Picture the scene: You’ve just woken up after a Saturday night on the tiles and look out of the window and see that it’s cold outside and raining. With almost a sense of relief you decide to pop on the TV and snuggle up under the covers for the day and settle in for a hard-earned back to back box set binge. And, it’s no surprise that we’re all so crazy for TV now; whilst many of us are suffering from financial cutbacks, television shows now have much bigger budgets than they used to and are able to lure in the best stars in the industry to write, direct, produce and act in their productions, so if we want it, we have access to high quality, addictive television – available in our homes to stream whenever we like 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
But whilst a TV box set binge might seem harmless – after all, it’s television not crack – we wondered whether it’s physically bad for you and what does it do to your brain? Perhaps you have noticed that if you’re trying to watch an entire season of a show over the period of a few evenings that you’re tired, cranky and on edge during the day? Hmm… maybe it’s not as relaxing and harmless as we think?
We turned to the brilliant Bunmi Aboaba, who is a Sobriety Companion and Coach, and founder of The Sober Advantage. As an expert in addiction, we wanted her take on our winter television viewing schedules.
Bunmi tells Lumity: “Let’s simplify this down to basic biology and what happens in the body. Netflix bingeing is designed to activate stress by the release of CRH (Cortico-tropin Releasing Hormone) which encourages the release of other stress hormones such as cortisol. So our “fight or flight response” is on speed dial when faced with a cliff-hanger at 11pm and would severely disrupt sleep patterns. With all the stress hormones circulating around the body, you are suddenly wide awake and you push through to the next episode.
“When we complete a season in this way and move on to the next, it triggers a delicious neurochemical cascade of serotonin and dopamine, The former induces immense satisfaction and the latter pleasure.
“We truly tap into the reward centres of our brains. Dopamine keeps us watching more box sets in this fashion, the brain is no longer satisfied in watching one or two, it wants the full shebang, thus creating a loop that is never-ending.”
Yikes. If you are a TV binge-body you are not alone. “Users” watch more than two billion hours of movies and television shows EVERY month.
Bunmi continues: “Internet addiction has become a document-able disorder and I would say that Netflix bingeing is one of them.
“Netflix affects sleep and time management as a whole if left unmanaged. The raised level of stress hormones can affect the heart, weight and mood and cause anxiety.
“It’s important to set limits on the number of hours or episodes watched in one go, especially for the younger generations who have grown up in the internet world where streaming is as easy as breathing.”
Wise words indeed, especially for those of us in Europe who have been known to set our alarms and wake up at 4am to catch the latest episode of Game of Thrones as it airs in the US.
With our mobile telephones doubling up as portable computers and a largely sedentary lifestyle being branded by medics to be as bad for us as smoking it’s worth doing regular digital detoxes and including television in the devices that we turn off, along with our mobile phones and laptops.
She told us: “Leave your phone at home at least one day every single weekend, go out and enjoy the world and really savour what you’re up to rather than sitting wasting time and worrying about what people are saying in a virtual one.”
With so many inexpensive weekend breaks to be snapped up online at the moment perhaps it’s time to hide the remote control, switch off the TV and do something else instead?
If the colder weather is putting you off getting outside and exercising then here’s a fitness expert’s tips to keep in shape during the winter months. Are you getting your five portions of joy per day? – If not here’s some starting points. And, if watching television isn’t responsible for keeping you awake at night, maybe inflammation is?