TV is stealing our sleep

The popular shows never begin before 10.40pm.
The popular shows never begin before 10.40pm. / V. ALEXANDR / FOTOLIA
  • People in Spain stay awake longer because prime viewing time here is one of the latest in Europe. Doctors are calling for scheduling to be changed

Here in Spain, television is keeping us awake at night and affecting the quality of our sleep. People who enjoy spending their leisure time in front of the TV are often likely to stay up until 2am to watch the end of the latest reality or chat show. But why should that be that the case in this country and not others?

One reason is to do with the programming strategy. The TV companies want to keep their audience figures high, so they design their schedules between the news and their most popular programmes in such a way that people will remain fixed in their seats until the early hours.

This is not innocuous, however: it seriously affects people's sleep. In the UK, for example, people tend to go to bed around 11pm, but in Spain they do so an hour later.

Spain is not a good country for sleeping, and doctors at the Spanish Sleep Society (SES) are among those who are calling for television schedules to be reviewed.

This institution, which is formed by 400 specialists in different fields of medicine, has raised the alarm about the problem.

Its president, pneumologist Joaquín Terán-Santos, warns that putting off the time of going to bed is a type of 'self-harm' which has a serious effect on health.

Staying up late on a regular basis raises the risk of obesity, hypertension, inflammatory processes and ischaemic cardiopathies.

“In our country there is a chronic lack of sleep and many people are only sleeping between five and six hours a night,” he says. He also points out that children's performance at school suffers if they spend too long watching television.

Although some people claim that television can induce sleepiness, Dr Terán-Santos rejects the idea. He explains that, just like alcohol, TV just produces a “fragmentary” somnolence which is not compatible with a healthy lifestyle.

It is not recommended because it is not a refreshing sleep and it means the body cannot carry out its repair work at a psychological, immunological and cardiovascular level.

Spain has one of the latest prime times in Europe. In theory, the channels broadcast their star programmes at 10pm, but in reality none of them do so until after 10.40pm.

In Germany, the peak viewing time is from 8pm until 11pm. In France it is even earlier: from 7pm to 10pm. Here in Spain, it is normal for viewers to still be watching at 11pm.

In fact, when something like Gran Hermano VIP (the Spanish version of Celebrity Big Brother) or the finals of La Voz (The Voice) are being shown, the peak viewing time is nearly always after midnight.

Children's programmes

Strange though it may seem, in Spain even programmes aimed at families and children are broadcast late in the evening. For example the Junior Masterchef show that finished recently started at around 10pm and ended in the early hours of the next morning, on a weekday.

Some time ago TVE and the Ministry of Health signed an agreement that children's programmes would not be shown late at night, but that didn't last long. The broadcaster stopped complying with the agreement, once it realised that its audience figures at that time of day were dropping rapidly.

The Union of Associated Commercial Television Channels (Uteca) argues that the TV stations adapt their schedules to people's own timetables. “The programmes are shown when people want to watch them, and that reflects the working hours here in Spain.

Prime time doesn't determine people's behaviour: it is the time with the highest audience because it has adapted to people's behaviour,” say sources there.

The CEO of Telecinco, Paolo Vasile, once went even further and criticised this form of “dictatorship which wants to tell people what time to go to bed”.

Two years ago Ana Mato, the then Minister of Health, tried to persuade TV stations to bring their news programmes forward by between half an hour and an hour, but she was unsuccessful.

Another factor that extends the Spanish viewer's time in front of the TV is the length of the different TV series. In Spain the number of children watching TV betwen 10.30 and 11.30pm is higher than at 6pm.

This is considered so serious that in 2013 the European Commission took action against Spain for failing to guarantee the protection of children's interests.

Nearly every TV channel shows its most popular programme after 10.40pm. 'Gran Hermano VIP', the finals of 'La Voz' or 'MasterChef' often end in the early hours of the morning.

TVE agreed to bring its prime time scheduling forward but reneged when series such as 'Cuéntame' and 'Águila Roja' began to lose viewers.