Sharon and I made a quick trip to Santa Fe this last weekend to celebrate her father’s birthday. We stayed at the Inn and Spa at Loretto for two nights. It is our favorite place to stay when we go to Santa Fe, and on this trip we had a room on the fifth floor with a private balcony. It was lovely. We could not figure out how to set the thermostat the first night so the room was a bit cold when we went to bed, but it was still comfortable…and we slept well. The second night was a different story. Someone stayed in the room next to us, which was separated by a door. Our new neighbor had the TV on and we could hear it very clearly, but we thought nothing of it because we assumed that he or she would turn off the TV at a reasonable hour. I stayed up reading with some meditative music on in the background, for I planned on going to sleep when our neighbor turned off the TV. Ten O’clock came and went, but the TV was still on. Okay. I’ll stay up until eleven. No problem I thought. Well, eleven O’clock came and the TV was still on. I was getting concerned that the TV would be blaring all night. Sharon at that time told me that her in-laws would go to sleep with the TV on and keep it on all night and day. Sure enough. The TV stayed on all night and even into mid-morning. We asked the hotel clerk to see if he could get our neighbor to turn down the volume at around midnight, and he or she did, but even then it was still very distracting. The only way we could get some sleep was to put on our meditation music with the volume high enough to drown out the sounds. It worked, but we did not sleep as soundly as we usually do.
This made me curious. Since both Sharon and I cannot get a good night’s sleep with the TV on, why do people do it? Do they actually get a good night’s sleep? I had to find out.
Sleeping with the T.V. on is a surprisingly common habit. According to a national survey, nearly two thirds of Americans fall asleep with the TV on. Moreover, the group that commissioned the study says that people redefined their relationship with television, seeing the TV as more of a companion than a source of entertainment.
So…why do people go to sleep with the TV on? Jason Koebler blogged about this on Motherboard, and he says that there is a body of research finding that constant notifications in an increasingly connected world is making us more stressed and anxious, and leaving the TV on when we go to sleep keeps us distracted from our worries and anxieties long enough for us to fall asleep. I can understand this logic. Stress and anxiety are very common in the modern world, and I am sure that people would do anything for some solace from their worries. Watching re-runs of a favorite TV show or the nightly news can be mind numbing and bring about drowsiness.
I have no doubt that our interim neighbor fell asleep in front of the TV that night, and even though we did get some sleep, it was not as restful as we are used to. That got me wondering: can he and everybody else who make a habit of falling asleep with the TV on get a deep and restful sleep? Personally, I believe it to be a very difficult, if not impossible task.
Research backs up my suspicion. Dr. Guy Meadows of the Sleep School, a clinic in London, says that the dim light (often times the TV light is very bright!) is not healthy to sleep around. The light receptors at the back of the retina tells us it is time to wake up by preventing the release of melatonin. Melatonin is the hormone that makes us sleepy. This will prevent someone from getting a deep, restful sleep.
When we sleep, the hippocampus is very active. The hippocampus is a part of the brain that is responsible for spatial memory, and memory in general. It is also connected to other parts of the brain that are engaged in emotional thinking. There are many nerves firing in the hippocampus during sleep, and this seems to be a necessary action for a restful night’s sleep. If the hippocampus cannot do it’s processes, the person will struggle more with short term memory and depression.
This does not even take into account the noise from the TV. We were not exposed to the lights of the TV but we sure could hear it, and it did have an impact on our sleep. We simply could not fall asleep with the noise. Even though people fall asleep in front of the TV because it is the only way they can fall asleep, I am willing to bet that it is not a deep, restful sleep. I would venture to guess that most of these people have no idea what a restful night’s sleep even feels like.
If you make it a habit of falling asleep in front of the TV, I would encourage you to break that habit. I cannot imagine that you get a truly restful night’s sleep on a consistent basis.
It may be a very hard habit to break, and at first it may seem impossible to do, but here are a couple if ideas to help:
Do some light reading in bed with some meditative music in the back ground. A part of the problem of falling asleep is that the brain finally has a chance to process all that happened during the day. This is nothing to be afraid of nor avoid. Let the brain do what it needs to do, and a little light reading can help the brain process on a subconscious level for a bit. Believe me, after a few minutes of reading, the drowsiness will seep in just as good, if not better than with the TV on.
If you are still too anxious to slow down, it may be beneficial to have a note pad at the side of your bed for you to write down what’s going on. If you are having a lot of thoughts coursing through your mind, say your to do list for the next day or week, write them down. Prioritize them. Think it through a bit and make notes. Then try to read a little bit and let the drowsiness set in.
If you wake up during the night and can’t get back to sleep, get out of bed and find a comfortable chair to do some light reading. This will take your mind off of what’s making you anxious and you may feel drowsy again in a few minutes. If not, just keep reading and don’t worry about it. getting out of bed when you are anxious and have trouble sleeping will reprogram your mind into associating your bed with sleep and rest. I do this very often and it works. I do get sleepy after 15 to 20 minutes and I am ready to go to bed. If I do not feel sleepy, I just stay up and read for as long as I want to. I realize that sometimes I will be tired the next day, but I’m alright with it. I know I will get a good night’s sleep the next night.
Turn off the TV. Get a good night’s sleep. You’ll feel better for it.