Here’s Why You Need TV Shows to Fall Asleep

Netflix has stopped streaming many of my favorite TV shows throughout the years: The Hills, 30 Rock, and recently Friends (though, thank God, that’s getting a home at HBO Max). Every time I’d lose one I’d think, “Damn. How am I going to fall asleep?”

That’s not an insult to any of those shows. The Hills is iconic, Friends is always there for me, and 30 Rock remains one of the funniest sitcoms to ever hit network TV. In fact, the show—which was created by and starred Tina Fey and ran on NBC from 2007 to 2012—is responsible for most of what I find funny, even years later. I don’t have original thoughts so much as I have 30 Rock bits through which my brain filters all experiences. It’s how I know never to follow a hippie to a second location and to listen to my H.E.A.R.T. And though it got just-OK ratings for most of its run, it’s since become quite the sleeper hit—pun intended.

Which is why for several years, whenever my mind decided that 1 A.M. was a good time to go over every dumb thing I’ve ever done, I’d switch on 30 Rock and doze off to the dulcet tones of Tracy Morgan shrieking, “Doctor Spaceman! Doctor Spaceman!” Whether it’s because I’m so familiar with its particular brand of absurdist office humor or because I find main character Liz Lemon’s privileged-white-lady obstacles refreshingly manageable in these troubled times, it became a very easy thing to fall asleep in front of.

So when Netflix announced in September 2017 it was dropping 30 Rock, I panicked. (This was before I found out the show would soon live on Hulu.) Seeking solidarity, I went on Facebook to post that I was sad to see the show leave streaming because I’d really come to rely on it. Within an hour, dozens of comments appeared from people who also used this particular show as their sleep aid of choice. “Wait, what??? They can’t take it away from me!” wrote one devastated friend. “What the heck! 30 Rock is one of my standby soporifics!” wrote another. One particularly sad comment just read, “Wow. I may never sleep again.”

Others suggested their own favorite sleeping shows as replacements. “Kimmy Schmidt, Archer, and Bojack Horseman are my go-to for turning down,” suggested one person. One buddy said she spent years putting on the Bewitched reboot, the one starring Nicole Kidman, to help her doze off. (I’ve also occasionally turned to movies as comedy calmatives or dramedy dramamine. Why waste a perfectly good ZzzQuil when there are any number of Duplass Brothers films I could play for five minutes?)

Sensing a trend, I wondered how this came to be—especially given the conventional wisdom that staring at a TV screen around bedtime will make you stay up. Turns out, most people don’t encounter that issue. “If you work on a submarine or live in a basement, yes, be worried that the light itself will keep you awake,” Jamie Zeitzer, Ph.D, an associate professor at Stanford University in the Center for Sleep Sciences and Medicine, told me in an email. “For the rest of us, who go outside or work in normally lit offices, there is no reason to worry about the amount of light that is being emitted from these screens—it’s insufficient to directly wake us up.”

I asked Zeitzer what it is about certain shows, like 30 Rock, that seem more appealing for bedtime. He says what most “must-sleep TV” has in common is its ability to distract us. “A key feature of insomnia (or general inability to fall asleep) is that people are inwardly focused and often have cyclic thoughts,” says Zeitzer. “Watching something on TV can, basically, allow people to get out of their own way and allow for sleep to occur.”

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