For better of worse, “binge watching” (defined as watching between two and six episodes of the same TV show in one sitting) has become a staple of modern culture. In 2015, the Collins English Dictionary selected “binge watching” as its word of the year and in 2016, one man set a world record by watching 94 hours of consecutive television.
A 2013 survey by Netflix showed that 61 percent of its viewers binge watch TV regularly and in fact, 75 percent of people who streamed the first season of Breaking Bad finished all seven episodes in one sitting. However, it turns out that binge watching isn’t just a huge drain on your time, productivity, and social life. It also might be killing you.
1. It can lead to mental health problems
A study conducted by the University of Texas at Austin found that binge watching television was strongly correlated to feelings of depression and loneliness. Spending a whole weekend watching TV can cause feelings like regret and guilt, explained Dr. Grant H. Brenner, an adjunct assistant clinical professor at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. And according Dr. Carol Lieberman, binge watching may also lower your self-esteem, “People who binge watch TV can get caught up in their favorite characters and start to live vicariously through them instead of living their own dreams.”
2. It can lead to obesity (and even diabetes)
Watching TV and snacking make a perfect pair like chips and salsa, or peanut butter and jelly, or popcorn and a criminally unnecessary amount of butter (god we’re hungry). But according to researchers at the University of Pittsburgh, there’s evidence that binge watching TV can actually increase the risk of weight-related chronic diseases like Type 2 diabetes. Every hour in front of the TV can increase your risk of developing diabetes by 3.4 percent and after a day-long binge, that equates to a 30 percent increased risk.
3. It can increase your risk of cancer
According to a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, every four hours spent binge watching TV can increase your risk of death from chronic diseases including cancer by 15 percent. The driving factor behind this statistic is the amount of time binge watchers spend sitting. A meta analysis of 43 studies found that individuals who spend more time sitting than standing or sleeping had a 24 percent higher risk of developing colon cancer, a 32 percent increased risk of endometrial cancer, and a 21 percent greater risk of lung cancer.
4. It can cause insomnia
Researchers have found a link between fluorescent blue light (the light produced by televisions, computers, and smartphones) and the production of melatonin (a hormone which promotes sleep). The effects of fluorescent light have been well documented and overexposure has been linked to headaches, eye strain, seasonal affective disorder, poor immune function, hormonal disruption, anxiety, and problems sleeping among other symptoms. According to one study, watching too much TV has been linked to a 4 percent increased risk of developing insomnia.
5. It can lower your sperm count
Luckily women don’t really have to worry about this one, but a 2013 study found that binge watching may impact male fertility. Over 100 men were asked about their TV watching and exercise habits and researchers found that those who watched 20 hours of television or more per week had half as many sperm as those who watched less. On the other hand, men who exercised 15 hours or more a week at a “moderate to vigorous” level had a 73 percent higher sperm count than those who exercised less. So maybe being a little less of a couch potato can help save your couch potatoes.