Some people have brains that allow them to fall asleep without any problems or need for sleep aids, like magic. Then there are the rest of us who either cultivated unhealthy sleep habits throughout our lives or have brains that won’t turn off, or stay off, all night. Perhaps there’s a restless or noisy bed partner. Maybe you have a pet who insists on sleeping as close to you as possible so they can sneeze directly onto your eyeball at 3 am. For us, having a TV to turn on (or keep on) is a lifesaver.
I first got television in my bedroom in high school when I was laid up with mono for six weeks. I was so miserable my mother let me have a TV and VCR against her better judgment. It was downhill from there. All of these years later not only do I need to have a TV on to fall asleep, but I’ve also converted several roommates and partners to TV-Sleepers over the years.
There’s an art to falling asleep with the TV on. If you truly intend to fall asleep you need to pick the right programming. It can’t be anything too interesting or engaging — that’s how you end up awake until the wee hours watching The Wonder. But if it’s something too mindless you’re just going to get annoyed. It’s hard to fall asleep when you’re annoyed.
You should consider something dialogue-driven rather than a show with a lot of action sequences or sight gags. Not only do you need to worry about the audio levels when guns start a’ blazing you’ll also feel compelled to keep your eyes open to see what happens next. It’s also better to put on something familiar, knowing what’s in store will let you relax and nestle into your bed, comforted by voices and lines you know.
There are so many ways to consume media in our homes these days you may have a few options when it comes to whether to watch nighttime TV with or without commercials. In our master bedroom, we have a cable box with a DVR and a Fire Stick. I can watch linear TV, time-shifted programming on the DVR, or something from a streaming service. I like to collect shows on the DVR to fall asleep to because I don’t feel “guilty” about dozing off in the middle of something. I’m not going to miss a favorite scene because I can always queue up the show the next night from the last scene I remember watching. Plus, no commercials. A word of caution though, if you use the fast-forward button you run the risk of falling asleep while it’s zooming through commercials. If your remote has a button that allows you to boop ahead 30 seconds at a time it comes in handy at night. You can close your eyes and hit the button until you hear dialogue again. If you do decide to watch live, linear TV commercials are the perfect opportunity to deploy the old “I’m just resting my eyes” trick on yourself and fall asleep while someone tries to sell you reverse life insurance. Because sometimes it’s too hard to resist the rerun of The X-Files you stumbled across on the digital channel you forgot existed until just that very moment.
Another important factor is the actual placement of the television. It should be positioned so you can see it regardless of which side of your body you sleep on, even if it’s just with one eye from inside a duvet cocoon. Strategically placed mirrors on bedside tables and closet doors also come in handy when trying to keep a sleepy eye on the TV.
The final thing to consider is whether to deploy the sleep timer setting. For some folks, the added pressure of knowing the television is going to turn itself off is a lot like the pressure of knowing the alarm clock is going to ring. The anticipation and anxiety may keep you awake. For others, it’s comforting to know you don’t have to worry about volume levels changing, or EMS tests interrupting you once you’ve finally fallen asleep. Or worse. I once made the mistake of falling asleep to a movie on one of the lesser Showtime channels and around 4 am I was woken up by loud sex moaning because apparently Showtime still airs softcore porn late at night. I did not know that. Well, now I do.
Procedurals that have some humor to them always work best for me. There’s a rhythm to every episode and you can snooze as the plot hits each beat. I like old episodes of NCIS or Bones. Very old episodes of the original Law & Order are also good to fall asleep to. You can gently drift off to sleep after Lenny Brisco gets in his opening pun. Psych episodes are fun, almost TOO fun. Plus there are a lot of visual gags that you’ll want to keep your eyes open for. After much thought and many restless nights, I’ve determined that the perfect movie to fall asleep to is actually My Cousin Vinnie. It’s just science.