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I might also find sitcoms like “Friends” and “Seinfeld” relaxing because they were made during a simpler time — before a relentless 24-hour news cycle pumped more angst into my anxiety. “Both these shows depict comedic aspects of our everydayness — helpful, lighthearted reminders of some of the absurdities of life,” says Sharp. “Folks who grew up with these shows get the double benefit because of the added comfort of the familiar. They both remind us of simpler times pre-internet and cell phone,” he adds.
I might also find sitcoms like “Friends” and “Seinfeld” relaxing because they were made during a simpler time — before a relentless 24-hour news cycle pumped more angst into my anxiety.
“There are 100+ potential reasons why a person would find ‘Seinfeld’ comforting,” says Anthony Tobia, M.D., a Rutgers University-New Brunswick psychology professor at Robert Wood Medical School who teaches “Psy-feld,” a class that references characters on the show to facilitate discussions about the broad spectrum of mental illness. “Once a show (or anything else for that matter) assists in initiating a desired behavior like sleep, individuals tend to resort to it again to achieve the same desired effect. In psychology, this phenomenon is referred to as 'positive reinforcement.'”
So, is my Seinfeld sleep aid doctor-approved?
Is this sleep habit ultimately harmful? Or is it more of an if-it's-not-broke-don't-fix-it situation? When asked, Tobia says, as long as I’m sleeping, it’s probably OK. “One potential adverse, unintended outcome may be an individual becoming psychologically dependent on the show to fall asleep. This isn't a common occurrence, but is possible,” he mentions.
Dr. Rafael Pelayo, clinical professor, Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Stanford Sleep Medicine Center, says my habit isn’t necessarily all that bad per se, but says understanding why I feel compelled to watch these shows before bed might do me better in the long run. “Do you need some entertainment or news up until the last second you’re awake, is it providing some familiar background to help tuck you in, or are you blocking out your thoughts by having something in the background?” he asks. “The issue is not the TV, but why do you do choose to have it on. Insomniacs often begin with one thing to help them sleep that seems to work but after a while it stops working and they have to add something else. Over the years, a bunch of things are then thought to be needed to sleep and you might still sleep poorly. That is why we need to get to the root issue (of your insomnia).”
If I really want to break the habit, Sharp says I could consider planning to curl up with a relaxing book or magazine at bedtime instead — and the word “plan” is an integral part of the prep. “Pick a date on the calendar and get psyched to do something different or better for yourself, then give it a chance for a few weeks or longer,” he recommends, adding that people are creatures of habit, and habit change can take time.
Maybe I’ll give it a try. And if I find myself tossing and turning, it’s great to know that Jerry, George, Elaine, Kramer and Newman are always just a click away.
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