Having trouble falling asleep, a writer for Vulture pondered a study from February in the Journal of Sleep Research that “runs refreshingly counter to common sleep-and-screens wisdom.”
For years, science and conventional wisdom have stated unequivocally that looking at a device — like a smartphone, tablet, laptop, or television — before bed is akin to lighting years of your natural life on fire, then letting the flames consume your children, your community, and the very concept of human progress….
Specifically interested in the use of “entertainment media” (streaming services, video games, podcasts) before bed, [the new February study’s] researchers asked a group of 58 adults to keep a sleep diary and found that, if participants consumed entertainment media in the hour before bed, the habit was associated with an earlier bedtime as well as more sleep overall (though the benefits diminished if participants binged for longer than an hour or multitasked on their phones). Essentially, these researchers explored screen use before bed as a form of relaxation rather than a form of self-harm, which is exactly how I and probably 5 billion other people use it — as a way of distracting our minds from the onslaught of material reality just before we drift off to temporary oblivion.
Vulture’s writer interviews Dr. Morgan Ellithorpe, one of the authors of the Journal of Sleep Research study and an assistant professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Delaware who specializes in media psychology.
Dr. Ellithorpe is a proponent of intentional media use as a way to relieve stress, but she tells me that, in her research, she’s found that the worst types of media to absorb before bed are those that have no “stopping point” — Instagram, TikTok, shows designed to be binge-watched. If you intend to binge a show, that might be fine: “Making a plan and sticking to it seems to matter,” she says. We agree that humans are famously bad at that, and that’s where the problems begin. The solution, Dr. Ellithorpe says, is figuring out why we’re on our screens and if that reason is “meaningful.” Are we turning to a screen in order to recover from an eventful day? Because we want something to talk about with our friends? Because we’re seeking, as she puts it, a moment of “hedonic enjoyment”? The key is that you must be able to recognize when that need is fulfilled. Then “you’re likely to have a good experience, and you won’t need to force yourself to stop. But it takes practice.”
Dr. Ellithorpe cites several studies for me to review — on gratification, mood-management theory, selective exposure, and self-determination theory — all of which, to various extents, grapple with the notion that human beings can make decisions to use media for purposeful things. “There’s this push now to realize that people aren’t a monolith, and media uses that seem bad for some people can actually be really good for other people.” Although many researchers like Dr. Ellithorpe and her cohort are onboard with this push, she admits that “the movement has not filtered out to the public yet. So the public is still on this kick of ‘Oh, media’s bad.'”
And that’s a huge part of the issue. “We sabotage ourselves when it comes to benefiting from media because we’ve been taught in our society to feel guilty for spending leisure time with media,” Dr. Ellithorpe says. “The research in this area suggests that people who want to use media to recover from stress, if they then feel bad about doing so, they don’t actually get the benefit from the media use.”
But even Dr. Ellithorpe is prone to unintentional sleep moralizing, saying she is often “bad” and “on her phone two seconds before I turn off the light.” She recommends watching a “low-challenge show” before bed and, like Dr. Kennedy, cites Stranger Things specifically as a dangerous pre-bed content choice because “you have to keep track of all the characters, remember what happened three seasons ago, and it’s emotionally charged. It might be difficult afterward to come down from that and go to bed.” In the end, she suggests watching whatever you want as long as it doesn’t delay your bedtime.
Read more of this story at Slashdot.