What Happens To Your Body When You Watch The News Every Night Before Bed

We all want to be informed about what's happening in the world. However, when there is a lot of bad news, consuming too much unpleasant information, especially before bedtime, can have negative implications for your well-being.

Psychologists began to see an increase in news-related stress in 2022, according to  experts at the American Psychological Association (APA). Psychologist and published researcher Don Grant, PhD, tells the APA that the recently emerging terms "headline anxiety" and "headline stress disorder" underscore this recent uptick of people experiencing stress due to consistently consuming the news. In June 2020, 83% of Americans reported feeling anxious about the nation's future in one APA survey, and in a March 2022 APA survey, 73% of Americans reported feeling overwhelmed by world crises.

Yet watching the news on a nightly basis before you go to sleep doesn't only potentially impact your mental health. Making news-watching before bed a practice can also do a number on your body. For example, the recurring stress and sleep disruptions that result from taking in upsetting television news stories can increase your risk of developing a variety of physical conditions, such as high blood pressure, heart problems, and the weakening of immune function, per the University of Chicago.

Let's take a closer look at these and other health risks that can result if you spend too much time watching the news every night before bed.

Raises anxiety and stress levels

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines stress as a natural human response to difficult situations, resulting in mental tension that stimulates people to address threats and challenges in their lives. Your chances of experiencing stress and anxiety increase when you watch the news because exposing yourself to negative or disturbing current events can activate the body's stress response.

The reason for this is that the brain interprets bad news as a threat. Consequently, we experience the stress response because our sympathetic nervous system goes into "fight-or-flight" mode and releases stress hormones, per experts at One Medical. The fight-or-flight response is a survival mechanism that evolved, allowing humans and other mammals to make quick self-protection decisions when faced with life-threatening circumstances. While fight-or-flight mode is a good thing when faced with real danger, if you continuously expose your body to the stress of watching the news every night, you increase your chances of developing headaches, fatigue, anxiety, and sleeping issues. Besides instilling a sense of fear, watching too much news at night can also lead you to experience feelings of anger and hopelessness. Moreover, even if the negative news stories are unrelated to you, the worrying feeling can infiltrate your psyche, exacerbating fears you may already have about your own life.

Moderate your anxiety while staying informed by setting time limits for your TV news consumption. Selecting fewer news outlets and ones you trust will also help keep your anxiety in check. Then, once you have the information you need, turn the TV off and move on with your day.

Leads to sleep disturbances

The emotional impact of distressing news reports before bedtime can lead to sleep disturbances, making it difficult to fall asleep, stay asleep, or both, as anxiety about world events can stick in your head and keep your mind racing. Licensed counselor Bruce Cameron tells Headspace that if you go to bed right after watching television, your mind is processing the material both consciously and subconsciously, which not only leads to disturbed sleep but also challenging days and a worsened mood.

Besides the disturbing content you may witness on television, the blue light the television emits can also upend your normal sleep pattern. Your internal clock (circadian rhythms) helps your body feel awake during the day and wind down at night. However, the team at Sleep Foundation explains that blue light from screens has the same impact as the sun, consequently confusing your internal clock, disrupting your body's production of melatonin, and throwing off your natural sleep rhythms.

You don't need to give up nightly television watching cold turkey to have a better night's sleep, but Jan Van den Bulck, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Communication and Media at the University of Michigan who specializes in the media effects on sleep, advises that you avoid any television programs before bedtime that trigger negative emotions. Making this one change can go a long way toward helping you improve your nightly rest, giving you a better chance of getting quality sleep, per Sleep Foundation.

Increases chances of nightmares

What you dream about while sleeping is typically influenced by what you take in during the day. As a result, stressful news-related content before bedtime can infiltrate your dreams, potentially leading to nightmares or unsettling dream experiences and disrupting the overall quality of your sleep.

If you have nightmares, you're not alone. At least 50% of American adults report having nightmares from time to time, per WAPT. Joshua Tal, a sleep and health psychologist based in Manhattan, says that when we have nightmares, our mind replays images during sleep, attempting to process the day's events. The experts at the American Academy of Sleep Medicine further explain that nightmares are disturbing mental experiences that become increasingly distressing and typically occur during the rapid eye movement (REM) phase of sleep, causing fear or terror to the point that they prompt you to awaken.

If you are a healthy individual who experiences frequent nightmares, this can have short-term and long-term health consequences. You may find you have performance deficits due to cognition and memory problems along with heightened levels of stress. Over time, you are at a greater risk of developing hypertension and exacerbating many types of gastrointestinal disorders, per Nature and Science of Sleep.

Jennifer Martin, a professor of medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, tells WAPT that watching unsettling news and then going to sleep soon after is a surefire way to trigger bad dreams or nightmares. She advises engaging with positive or neutral content before bedtime instead.

Elevates blood pressure and heart attack risk

If your blood pressure has been on the upswing, exposure to distressing news before bedtime could be a cause. Since the body reacts to stressful content, consuming disturbing news nightly can lead to high blood pressure and cardiovascular issues.

A sharp rise in stress causes the body to release hormones that cause your heart rate to increase and blood vessels to narrow (via Mayo Clinic). Consequently, experiencing emotional distress by watching disturbing news content can potentially lead to high blood pressure and damaged arteries. Though your increased blood pressure that comes as a result of watching the news is likely to be short-term, these blood pressure spikes put you at greater risk for a heart attack or stroke. Over time, they can also lead to damage to your heart, kidneys, and blood vessels.

To determine if you have high blood pressure, you can make an appointment with your doctor, visit a pharmacy that has a digital blood pressure measurement machine, or test yourself with a home blood pressure monitor. To get an accurate reading if testing at home, don't eat or drink for half an hour before the test, sit comfortably with your feet flat on the floor, and make sure that the blood pressure cuff is comfortably snug against your skin while you rest your arm on a table at chest height. If the results show that your blood pressure is high, discuss a plan with your doctor to manage the situation, per CDC.

Impacts your ability to relax

Being in a relaxed state before bed is essential for a good night's rest. However, watching the news before bedtime can impede your winding-down process, making it challenging to transition into a night of quality sleep.

For decades, most people were only exposed to television news in the evenings until 24-hour cable news came along, placing news reporting more squarely in our daily lives. Now, however, the news is more in our faces, as many people consume news stories via social media, with 53% of American adults reporting in a 2020 Pew Research Center survey that they get news through social media channels. Thanks to smartphones, social media is at our fingertips, making it difficult to avoid clickbait headlines and the anxiety that negative news coverage can produce, per Mental Health UK.

The key to feeling relaxed before going to sleep is to establish a healthy bedtime routine and adhere to it with consistency. The specifics will vary from person to person, but sleep specialist Stephanie Silberman, Ph.D., tells Mental Health First Aid that what should be the same across all bedtime routines is creating boundaries between daytime and nighttime. Improve your sleep quality by alleviating worrisome or anxious thoughts and a sense of being "on the go" as you prepare for bedtime. The good sleep that results from relaxing your mind and avoiding the news before bed will lead to better cognition and an improved mood the next day.

Increases possibility of depression

As numerous concerning events have been happening in the world over the past few years, many of us are understandably glued to the news for updates. Watching news programs before bed can cause you to stay up later than normal, putting you at risk not only for sleep deprivation, but also for mental health issues.

According to a 2022 study, compulsive news-watching can lead to mental health problems, including an increased risk of depression due to exposure to negative content, and can also contribute to an inability to sleep well. Depression is a common mental disorder that includes symptoms such as sleep issues, tiredness, feelings of low energy, ​​poor concentration, and hopelessness about the future, per the World Health Organization (WHO). Experts at Columbia Psychiatry explain that research has shown poor sleep quality is associated with an increased risk of developing depression, among other mental health problems. Depression can potentially lead to many physical health risks, including increased chances of developing cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and respiratory conditions, per WHO.

Changing your sleep habits, such as avoiding news and social media commentary before bed, can potentially help improve depression. However, if your depression and sleep issues persist, tell your doctor, who can help determine a treatment plan.

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

Raises obesity risks

When you watch the news before bedtime, you subject yourself to a bombardment of disturbing content that can make it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. As sleep debt accumulates, it impacts your metabolism and can lead to obesity.

The team at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health explains that data points to a link between television watching and greater calorie intake. Additionally, watching television news every night before bed can cause regular sleep deprivation, which can trigger a cortisol spike, increasing the chances of your body retaining fat. 

Moreover, sleep deprivation can make it difficult for your body to process insulin, which has the potential to lead to an increase in body fat, per WebMD. Insulin is a hormone that transforms sugar and starches into energy. After just four days of not getting adequate sleep, your insulin sensitivity (how well your cells respond to insulin) could decline by more than 30%, according to research out of the University of Chicago. Researchers noted that this reduction in insulin sensitivity was similar to the difference they observed between the cells of obese versus lean individuals who participated in the study. 

Ultimately, making sure to get enough quality sleep is less about losing weight and more about providing your body with the quality sleep it needs to do its metabolism work to prevent weight gain. Obesity can lead to serious health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease, so if you must watch the news before bed every night, shut off the television at least an hour before getting under the covers, per WebMD.

Disrupts digestion and digestive health

Though functioning at a slower pace than during the day, your digestive system is still active while you sleep. Since the stress and anxiety caused by unsettling news can lead to a disruptive night's sleep, watching the news before bed could lead to issues such as indigestion, acid reflux, or irritable bowel syndrome (via Sleep Doctor).

More research is needed regarding the connection between sleep and digestive health, but many people who experience gastrointestinal issues also report having bad-quality sleep. Some studies link poor sleep with a reduction in the microbes in your gastrointestinal tract that are essential for keeping your body healthy. These microbes absorb nutrients and play a meaningful part in the digestion process, per Sleep Doctor.

Your digestive health is also linked to your melatonin levels, which help manage your gastrointestinal motility, the transit of ingested food through your digestive tract. The impact of lack of sleep on your melatonin production can consequently lead to gastroesophageal reflux disease if melatonin levels decline (per Henry Ford Health). Watching the news every night before going to sleep may also lead you to eat too close to bedtime. Ryan Barish, M.D., a functional lifestyle medicine physician with Henry Ford Health, says that it is essential to avoid eating within three hours of bedtime to prevent restless sleep and the digestive process from being overburdened. The more often you are sleep deprived, the more likely you are to develop digestive issues and impact your overall gut health.

Interferes with self-care practices

By the time you turn off the TV, you may be so tired that you decide to skip your bedtime routine and opt to go directly to sleep. However, the distress of current events can be hard to turn off in your mind, compromising your ability to get a full night's rest, which can lead to daytime sleepiness, a higher risk of injury, and mental health issues, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

Rather than watching the news (or any overstimulating television programs that can impact your ability to wind down and get a good night's sleep) before bedtime, consider switching out the news for other activities that will help you ease into a better snooze.

Though most experts advise against watching any kind of screen too close to bedtime, if you need to wean yourself off of screens, the experts at Alaska Sleep Clinic suggest tuning into an ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response) channel on YouTube. The soothing sounds, often accompanied by calm scenery, can trigger a tingling sensation along the back of the neck and sometimes the spine and limbs that have a calming and pleasurable effect. However, set yourself up for success by avoiding the news and any screens before bedtime. Instead, build a self-care routine that works for you to prepare for an optimal night's rest, such as taking a warm bath followed by listening to an audiobook or engaging in a brief meditation practice.