How TV Triggers the Stress-Insomnia-Stress Cycle

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A stressful life doesn’t have to be a sleep-deprived life. Stress only morphs into insomnia if you handle it badly, according to new research published in the journal SLEEP

Unfortunately, “handling it badly” turns out to involve three incredibly common ways of dealing with stress — including TV! Wonderful, glorious TV. Doing something fun to distract yourself has long been held as healthy advice to deal with stress, and lead study author Vivek Pillai told Science of Us in an email that he was surprised when his results found the opposite. People who tried to forget about their anxieties using entertainment, either by going to the movies or watching television, had a 4 percent increased risk of developing insomnia. (Okay, that’s not much. But it still doesn’t help matters.) The short-term benefits of entertaining yourself numb come back to bite you, it seems.

Similarly, those who took to drugs or alcohol saw a 5 percent increased risk. Worst of all, though, was avoidance — people who said they’d altogether given up on coping were rewarded with a 9 percent increased risk for developing insomnia.

Other old standbys like exercise, social support, and meditation remain smart ways of dealing with stress before it becomes so problematic that it disturbs your sleep. But if you already struggle with the insomnia piece of the stress-insomnia-stress cycle, Pillai explained one way to trick yourself into nodding off:

Sleep is a largely automatic process. Instead of willing oneself to fall asleep or spending inordinate amounts of time in bed waiting for sleep — neither of which work — do the opposite: only go to bed when you are sleepy and stay out of bed when you are not.

You can’t always change the source of stress in your life, but you can change the way you cope with it.