Baby Reindeer And The Lure Of The Binge-Watch

Baby Reindeer and the lure of the binge-watch

The hit Netflix series about a man and his stalker is topping streaming charts and dominating office conversations right now. But could mainlining a good TV series be hurting your health?

BY THE THIRD episode of the hit new Netflix series Baby Reindeer I knew I was in trouble. The credits were rolling, the next episode was cueing up and the countdown was on: seven, six, five, four . . .

It was 9.53pm on a ‘school night’. I looked at my wife. Should we keep going? I felt the familiar grip that a great series can exert on you, gluing you to the couch, unable to resist the pull of finding out what happens next but knowing choosing to stay up could come back to haunt you the next morning. Then, as you wake bleary-eyed, you curse yourself for not calling time on the show at a reasonable hour.

This experience is not unique to Baby Reindeer by any means. This year alone I’ve felt similar levels of paralysis when watching One Day, Heartbreak High, Shrinking and any number of other streaming shows that ruled my world for a few nights, but tellingly perhaps, I now struggle to recall. Part of me loves being in the midst of a streaming binge. The knowledge that you have something good to watch at night gives you a treat to look forward to as you wash the dishes or, if you’re a parent like me, an escape from Bluey.

When you don’t have a series on the go life suddenly becomes more aimless. You face the endless scroll for a show that captures your interest. The number of shows my wife and I have started and abandoned after 15 minutes or so means the “Continue watching for Ben” tab on my Netflix carousel is one of the biggest on my account. Restlessness, boredom, ennui all come calling. A good series is a blessed relief. If you didn’t know better, you’d call this behaviour an addiction.

Is it though? Binge-watching has become a burgeoning field of research after the term was first recognised by the Oxford Dictionary back in 2013. Since then, many researchers have pointed out the practice’s similarities with addictive behaviour, namely its engagement of the same neural pathways.

“When engaged in an activity that’s enjoyable such as binge watching, your brain produces dopamine,” says clinical psychologist Dr Renee Carr. “This chemical gives the body a natural, internal reward of pleasure that reinforces continued engagement in that activity. It is the brain’s signal that communicates to the body, ‘This feels good. You should keep doing this!’”

But the behaviour could be a symptom of underlying issues rather than a cause of them. A study of Taiwanese adults found problematic binge-watching was associated with depression and anxiety related to social interaction. Similarly, a study from Georgia Southern University found associations between binge-watching and anxiety and depression.

But binge watching may also have less sinister motivations, such as boredom or a desire for escapism. A study by Portuguese researchers found participants had positive changes in mood after watching sci-fi, while their “negative affect values” decreased after watching comedy and slightly increased after watching drama.

Regardless of whether you classify binge-watching as an addiction, there’s no denying that it can impact your sleep.

As well as the impact of the message (the show), there’s also the effects of the medium (your 64-inch flatscreen). Blue light emitted by your TV screen suppresses the production of the sleep hormone melatonin, which can keep you awake for longer, often processing what you’ve just watched – I did this after watching episode five of Baby Reindeer.

So, what should you do if you’re in the midst of a streaming binge?

Make a plan going in

Decide on a limit beforehand, say two episodes. Or a time limit. If your normal bedtime is 10pm, then enforce a hard cut-off, no matter where you are in the episode or how climatic the scene you’re watching.

Take a break between episodes

Pause the screen during the countdown to the next episode. Get some water, go to the bathroom, have a chat about what you’ve just watched with your partner. By taking a break you might find you’re good for the night.

Don’t watch in bed

Ideally, you shouldn’t have any screen time an hour before bed. By having the TV in another room you’re at least creating some kind of break, however brief, between hitting stop and hitting your pillow.

 Don’t be too hard on yourself

Don’t beat yourself up if you slip up; everybody does it. Tomorrow is a new day, a new episode, a new series. The journey starts again.

Related:

Study: your Netflix binges are lowering your sperm count

Study Reveals Watching Less TV Could Cut Heart Disease 

By Ben Jhoty

Ben Jhoty, Men’s Health’s Head of Content, attempts to honour the brand’s health-conscious, aspirational ethos on weekdays while living marginally larger on weekends. A new father, when he’s not rocking an infant to sleep, he tries to get to the gym, shoot hoops and binge on streaming shows.

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