Abstract: Netflix and Sleep: A Study on the Influence of Binge-Watching on Sleep Quality

◆ Alexander Ort, University of Fribourg
◆ Dominique S. Wirz, University of Fribourg
◆ Andreas Fahr, University of Fribourg

The increasing availability of content on streaming platforms is encouraging the use of several episodes of a TV series in one sitting, also described as binge-watching (e.g., Flayelle et al., 2019; Walton-Pattison et al., 2018). As binge-watching, often takes place at night (Rubenking et al., 2018), this study aims to investigate the effect of binge-watching on sleep quality. Although the impairing effect of binge-watching on sleep is repeatedly discussed, empirical evidence to prove a causal relationship is still missing (Carter et al., 2016; Exelmans & van den Bulck, 2017).
Based on suggestions of those previous studies (ibid.), it is assumed that binge-watching has a stronger negative effect on sleep quality than the use of single episodes of the same series across several days (appointment-viewing) (H1). Moreover, it is assumed that poorer sleep quality can be attributed to increased arousal after exposure, due to the higher intensity of media consumption (H2).
Consequently, an experiment with a randomized 2 (binge-watching vs. appointment-viewing) x 2 (media usage vs. no media usage) mixed-factorial design was conducted. Participants in the binge-watching condition were instructed to watch three episodes in one sitting. The appointment-viewing group was also asked to watch three episodes of a series but over the course of three days. In addition, all participants were instructed to refrain from using media in another evening. Participants conducted the study at home. Data collection involved different surveys (before/after series consumption, and in the morning after sleep) and tracking of Netflix usage (via an extension for Google Chrome). Moreover, participants received a Smartwatch, which documented their sleep quality and heart rate during series exposure.
Due to the comparatively complex design, the presented results contain data from 20 participants (N=20, Mage=27.9, SDage=2.9, 50% female). Data from another 20 participants will be included in the conference presentation. Regarding H1, mixed-factor ANOVAs show neither an effect of media use per se nor of the type of media use on sleep duration. However, according to self-report, participants woke up more frequently after media-use (M=1.88, SD=0.86) compared to the night without media use (M=0.88, SD=0.86), F(1,15)=26.26, p<.001, η2=.64. This effect was even more pronounced in the binge-watching condition, F(1,15)=5.45, p<.05, η2=.27. The Smartwatch data also showed more frequent (micro-)awakenings after sleep onset at nights after media use (M=25.06, SD=7.68) than in nights without media consumption (M=20.28, SD=6.45), F(1,16)=5.18, p<.05, η2=.24. H1 is therefore partially supported. To test H2, a regression analysis was conducted. Results show no significant effects of self-reported post-exposure arousal (SAM; Bradley & Lang, 1994) on the duration of sleep and no effects on the frequency awakenings during the night—both recorded by the Smartwatch. However, physiological arousal—indicated by the average heart rate (bpm) over the last five minutes of series use—promoted awakenings during the night (b=0.07, p<.05). H2 is thus partially supported.
Summarizing, results indicate that binge-watching can indeed have a negative effect on sleep quality. Additional findings will be presented and discussed at the conference.