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If You Watch TV Before Bed, Do This Tonight, New Study Says

Late-night television can hurt your sleep, but this practice can help fix that.

Although you probably know that watching TV before bed isn't the best for your sleep, it might be the only time you get to unwind with your favorite shows. If you can't tear yourself away from the TV at night, there's at least something you can do after to help you wind down and quiet your mind so you'll be able to sleep more soundly. Read on to find out what researchers suggest you do between television and bedtime.

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Watching TV before bed overstimulates your mind.

Woman watching TV in bed

Although about 60 percent of adults watch TV within an hour of going to bed, according to a 2013 study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, research shows the practice isn't ideal. Having the TV on stimulates your brain when you should be getting ready to wind it down. A 2019 study published in Chronobiology International found that the glow from the TV can disrupt your internal clock and mess with your melatonin levels, which play a key role in helping you sleep soundly. An earlier 2014 study in Behavioral Sleep Medicine found that watching TV before bed led to poorer sleep quality and feeling more fatigued the following day.

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But writing out a to-do list before bed could help you fall asleep faster.

to do list

A study from sleep researcher Michael Scullin, PhD, published in 2018 in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, found that people who took five minutes to write down upcoming tasks before heading to bed helped "offload" the worried thoughts that tend to keep people up at night. Relieving these thoughts led to faster sleep. Researchers found that the more specifically people wrote their to-do list, the faster they fell asleep, so be very detailed when writing out your checklist.

And new studies follow the same guidance. Per a write-up of a June 2021 study from Scullin published in Psychological Science, "Near bedtime, rather than engaging in a demanding activity or something that would disrupt your sleep, like watching TV or playing video games, Scullin suggests spending five to 10 minutes writing out a to-do list and putting thoughts to paper."

This task could also help you fall asleep after other activities that keep you up.

hand written to do list

The recent Psychological Science study found that like late-night channel surfing, listening to music too close to bedtime can negatively impact your sleep. The study concluded that "earworms"—when a song or tune replays over and over in your head—continue subconsciously while you sleep. The obvious antidote is to avoid listening to music too close to bedtime, but many people wouldn't be willing to do that. The write-up notes that engaging in a cognitive activity can help get rid of an earworm, and thus make sleep easier: "Fully focusing on a task, problem, or activity helps to distract your brain from earworms." And writing a to-do list might just be the ideal task.

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There are more ways to relax your mind before bed.

older man reading a book in bed

Finding a surefire way to self-soothe yourself to sleep either after watching TV is not a one-size-fits-all journey, but there are a handful of things you can try. Sleep psychologist Michelle Drerup, PsyD, told the Cleveland Clinic that falling asleep in a room that is too warm can be challenging. For adults, Drerup says between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit is recommended for optimal sleep. So if you're struggling to fall asleep, try lowering your thermostat.

Healthline suggests trying the 4-7-8 breathing technique by Andrew Weil, MD. This practice involves alternating holding and releasing your breath while counting to four, seven, and eight. Reading a book is also an old standby that can help you fall asleep—as long as it's not too thrilling. And if all else fails, you could experiment with different supplements that can help you sleep. Healthline recommends trying magnesium, 5-HTP, L–theanine, melatonin, and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA).

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