It's my experience that people (I am one of them) tend to fall asleep while watching television. Afterwards, when lying in bed, sleep doesn't come as easy as when they were watching television.

Is this because only the "small" part of the brain that is involved in watching television (and when you experience that what you're watching ain't worth looking at, so you fall asleep before you can switch the canal) and the other parts "wake up" when you're lying in bed, which makes it harder for you to fall asleep? Or is it just linked to being tired (in which case you would expect to fall asleep easy in bed)?

You can examine this by letting a group of people (or men or women, not both) of about the same age, physical health, etc. letting perform the same things (like eating, waking up at the same time, doing the same physical tasks), and before going to sleep letting them watch the same movie on TV. I think doing this a month suffices. After a month of collecting data (from questions asked and physical examinations), you're maybe able to say something useful.

  • $\begingroup$ This question seems based on anecdotal evidence and is hence off topic. I would suggest embedding it in a proper framework suitable for this site. $\endgroup$
    – AliceD
    Dec 9, 2017 at 17:58
  • $\begingroup$ Why doesn't my experience about myself and others count as evidence? Can evidence only come from carefully planned and controlled, reproducible experiments? As is required by The Scientific Method, whatever that may be. Paul Feyerabend has shown in his book Against Method that the scientific method is a chimera; of course the many forms of scientific methods can be useful in certain situations, but in general, "anything goes", which is one one of his "famous" quotes. So why don't my observations (I hear the same story from other people) count as a fact? $\endgroup$ Dec 9, 2017 at 18:46
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Why doesn't it count? Because it's anecdotal. In other words, it hinges on too many undefined factors; 1) Sleep 'doesn't come as easy' - as in how fast? If yes, then how long were you watching the TV? 2 hours? Are you laying awake for 3 then? Well, maybe you slept a decent 8 hours behind the TV and didn't need any more rest? Maybe the TV show was boring? I wouldn't fall asleep watching the last Star Wars! Well, so on and on. The question is 1) anecdotal ('self help') 2) opinion based 3) not framed in CogSci - that's about our top three close vote reasons of late, all stacked in one post :) $\endgroup$
    – AliceD
    Dec 9, 2017 at 20:31
  • $\begingroup$ Questions like this may be more suitable for Reddit or Quora. You can also try to edit it to make it on-topic here. It just doesn't fit a scientific stack, at least imo. The community hasn't mass-close voted so perhaps others like your question better. We'll see. From my pov, I would try to embed it in a CogSci framework. $\endgroup$
    – AliceD
    Dec 9, 2017 at 20:36
  • $\begingroup$ @AliceD-"A CogSci framework"? What a terrible jargon, typical for the major part of scientists! But I'll try. $\endgroup$ Dec 11, 2017 at 13:57

2 Answers 2


What you describe is rather common for a certain type of insomnia, called psychophysiologic.

The patient has evidence of conditioned sleep difficulty and/ or heightened arousal in bed as indicated by excessive focus on, and heightened anxiety about, sleep; difficulty falling asleep in bed at the desired bedtime or during planned naps, but no difficulty during other monotonous activities when not intending to sleep

And more from Therapy in Sleep Medicine:

Insomniacs often report that they fall asleep easily when watching television or reading in the living room, but become aroused upon going to bed. In addition to the previously mentioned tendency of insomniacs to associate bedroom stimuli with frustration, falling asleep when reading or watching TV may also result from the fact that doing so keeps the body in a quiet and relaxed position, and keeps the mind focused away from frustrating attempts to fall asleep. Support for the habit of reading or TV in bed is derived from Gallup polls, which indicate that about one third of all U.S. adults read themselves to sleep or fall asleep watching television in bed. Watching television has also been associated with falling asleep more easily on multiple sleep latency testing (MSLT). Nevertheless, there is considerable controversy regarding this recommendation, focused mainly on the success of Bootzin’s rules when used as a whole. Clinicians may, therefore, first advise the use of the bed only for sleeping, but if that does not help, they may suggest a trial of reading or watching TV in bed.

For more on Bootzin's rules see this page for instance.

Unfortunately, not much can be said about 'why'; from the first source:

there are little to no data relating specifically to the etiology and pathophysiology of psychophysiological insomnia.

Having said that, it's also known from studies on night-shift workers that 20-mins to 1-hour nap improves alertness (cf. the Therapy book, which cites several studies e.g.), so it's rather common/expected that if you fall asleep at the TV you'll have a harder time falling asleep later, even if you don't have insomnia. The distinction is one of degree/intensity, I suppose.


I found a very useful quote from a book by Ray Schilling. The book is called "Healing gone wrong, healing done right". Here's the quote:

Your brain is working overtime when you watch TV. You do this for several hours and your brain thinks it should be active. Then you turn the TV off and want to fall asleep. Your brain thinks, no, I am activated now. Let’s have some fun: what about pupils flashing, and why not activate your eyelids: now you got eyelids jerking. Then the brain recalls some of the noises and thinks: “I can do that too” Bingo: You got high pitched heavy white noise; that’s when you over impose all of the various noises you heard on TV into one. I suggest you experiment alternative ways of handling the TV. You could give yourself 2 hours or so after finishing TV, before you go to sleep. Alternatively, you may want to not watch TV for one evening and see whether things are better. There is another thing: When you watch TV, you stimulate your adrenal glands to produce more cortisol, which is the waking hormone. Cortisol counteracts melatonin, which is the sleeping hormone. So, when you decide to go to bed, your hormones disagree with you. The circulating cortisol will prevent you from falling asleep and inactivate the melatonin that is released from your pineal gland when the environment around is dark. Total darkness is the trigger normally to pour out melatonin, which inactivates the still circulating cortisol. But if there is too much cortisol circulating you are still in a fight/flight mode of thinking, which was needed for daytime stress. But all of this will settle when you follow my advice above. If you still have problems falling asleep, take 3 mg of melatonin from the health food store about 30 minutes before bedtime. If this does not put you to sleep within 20 to 30 minutes, you are thinking too much. At that point, you would benefit from 500 mg to 1000 mg of valerian root (that’s in addition to the melatonin you already took). The valerian root calms your nerves and you will fall asleep. If you still can’t sleep, you should see your physician for a possible sleep study.

I think this is a very enlightening piece of writing. I deduce from this that when you watch TV, your attention is only directed to the TV, shutting down other parts of the brain that would be active if you weren't watching. These other parts "wake up" when lying in bed [if you go to bed directly after watching your flat (or non-flat) screen], and start "shouting" louder than normal, which causes the difficulty of falling asleep. There is more cortisol, which competes with the melatonin. This applies of course to people who have no psychologic issues. What happens on the molecular level (which I think is the scientifically accepted answer) I can't say, though melatonin and cortisol are chemicals of which the balance for sleeping well is disturbed.

  • $\begingroup$ Can you formulate your own answer? While it's great to include quotes, it is encouraged to write your own answer, in your own words around the quote to specifically answer the question. For example, the last part [But all of this will settle when you follow my advice above .... .... .... The valerian root calms your nerves and you will fall asleep. If you still can’t sleep, you should see your physician for a possible sleep study.] is not targeting the question at all. That's why it's best to synthesize an answer yourself, preferably from multiple sources to target the question at hand. $\endgroup$
    – AliceD
    Dec 11, 2017 at 13:58
  • $\begingroup$ That's Okay. But If I knew the answer, I wouldn't ask the question, would I? $\endgroup$ Dec 11, 2017 at 14:09
  • $\begingroup$ Incorrect. It's encouraged to answer your own questions if you happen to find the answer. If this is not an answer to the question, then you should put it into the question instead. $\endgroup$
    – AliceD
    Dec 11, 2017 at 14:17
  • $\begingroup$ Incorrect! It is an answer to the question. Why should I put that in the question? $\endgroup$ Dec 12, 2017 at 7:31
  • $\begingroup$ This isn't going anywhere. $\endgroup$
    – AliceD
    Dec 12, 2017 at 8:45

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