Media Before Bed Can Be Beneficial

By Bert Gambini

Time spent watching television, playing video games, or listening to music just prior to bedtime might not be as bad as you thought. The relationship between media use and sleep quality is a complicated union, with many factors that can either improve or disrupt a good night’s rest, according to new study results by a University at Buffalo researcher.

“We found that media use just prior to the onset of sleep is associated with an earlier bedtime and more total sleep time, as long as the duration of its use is relatively short and you’re not multitasking, like texting or simultaneously scrolling social media,” says Lindsay Hahn, PhD, an assistant professor of communication at UB. “Watching a streaming service or listening to a podcast before bed can serve as a passive, calming activity that improves aspects of your sleep.”

But effectively using media as an instrument to improve sleep depends on staying within certain boundaries. Hahn’s research focused exclusively on legacy media, such as television, radio, video games, and books. “We intentionally looked only at what you might call ‘entertainment media,’” says Hahn, the paper’s co-author. “Despite social media getting a lot of attention in research circles and popular culture, American time-use surveys show that people still spend a lot of time with television, music, and books. “Investigating their use remains important because we aren’t always using social media.”

Hahn’s findings published in the Journal of Sleep Research at, found that poor quality sleep can affect physical and mental health. Sleep problems have also been linked to obesity, cardiovascular diseases, depression, and anxiety. Additionally, the problem of insufficient sleep has been increasing in the U.S. Hahn says previous research has suggested how media use might contribute to sleep problems, but because many of these results are inconsistent, her team wanted to explore the media-sleep relationship using different methodology.

Earlier work relied on self-reporting, asking participants to recall their media use. Many of those studies also had participants sleep in a lab, or ask them to self-determine the quality of their sleep. Hahn’s study relied on the 58 participants recording what occurred and when it occurred in a media diary. She also trained them how to use an electroencephalography (EEG) machine, a device that measures electrical activity in the brain, providing an objective measure of sleep quality and duration.

In general, the results suggest that media use one hour before bed was associated with an earlier bedtime and more sleep, but the effects diminished as the duration of media increased or when participants multitasked. Hahn’s team also found that being in bed during media use was associated with more total sleep time; and the amount of deep sleep or REM sleep was unaffected by media use before bed.

“These results show the potential benefits of media use and point to the possibility of interventions that allow for media use before bed in ways that improve rather than disrupt sleep,” says Hahn.

Bert Gambini is a News Content Manager at University at Buffalo.