Binge-watching can be described as an issue that is either directly explained by or corresponds to addictive behaviors in individuals; like other binging behaviors, it is manifested through watching TV programs in rapid succession. This phenomenon has only become an issue recently, with the emergence of technology and the increasing prevalence of streaming services. The affected or interested population scope spans from regular citizens curious about their health to psychologists, neurologists, and other members of academia who are exploring this novel venue in research. The accumulating research raises concerns regarding potential detriments to human health caused by such an addiction. Some potential consequences include physical, such as an increased risk of certain physical and mental diseases, such as anxiety or depression, and those associated with a sedentary lifestyle. Generally, binge-watching individuals exhibit symptoms otherwise characteristic of an addiction, where their actions undermine their productivity, reduce sleep, and compromise everyday life quality. Hence, regardless of being defined as a ‘textbook’ addiction, binge-watching is an unhealthy behavior pattern due to its detrimental effects on physical and mental health, productivity, social relationships, life quality, and sleep.
Before discussing why binge-watching is detrimental, it is essential to clarify what counts as viewing too much content in a row. Academics define binge-watching as watching two or more episodes of a show in one sitting while streaming services such as Netflix count anywhere between one and six episodes (Starosta and Izydorczyk 7; Steins-Loeber et al. 142). Thus, it may be sufficient for someone to watch two episodes without stopping to quality as a binge-watcher, although the exact line is still blurry.
One of the most direct and fundamental impacts of binge-watching is sleep disruption. If a watching spree happens to occur during the evening or nighttime, there is an increased likelihood that binge-watchers will forgo their sleep to watch more episodes (Starosta and Izydorczyk 10). As a result, people typically function with fewer hours of sleep than their brain typically requires. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM), 88% of adults have lost some sleep due to binge-watching (Paprocki). Such a large number indicates that the issue is pervasive. Moreover, the younger generations are especially prone to such behavior, accounting for over 70% of binge-watchers (Starosta and Izydorczyk 11). Therefore, the concerns pertinent to binge-watching apply to a significant proportion of the population, making this problem highly relevant as a matter of public health.
Sleep disruptions have both short- and long-term consequences, harmful to the body and the mind. Regarding immediate effects, people can experience fatigue and lowered attentiveness the day after (Starosta and Izydorczyk 10). However, the long-term effects are even more concerning. Not getting enough sleep systematically leads to sleep deprivation, which may damage neural functions. Sleep-deprived individuals may have trouble with memory retainment and daily functioning due to ‘brain fog’ and struggle with learning (Peri). Moreover, not only the quantity of sleep suffers, but the quality also. As Starosta and Izydorczyk recite, those who spend excessive time watching shows sleep worse and exhibit more insomnia symptoms (10). Hence, binge-watching compromises people’s health by infringing on the amount and value of sleep affected individuals receive.
Some of the most prominent issues related to binge-watching manifest in physical health and well-being. The lack of control over one’s watching patterns results, in addition to sleeping issues, in unhealthy dietary habits (Starosta & Izydorczyk 5). When people concentrate on what is going on on the screen, they consume food or snacks mindlessly, thus ingesting more than initially intended. Moreover, some studies have found a correlation between binge-watching and excessive use of alcohol and nicotine (Starosta & Izydorczyk 5). One explanation could be that, similarly to the issues with food, people are less aware of the amounts they consume while watching a show. Alternatively, the same lack of self-control in binge-watching habits may render some individuals more vulnerable to overconsumption and indulgence in harmful habits. Lastly, because of the sedentary nature of this activity, which reduces physical movement and raises the intake of unhealthy calories, it may exacerbate or increase the likelihood of developing associated cardiovascular diseases (Vaterlaus et al. 470). Therefore, binge-watching may cause and be associated with numerous unhealthy behaviors.
Due to the decreased motivation and lack of sleep, individuals’ productivity may drop. According to Steiner and Xu, a significant proportion of people admits that their work or academic quality was compromised due to binge-watching (13). An example of such a compromised quality may be slowed down response time due to sleepiness or even calling in sick from work. As Peri explains, much of this phenomenon may be attributed to compromised brain functions. However, aside from the neurobiological aspect, there are other considerations. For instance, college students are especially prone to losing productivity. Vaterlaus et al. attribute it to decreased sleep, healthy eating and exercising regimen, and increased social time (470). While social connections are not a negative side, they may contribute to the same harmful pattern when viewed as an incentive to watch more.
In this line of discussion, it is crucial to distinguish between casual watching in one’s free time and marathon viewing that is out of control. People may feel guilty about either, and those feelings may be underlined by their respective cultures. In some cultures, people often perceive their time as devoted to being mostly and generally productive. For instance, if someone is watching videos non-stop during the daytime when most other people work, these feelings of guilt may exacerbate (Costa 7). However, watching something, even in occasional large doses, does not pose a problem until it interferes with other aspects of a person’s life. Binge-watching, in a sense presented in this work, is unhealthy precisely because of one’s inability to control it.
Lastly, not only does binge-watching affect people’s academic and work achievements, but it may also compromise other areas of life. If TV binging becomes a significant source of happiness and entertainment for someone, they may neglect their duties and even reject other ways to improve their situation. For instance, Ahmed found that many college students have restructured their schedules around watching TV shows, sacrificing academics, and healthy living (195). If caught in the maladaptive cycle, people may be robbed of opportunities to develop and grow. The fact that the gratification is instantaneous and effortless seemingly eliminates the need for someone to seek other ways to improve their lives.
Further, binge-watching does not create a significant and lasting source of satisfaction. Many people report feeling empty upon completing a TV show or experiencing a loss of relaxation, while feelings of ‘laziness’ remain (Ahmed 195; Flayelle et al. 57). In other words, even people who begin watching to relax may not gain the desired result in the long run – instead, they may become addicted. This process has been commonly associated with “obsessive passion” around TV shows, goal conflicts (productivity versus binging), and feelings of distress (Flayelle et al. 57). These emotional aspects and limited self-growth may negatively affect people’s quality of life, as they are increasingly focused on obtaining more satisfying experiences from ‘easy’ digital sources.
Although more research is needed to establish the causality direction between mental health issues and binge-watching, it is clear that they are related in some ways. Ultimately, the most significant risk of this activity is the chance of developing addiction since such behavior provides a seemingly effortless and instantly gratifying way to spend time, enabling escapism and procrastination (Starosta and Izydorczyk 10). It may be caused by a desire to avoid unpleasant life events, boredom, loneliness, and other factors (Starosta and Izydorczyk 10). Thus, binge-watching is commonly characterized as an addiction based on interfering with one’s daily duties (Steiner and Xu 13). Addiction of any sort is not a behavior that can be characterized as healthy. Hence, at its core, excessive digital content consumption, like any addiction, is maladaptive and damaging since it replaces productive ways of emotional regulation.
As a result of such maladaptive patterns, binge-watchers may suffer from a range of mental health issues. Individuals with binge-watching issues are more likely to be prone to anxiety, depression, and being lonely (Starosta and Izydorczyk 12). Since some researchers characterize the behavior as addiction, it may manifest similar ‘symptoms.’ People either do not realize the lengths of time they spend in front of the screen or consciously engage in this easily rewarding behavior at the expense of future consequences (Riddle et al. 589; Steins-Loeber et al. 142). Following their sessions of ‘instant enjoyment,’ individuals then tend to experience regret, guilt, or self-loathing (Costa 8; Steiner and Xu 13). These feelings may induce or exacerbate anxiety or depression as they realize they must now address the postponed responsibilities. Moreover, researchers discovered that people prone to feeling anxious after excessive watching were most likely to spend more time binging and watching more episodes in one sitting (Starosta and Izydorczyk 8). Therefore, binge-watching may create a vicious loop, where an individual utilizes this activity to obtain quick relief and becomes increasingly more anxious.
Another issue with mental health that binge-watching has been heavily associated with is depression. As mentioned, scholars hypothesize that immersing oneself in the world of content helps some people escape reality and engage in avoidance behavior instead of facing the problems they may have in real life (Starosta and Izydorczyk 8). Flagella et al. refer to binge-watching as an “emotion-focused coping strategy” – in essence, a practice based on emotional rather than rational reasoning (57). Thus, whether it is an addiction or not, binge-watching is a maladaptive coping mechanism that commonly results in negative feelings. Binging on TV shows is an unhealthy approach, which does not help but worsens the extent of mental health challenges people face.
It is important to note that some scholars disagree with the notion of all binge-watching being inherently harmful. Tukachinsky and Eyal make a case to state that marathon viewing does not have to be dysfunctional, arguing that motivation behind the actions matters (275). For instance, if binge-watching occasionally occurs and for the reasons such as spending time with friends, it may not have the same harmful result. In the same line, Song et al. contend that when people’s drivers to binge-watch are relatively ‘positive,’ such as socialization or stress relief, the consequences may not be as detrimental (1). However, it is not clear how large the proportion of people who only engage in binging behaviors for ‘positive’ reasons is compared to the previously described. Moreover, as Starosta and Izydorczyk note, the “goal conflict” between watching something, for instance, to relax, and the resulting neglect of obligations may eliminate any positives (10). Therefore, it may be overly optimistic to state that binge-watching, at large, is a safe habit to possess.
Binge-watching has a broad range of adverse effects on human well-being and thus should be considered unhealthy and maladaptive. Nearly 90% of adults, especially youth, have been affected by it, demonstrating this issue’s prevalence worldwide. The disruption of sleep may result in sleep deprivation; causing individuals’ cognitive skills such as memory, response times, or learning abilities to be compromised. In turn, productivity suffers when people are less capable of working the next day due to neglecting duties. Moreover, other habits such as eating less healthily, exercising less, and consuming more nicotine and alcohol are associated with binge-watching. There have been numerous links between binge-watching and declines in mental health, including anxiety and depression. While some argue that the reason why people binge-watch may matter in terms of health and emotional outcomes, there is not sufficient data to support such conclusions. Ultimately, binge-watching is an unhealthy coping mechanism and should be treated as such.
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