Journal article

Pre-sleep arousal induced by suspenseful series and cliffhangers have only minor effects on sleep: A sleep laboratory study


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  • 11.01.2023
Published in:
  • Sleep Medicine. - Elsevier BV. - 2023, vol. 102, p. 186-198
English Pre-sleep arousal impairs sleep. Therefore, watching suspenseful TV series before sleep is not recommended as they increase arousal. In particular, the consumption of multiple episodes of the same suspenseful TV series in one sitting - termed binge-watching - could lead to large increases in physiological arousal delaying sleep onset. Furthermore, abrupt endings during critical scenes - termed cliffhangers - result in unfinished story lines, which further increase cognitive arousal and could negatively impact sleep architecture and the number of awakenings. However, the effects of bingewatching and cliffhangers on objective sleep parameters are still unknown.
Here we tested in a controlled sleep-laboratory setting whether pre-sleep arousal induced by watching 3-4 episodes of a suspenseful TV series has negative effects on sleep in 50 healthy young participants (39 females, mean age: 22.62 ± 2.60 (SD)). Watching a neutral TV series served as a control condition, according to a within-subject design. In one group of participants, the suspenseful TV series ended with a cliffhanger. In the other group, the same TV series ended where no ongoing action was interrupted. Presleep arousal was measured both subjectively with the self-reported level of stress and objectively with the mean heart rate and cortisol level. As expected, suspenseful TV series induced higher cognitive and physiological pre-sleep arousal than neutral control TV series, with highest values for TV series with cliffhangers. In spite of the high pre-sleep arousal, participants fell asleep faster after watching the suspenseful compared with the neutral TV series (F(1,48) = 4.89, p = 0.032, n2 = 0.09). Sleep architecture and the number of awakenings remained unaffected. However, in the first two sleep cycles, heart rate was still higher after watching suspenseful TV series (F(1,48) = 6.76, p = 0.012, n2 = 0.12). And only after cliffhangers, objective sleep quality e measured as the ratio between slow-wave and beta activity during sleep e was lower than in the other conditions (interaction effect, F(1,48) = 5.05, p = 0.029, n2 = 0.10).
Our results speak against large impairments of pre-sleep watching of multiple episodes of suspenseful TV series and cliffhangers on sleep quality and architecture. However, unfinished narratives might induce more subtle changes in oscillatory power during sleep, possibly reflecting ongoing cognitive processing during sleep.
Faculté des lettres et des sciences humaines, Faculté des sciences économiques et sociales et du management
Département de Psychologie, Département des sciences de la communication et des médias
  • English
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