Are Scary Movies Ruining Your Sleep?

Are you someone who loves a good horror film, but finds it particularly challenging to get enough shuteye after? If so, you may want to ask yourself one question: are scary movies ruining your sleep?

By Nicole Gleichmann

Ghost stories, haunted houses, and horror movies are just three scary experiences that we humans love. We enjoy that jolt of adrenaline and excitement that we get from being scared, so much so that we will pursue the feeling even when we know it’s going to cause a restless night…or two, or three.

Horror movies, in particular, can make sleeping through the night a struggle. This begs the question, why exactly are scary movies ruining your sleep? You might be surprised by what you find.

3 Reasons Scary Movies are Ruining Your Sleep

1. Adrenaline High

The best time to watch a scary movie is when it’s dark out, and you’re huddled under a blanket with your friends or family. The darkness only heightens the rush of adrenaline that you get when the film hits its climax. There is one problem with this: adrenaline causes a state of arousal, not sleep.

It makes your heart rate soar and your body go into a fight-or-flight response, neither of which is particularly beneficial before bed. If you’re experiencing adrenaline shortly before bedtime, you aren’t giving your body and mind the proper amount of time to calm down following excitement.

2. Blue Light Exposure

Another problem with watching horror films—or anything else, for that matter—before bedtime is that you are exposing yourself to high levels of blue light from your TV or computer screen. When you’re exposed to blue light too late in the day, your body is tricked into thinking that it’s daytime. This can inhibit the release of the sleep hormone melatonin, which naturally peaks at night, signals to our brain and body that it’s time for bed, and makes falling asleep exceptionally difficult.

3. Nightmares

Even if you’ve given yourself a good amount of time between the end of the horror movie and sleep, you might still struggle to fall asleep or sleep soundly thanks to nightmares. It’s no mystery why this happens; scary movies elicit a fear response in our brain which can last for hours, days, or even longer. While we enjoy the feeling of being scared when we watch a movie, that feeling doesn’t necessarily help us throughout the rest of our days or nights.

There are even some people whose trauma from a horror movie can become debilitating for their long-term mental health and sleep quality. This is most common when a film is particularly culturally or emotionally significant to someone. Because of this, you might want to steer clear of scary films that might hit too close to home.

How to Minimize the Sleep-Disrupting Effects of Horror Films

If you are someone with a love for scary movies, you might not be willing to just stop watching them so that you can sleep better. Fortunately, there are things that you can do to support a healthy night’s sleep and still enjoy a scary movie. Here are some tips to help you do so.

Don’t Watch It Right Before Bed

The more time between the end of the scary movie and your bedtime the better. Try to leave at least an hour between the time when your movie wraps up and the time that you want to fall asleep. This allows your fight-or-flight response to calm and your adrenaline levels to return to normal.

Don’t Watch Scary Films in Bed

If you have ever struggled with insomnia before, you’ve probably heard the following advice: keep your bed for sleeping and sex only. If you attach feelings of fear and mental arousal to your bed, it can make it hard to sleep well there.

Meditate and Practice Gratitude Before Bed

Our next tip is a way to calm your mind and replace feelings of fear with positive emotions that can help you sleep like a baby. First, write a list of 10 things that you’re grateful for. This can change what your mind is concentrating on. Next, meditate to encourage your mind and body to slow down and relax. Practicing gratitude and meditation between your scary movie and bedtime can also help to decrease the chances that you will wake up from nightmares in the middle of the night.

Watch or Read Something Funny or Romantic After

To reduce the chances that you’ll wake up from nightmares or have trouble falling asleep because of unidentified noises, try entertaining yourself with something less scary and more fun after the scary movie wraps up. We recommend a comic book or a funny book if it’s late at night to limit blue light exposure; however, a comedy or romantic TV show or film is a good option if it isn’t too close to your bedtime.

Final Thoughts

A scary movie doesn’t have to lead to a sleepless night. Just be sure to save a little time between your horror film and bedtime to allow your mind and body to calm down. And when needed, add some meditation or watch something fun to change what your mind is thinking about, allowing you to fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly.

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