It all starts innocently enough. I’ve had a long day. I head straight from work to a dance class. I run an errand or two on my way, get home, shower, have a chat with one of my roommates, and am ready for a moment to myself. Which usually means watching an episode of the show I’m currently into. I deserve this one little indulgence before starting all over again tomorrow. Right?
The problem is that one episode is never the end of it. One episode turns into two, and that becomes three. The whole time, I know that if I really want to sleep better, I should close my laptop. So I give myself a deadline: By midnight, I will put it away. But I’m not really feeling so tired yet—possibly because research has shown that your phone, tablet, or computer display can suppress melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate sleep—and it’s not egregiously late. Until suddenly, it is.
But even then, I don’t always call it a night. My argument just changes. I tell myself that it’s already so late anyway and I’m going to be tired tomorrow no matter what, so what’s the difference? If only I were as persuasive in other scenarios as I am when justifying one more episode to myself.
By now, I’m aware that this is my tendency. Yet I sometimes manage to convince myself that because I’m cognizant of the behavior, I’ll be able to counteract it, no problem. And yes, occasionally, I hold myself to a limit. But way more frequently, I fall into the same old pattern. It’s so easy to keep watching—you literally don’t even have to click anything on most streaming platforms. Just wait a few seconds and it’ll automatically load the next episode.
In the moment, it’s great; I get to find out what happens next! But the next day, of course, I’m tired at work. I can feel my energy level flagging when I’m supposed to be plowing through my to-do list. Tasks take longer and fewer boxes get checked.
So, I decided that I just can’t watch Netflix (or Hulu or Amazon or whatever) right before bed on a weeknight. For tomorrow-me’s sake. That doesn’t mean I never catch up on the most recent episode of a current show. But I’ll specifically choose something where there’s only one new episode I can watch. And I’ll do it earlier in the evening.
When it comes time to wind down, I’ll pick up whatever book I’m reading instead. And even though I absolutely love reading—and as a kid would definitely stay up too late for another chapter or five—I’ve found I’m much more rational and responsible when holding paper rather than staring at a screen. I end up making better decisions for myself.
I’ll venture a guess that I’m not the only one who struggles here. If this sequence of events sounds familiar, try diving into a book instead. Not sure what to read? Try one of these suggestions from Bill Gates, a classic career book, or one of these books that changed a CEO’s life.
If you’re so used to flipping on the TV or settling down for some streaming when you arrive at home that you wouldn’t even know what else to do to avoid those screens (and you want some other options besides those books) try writing, making a list, meditating, or another activity from this list.
And check out these tips on how to get better sleep at night.
Most importantly, be honest with yourself. If you know one episode will inevitably turn into a marathon, don’t go down that road at all. Save that bingeing for the weekend.
Photo of person looking at a laptop screen in bed courtesy of Westend61/Getty Images.
A longtime word nerd and bookworm, Stav studied history and dance at Stanford and later journalism at Columbia. Before joining The Muse, Stav was a staff writer at Newsweek, where she wrote about everything from Nazi hunters to Chinese adoptees to Good Girls Revolt, the real story and fictionalized TV show about a 1970 gender discrimination case at the magazine. She prefers sunshine and tolerates winters grudgingly.More from this Author