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Explainer: Why binge-watching is harmful

Published on Thu 16 Feb 2023 at 06:12

Set a time limit before you start. The golden rule is to stop watching halfway through an episode. 

By Toibah Kirmani

Sitting on the couch with some munchies and watching your favourite shows, episode after episode, without a pause, may seem like a great stress buster. You feel pleased as your brain produces dopamine (the happy hormone), and the binge-watching continues. 

But did you know that binge-watching can impact your health in ways that you may not anticipate? Here are some of health hazards that researchers have touched upon:

  • Sleep problems: Research shows that blue light from television screens, computers, smartphones, and other devices supresses the production of melatonin, the hormone that regulates sleep-wake cycles. And if you stay up late to watch your favourite Netflix series, sleep challenges will only get worse.
  • Reduced physical activity: The more time you spend sitting, the less your muscles are used for movement. This causes a gradual loss of muscular strength and stamina. Studies also show that prolonged sitting increases the chance of developing the metabolic syndrome, which raises the risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and the like.
  • Weight gain: Watching your screen during meal times is a recipe for distracted eating. Studies have found a strong correlation between distracted eating and overeating, leading to weight gain and related health problems.
  • Cognitive decline: Studies show that excessive screen time can lead to lower volumes of grey matter in the human brain. In the long run, this can lead to larger decline in cognitive function among people who spend too much time with their devices. 

Does this mean that you have to give up on your much-loved online series? Not necessarily! It’s prudent to set a time limit before you start. If you want to limit yourself to one or two episodes in a sitting, the golden rule is to stop watching halfway through an episode. The ending is usually filled with incentives that encourage you to watch the next episode. Happy watching!

(Medically reviewed by Dr Sabba Mehmood, Physician and WHO certified Infodemic Manager, India.)