opposed to those who sit but do not watch had a greater propensity to develop sleep apnea is not known at this time. It is theorized that most TV watching occurs close to bedtime, resulting in the blue light exposure effects on sleep. Also, late fluid changes in response to sitting, which may contribute to sleep apnea, are occurring closer to bedtime.
The take home message is that a sedentary way of life is bad for your health and sleep. However, it would appear that a sedentary life style mixed with excessive television watching is much worse. If you want good healthy sleep, get up and turn off the television.