Summer is peak season for blockbuster movies: kids are out of school, and lots of people are on vacation and looking for things to do. However, if you’re considering a nighttime showing of a nail-biting horror film or an edge-of-your-seat psychological drama, you may want to consider switching to the matinee. Whether you’re taking in the latest adrenaline-pumping, big-screen flick or binge-watching that addictive new show that just dropped on Netflix, it’s good to be aware that what you watch near bedtime can actually interfere with your sleep. Some movies and television shows are best saved for daylight hours.
Not surprisingly, horror movies top the list of entertainment to avoid before bed. While some people can watch the goriest slasher flick and go to bed with no problem, many find that watching scary thrillers ignites their fight-or-flight response. You may find yourself checking and re-checking locks, looking under beds, and sleeping with the lights on after watching some of the scariest films ever.
According to Reader’s Digest and Hollywood Reporter, the scariest movies of all time include classics like Psycho, The Shining, The Exorcist, and the 1974 version of Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Also included are contemporary terror flicks, like The Cabin in the Woods, The Orphanage, and 28 Days Later; Korean hits including Ringu and The Host; and, even movies aimed at kids, like Coraline.
While they might not leave you quaking in fear or checking the closet for monsters, mind-bending psychological dramas can make for some sleepless nights. These movies get inside your head and leave you pondering twists, turns, and riddles long after the credits have rolled. Movies like Inception, Donnie Darko, and The Matrix wrap an enigma in confusing layers of reality, not-quite-reality, and definitely-not-reality. Other mind-warping films include those that deal with memory, like Memento, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Vanilla Sky. Directors like David Lynch (Mulholland Drive), Christopher Nolan (The Prestige) and Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan) are masters of the mind-bender genre.
The same rules apply for TV shows as for movies: if it creeps you out or causes your mind to race, it’s probably not a good idea to watch it right before bed. Best saved for daylight: creepfests like American Horror Story and The Walking Dead, genre-bending crime dramas like Fortitude and The X-Files, and series that cleave terrifyingly close to reality, like Black Mirror and The Wire. Heavy dramas, like The Handmaid’s Tale and Game of Thrones, are not exactly sleep-inducing, either.
It’s not just what you watch that can cause sleep problems. The light from device screens, such as TVs, computers, tablets, and smartphones, is on the blue end of the spectrum. It can interfere with the production of melatonin, the hormone that regulates sleep. That means your flickering screen is sending your body the message that it needs to stay awake instead of winding down to prepare for sleep. It’s best to avoid screens altogether for the 60 to 90 minutes prior to bedtime. If you need a pre-bed diversion to get in the zone, curl up with a (tame) book, preferably under a soft, yellow-tinted light.