Netflix and Chill? More Like Back Pain and Insomnia

By: Hailey Foster

“I often feel the effects of watching tv physically, most of the time it’s being tired from sitting down so much or my body feeling numb. There does come a feeling of regret from sitting down so much because I feel as though I wasted time,” says Christian Arroyo Rios, a 21-year-old who attends the College of Southern Nevada. He, along with millions of other people, experience similar effects of watching too much television, and this will only increase with generations to come. Aside from TV creating an abundance of problems for people, the popular streaming platform, Netflix, has proven to lead to some serious issues such as heart disease and stroke, depression, and mood disorders from a lack of socialization. However, when we break things down, researchers have learned that the main culprit at large is in fact from binge-watching, which is the practice of watching multiple episodes of a television series in rapid succession. With the integration of this platform appearing in the daily lives of a majority of people around the globe, the consequences and health issues derived from binge-watching shows are becoming more apparent in society. 

In 1997, Reed Hastings and Marc Randolph created Netflix. The familiarity of the platform known today originally started as a DVD rental service in 1998, which back then was an online rival to the then dominant Blockbuster Video. According to an online article, Business of Apps, Netflix introduced the subscription model at the turn of the century in which the company moved away from a single DVD rental and started incorporating the idea of multiple rentals as consumers could watch, without incurring any extra costs or late fees. In addition, Netflix introduced their first algorithm which utilized user ratings to select films that might appeal to any given subscriber. Moving into the direction of the platform most people are familiar with today, by 2010 users could watch Netflix through a PS3, Xbox360, or an Apple device. In the same year, the company went international and appeared in several countries in Canada, followed by others in Latin America the next year. Netflix today is truly a global phenomenon as it was made available in almost every part of the wold in 2016. 

Netflix Global Expansion courtesy of Statista

The single-most genius yet possibly destructive invention was improving the idea of the remote control. This little device already gave people the luxury of changing channels without having to get off of the couch, but Netflix has taken this one step further. The company practically encourages binge-watching due to their creation of the automatic “next episode” button, in which the

Netflix’s next episode button courtesy of iPhoneFAQ

show continues to play seamlessly without people having to make decisions. With this new feature, it is time to take a look at some significant statistics that emerged from Netflix consumers. The company’s vice president, Cindy Holland, revealed in a conference in March 2019 that the average viewer watched around two hours of content per day, and as of April 2019, there were a cumulative 165 hours of Netflix watched daily across the globe.

Now that the concept of binge-watching is fresh in our minds, we begin to discuss the complications and health issues that this action causes. To begin, one of the main problems caused by binge-watching is poor posture and back issues. According to Athletico Physical Therapy, a chain offering orthopedic rehabilitation in Illinois, there are three common “poor postural positions” caused by binge-watching — forward head, rounded shoulders, and flat back. As noted on Athletico’s website the forward head position is usually caused by looking up a TV that is significantly higher than your head height. 

Arguably one of the most significant problems derived from Netflix is lack of sleep. According to a 2017 study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, avid binge-watchers reported poor sleep quality, increased fatigue, and more insomnia symptoms. Many people might wonder why binge-watching is so common if it is already known that it causes so many problems with health and physical fitness. The reason could be several factors stemming from the show itself, and whether it is entertaining, if the storyline was thrilling, or if there were cliff-hangers that make people feel inclined to keep watching. 

Infographic about loss of sleep from binge-watching content. Courtesy of Tuck Sleep

Michigan State University researchers presented a link between binge-watching and poor lifestyle choices such as opting for unhealthy meals and snacks, and sedentary behaviors at the 67th Annual Conference of the International Communication Association. They found that binge-watching can affect your cardiovascular system, vision, socialization, and sleep patterns — all of which can lead to other problems. In addition, Ronald Chervin, a sleep neurologist and director of Michigan Medicine’s Sleep Disorders Centers, says that watching multiple episodes of Netflix before sleeping may cause people to lose more sleep not only that night, but for multiple days after as well. 

The Washington Post sent out an article that included insight from Sophia Tolliver, a family medicine physician at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, and she declared from several studies that sitting for long periods of time can increase one’s risk for metabolic syndrome, which can increase your risk of heart disease, stroke and Type 2 diabetes. She also found from research that a majority of individuals binge-watch alone, which can lead to increased risks of heart disease and stroke. In addition, watching Netflix alone can lead to fewer significant social relationships which might even increase the rates of depression and other mood disorders. 

A more recent study found that most Netflix viewers choose to binge-watch a series rather than taking their time to finish it. This is becoming way more common among children and adults who find spare time throughout their week to watch Netflix. It is so easy to be able to watch the next episode right away rather than having to wait for it to air the following week on cable. Researchers found that shows under the Sci-Fi, horror, and thriller categories are typically the most likely to be binged. 

Marlyn Sarkissian, a recent UNLV graduate, said “If I start a new show on Netflix, I will 100% binge-watch it. Sometimes I avoid starting shows if I know I’ll be busy because I know I’ll stay up watching instead of doing something productive.”

Some people may wonder why others choose to binge-watch when it is known that it can cause direct health issues. Dr. Renee Carr, Psy.D., a clinical psychologist offered an explanation in which she said its due to the chemicals being released in our brains. 

“When engaged in an activity that’s enjoyable such as binge watching, your brain produces dopamine,” she said. “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!’ When binge watching your favorite show, your brain is continually producing dopamine, and your body experiences a drug-like high. You experience a pseudo-addiction to the show because you develop cravings for dopamine.”

Another explanation comes from Dr. DeSilva, M.D., a psychologist at Laguna Family Health Center, who said that when people watch TV, it is possible that they form a bond with the characters, which ultimately make them more likely to binge-watch a series in its entirety. 

“Identification’ is when we see a character in a show that we see ourselves in,” she said. “‘Wishful identification,’” is where plots and characters offer opportunity for fantasy and immersion in the world the viewer wishes they lived in. Also, the identification with power, prestige and success makes it pleasurable to keep watching. ‘Parasocial interaction’ is a one-way relationship where the viewer feels a close connection to an actor or character in the TV show.”

Even though binge-watching can be a stress reliever for some, it can cause depression as viewers finish some television series. 

Dr. John Mayer, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist at Doctor On Demand, said, “We often go into a state of depression because of the loss we are experiencing, and we call this situational depression because it is stimulated by an identifiable, tangible event. Our brain stimulation is lowered (depressed) such as in other forms of depression.”

Rebecca Coleman, a 21-year-old lash artist who lives in Las Vegas, about her Netflix experience. She said she typically watches about 3-4 hours of Netflix a day. She binge-watches shows and keeps watching them if there is drama involved or if the episode leaves off on a cliffhanger. I then asked her about how she feels after binge-watching shows. “Usually I’m sad it’s over. I have a difficult time picking what to watch so I tend to binge watch often since it’s hard for me to really get into a show,” she said. 

It is important for people to make a separation from television and real life. While watching shows can be addicting, and sometimes it may make us feel better and relieved from the many stressors of the real world, people must understand that a show is just that: a fantastic representation of a made-up life that can be based on factual events, but at the end of the day the people are just actors who belong to their own separate lives as well. We must continue living life and connecting to others while focusing on making conversation and being social creatures. 

Dr. Judy Rosenberg, a psychologist and founder of the Psychological Healing Center in Sherman Oaks, CA. said people are naturally born to socialize and connect with others. This becomes dangerous when the disconnect happens- when people prefer to watch TV rather than be around family or friends. This can lead to humans “starving to death” emotionally from the lack of relationships built. Even though it is hard work trying to form connections with people and focus on every day aspects of life, this is more rewarding than being isolated and confined to your home while watching television. 

Binge-watching courtesy of Sims & Finn Chiropractic

There are several ways that people can become addicted to watching TV and end up bingeing a series, which we have seen creates a lot of issues related to poor health and mental health conditions. Some may feel instant gratification from sitting down to enjoy a series, but eventually this might turn into regret and cause even further problems once the show is finished.


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