When is Binge Watching a Guilty Pleasure, or a Problem?
Decades ago when hit television (TV) shows like Friends, the Simpsons, and SNL made their first debut, there were debates over how much TV viewing was acceptable, or even healthy to engage.
Now that we live in a golden age of streaming, and with such a huge investment in the industry, TV watching — binge-watching in fact — has morphed into part of a desirable lifestyle, a form of home entertainment sought by many.
With this cultural shift towards streaming through services like Netflix, shows are better than ever with more sophisticated characters, plots and programing.
Further, according to a study published by the American Heart Association, that with access to entire seasons of a show, binge-watching, defined as watching 2 or more episodes in one sitting, has become a bona fide activity.
However, although many feel binge-watching shows are an acceptable pastime, there is evidence that shows it has drawbacks and excessive viewing can become detrimental to our health.
Short and Long-Term Ramifications of Binging
With access to entire seasons of TV shows at any time through services like Netflix, watching multiple episodes back-to-back has become a common practice. But technology has produced an activity that has the potential to be somewhat addictive, and impact a person’s mental and physical health.
Netflix defines binge-watching as watching 2 or more episodes in one sitting. According to an article in the Scientific American, sitting for these long periods of time slows the body’s circulation and metabolism, leaving a person feeling depleted, or like the
“television has somehow absorbed or sucked out their energy”
Other binge-watching short-term effects are: increased lack of attention, inability to sleep, and poor impulse control. Most people ignore these concerns and continue to engage in excessive television watching. They do not realize there may be a bigger impact on their future health.
A recent study looked at the long-term health effects of binge-watching television by examining “the amount of time subjects between 5 and 15 watched TV, and the health outcomes they experienced 26 years later”. Researchers concluded that subjects who watched more than two hours of television in one sitting were at a greater risk of developing diabetes and higher cholesterol as adults, than those subjects who did not.
So if it is so detrimental to one’s health, why do they keep doing it? It is because of the addictive nature of binge-watching and becoming so hooked by the show’s storyline, that the health consequences are overlooked.
“Just One More Episode…”
— When people hear the word “binge” they typically think of either binge drinking, binge eating or binge watching. These binge behaviors all share some similar addictive qualities.
Brain activity during binge-watching a show “yields brain activity similar to other forms of addiction” like alcoholism. We all know the dangers of excessive drinking, but how could doing something so innocent as a day spent watching a TV show be so harmful?
According to Dr. Richard Rosenthal of St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital on the TODAY show,
“Anything that causes pleasure is potentially abusable when matched up against the ability of your forebrain to regulate it”.
While some use alcohol and drugs to feel pleasure and relieve their stress, others turn to binge-watching television. Escaping one’s concerns and life to binge-watching may seem a safe option, but over time it can be harmful. Studies actually say
“people who tried to forget about their anxieties by watching television had a 4 percent increased risk of developing insomnia”.
A recent Texas A&M study revealed that plowing through an entire season of shows in one sitting might provide pleasure and excitement in the moment, but afterwards you can feel worse.
Like others, I got so hooked by the show that I did not realize I had become mildly addicted. In a short amount of time, binge-watching Grey’s Anatomy became a daily habit. Worse, when I was not in front of the screen, I found myself yearning for the feeling I got when I watched the show.
Services like Netflix are changing the way people absorb entertainment and making falling down the binge-watching hole too easy and accessible in today’s society.
In much the same way a prescription for painkillers exposes patients to a potentially addictive substance and risks they would otherwise never have been exposed to –people not necessary predisposed to addiction — so too do streaming services like Netflix. In this way, the entertainment industry has unwittingly created a whole new category for addictive and unhealthy behaviors.
Like Anything Else, Moderation is the Best Practice
While internet cultural has embraced binge-watching as harmless and a good stress reliever, we need to widen our perspective and be aware of the drawbacks.
As streaming on Netflix surpasses traditional viewing, watching several episodes in one sitting leads to an unhealthy relationship with Netflix. After being left on a cliffhanger, you tell yourself “just one more episode”, and with access to a season’s worth of shows through Netflix, it is so easy to become addicted.
Streaming seems great and exciting in the moment, but it has changed the way society interacts with entertainment, to the point where it can be detrimental to our health.