Photo: CBS

Must-Sleep TV

Maximize TV's effectiveness as a sleep aid with these key tips from our insomniac correspondent.

One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not watched well.

Such is my love for television that it is a constant companion in my life. I cook with it, I have meals with it, I work with it, and I sleep with it. Of course, a slew of medical experts will tell you that the TV -- among other distractions -- needs to be banished from the bedroom before you can attempt to get a good night's sleep, but I refute those claims. In fact, television is the Mr. Sandman that lulls me into contented sleep more frequently than Nyquil, melatonin tabs, or vomitous applications of warm milk.

"Read a book," you say? Not happening. Books fail to nanny me off to dreamland because they are far too engaging. If it's a good book, it will keep me up reading, too stimulated for sleep; if it's a lousy book, it will keep me up arguing and mad (again too stimulated for sleep); and if the book is just mediocre, it's too boring to adequately engage me to a point where it can then quietly disengage me for sleep. By comparison, television is the ideal combination of passive entertainment needed to push the brain into sleep mode.

While it requires you to do very little other than look at it, television is the shiny object that distracts your brain from the unrelenting "WHY AM I STILL AWAKE?" state, which, once hit, will keep you punching your pillow until it checks itself into a battered Wamsutta shelter.

Some of you out there are probably like my husband and annoyingly given to falling asleep anywhere and anytime within minutes of lying down. I have never been one of those people and as such, I have spent many sleep-filled nights exhaustively researching exactly what makes perfect Must-Sleep TV viewing.

My Must-Sleep TV requirements are as follows:

1. No New Episodes Need Apply

Old, worn-in shows are your best bet for sleep. Bedtime is not the time to get into brand-new shows or pull out the episodes of a favorite you've never seen, because those will keep you too interested. I can watch old episodes of Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot because I've seen each one so many times I can recite the dialogue, but my binge-watching of Midsomer Murders must be confined to daylight hours since it's all new to me. (Also, the theremin is way too freaky for sleep. See Requirement #6.) Remember: Interest leads to wakefulness. Wakefulness leads to insomnia. Insomnia leads to suffering.

2. TV Shows, Not Movies

Even two-hour movies are just shy of being long enough to properly put you down. You need more than two hours to get past the lighter phases of sleep and into the more regenerative cycle of deep sleep, so go for multiple episodes of a single show. Which brings us to...

3. Continuous Play

Whether you choose to pay for DVDs or stream online, continuous play is absolutely necessary, as it might take several episodes to lull you. Streaming online has the advantage over the older DVD sets that don't provide a "play all episodes" option. (Looking at you, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.)

4. Netflix Preferred

As discussed above, continuous play of episodes is key, but Hulu's form of back-to-backing includes commercials whose interruptions (often louder and more brightly lit than the show you're watching) prove too discordant for sound sleeping. Netflix is the answer here.

5. Mood Lighting

Dark or subtly lit shows are a necessity for TV tranquility. Multiple attempts were made to fall asleep to The Office, but the fluorescent lighting is too realistic and therefore too jarring. By comparison, Frasier and Star Trek: The Next Generation, while not as ideally murky as The West Wing, don't illuminate the bedroom nearly as much as Michael Scott's (Steve Carell) paper-company shenanigans.

6. Peace and Quiet

No sudden loud noises are allowed, which means most action shows are off the list. The show must be calming, which, given my propensity for waking up when a dust bunny bangs across the floor, is a high bar for me. For instance, Supernatural is sufficiently gloom-ridden, but has far too many unexpected screams, growls, and loud decapitations to qualify for Must-Sleep TV. The West Wing, on the other hand, is dark, quiet, and an hour long.

7. Hour-Long Episodes

Preferred, but this one isn't a deal breaker. As long as Netflix has tapped the series for its continuous play feature (they’re sort of random about which shows get this and which don’t), half-hour episodes work just as well.

8. Remote Controllability

In the event that you wake up while a show is still playing, and Netflix hasn't yet paused your playback with their "Continue Playing" prompt, you need to be able to turn the television or computer off without setting foot out of bed. The center button of the Apple remote sends a laptop into instant black-screen sleep mode with only the slightest exertion by your thumb.

9. Proper Screen Saver

Make sure your screensaver isn't too bright and/or that your screensaver mode defaults to black screen. Why? Well, if your computer does go to sleep during viewing, an inappropriate screensaver will undo all of Frasier Crane's (Kelsey Grammer) good work.

Based on all the data I’ve gathered over the past several years, I’ve finally reached the conclusion that my ideal TVQuils (tm Sarah D. Bunting) are Frasier and The West Wing, with occasional applications of the first four seasons of Psych.

What are your Must-Sleep TV shows? We want to hear about them in the comments, but until then, rest well, all you wonderful people out there in the dark.


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