Why veterinarians are losing sleep

Are sleep and mood issues affecting your performance at your veterinary practice? It might be time to reconsider the television programs you watch before bed.
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Oct 02, 2013

I call it “CSI Insomnia.”

For the past five years, I’ve urged attendees at my health and wellness presentations to stop watching crime, horror and just plain scary television shows and movies before they go to bed. By viewing these intense and intimidating stories before bedtime, we inadvertently stimulate the primitive parts of our brains that prepare us to battle serial killers, avoid zombie assailants and flee natural disasters. And then we complain when we can’t sleep.

While I enjoy a good apocalyptic flick every now and then, chances are you’ll catch me at an early-bird showing. What I really, really enjoy is an underdog story. Small-town kid makes it big. Undersized athlete wins the game. Political crusader overthrows a corrupt corporation. Harry Potter defeats Voldemort. I love it when I leave the theater or turn off the TV full of hope and positive emotions. I also sleep better.

Hope is a wonderful force. It’s also essential to our physical and mental well-being, according to a fascinating new study from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Researchers at that university were concerned that most studies evaluated the negative impact that film, TV and videos had on viewers. Too little attention was focused on the programs and flicks that offered hope. Happy endings were clearly the underdog in academic circles.

Lead researcher Abby Prestin and her team set out to determine whether watching stories of people surviving seemingly insurmountable odds had measurable effects on a viewer’s psychological status. First, she evaluated the effect that different kinds of uplifting stories had on participants. After watching each clip, participants filled out questionnaires and rated various emotions (hopefulness, amusement, etc.) on a scale from one to seven. Second, she tried to establish what effects these stories had on viewers’ personal goals. Did viewers experience only a brief surge of emotion, or did their positive feelings stay with them long after the story was over?

The study was conducted over five days with 248 participants randomly divided into four groups: underdog narrative, comedy, nature scenes and a nonwatching control group. Viewers in the noncontrol groups watched a five-minute video once daily. The underdog crowd watched scenes from uplifiting movies such as The Pursuit of Happyness. The comedy group guffawed at clips from funny films like The Hangover. The nature gang watched outdoor scenes. At the end of the five days, the underdog group reported they felt significantly more hopeful and more motivated to pursue their personal goals. The study further verified this response 10 to 12 days after the study had ended. The comedy and nature groups didn’t experience any lasting effects.

Psychologists have known for decades that human nature favors the underdog. Perhaps it’s encoded into our DNA. If not for the underdog, it’s doubtful that many of our “Great Leaps Forward” would’ve ever occurred. This study concludes that by exposing ourselves to hopeful stories, we become more hopeful. I wholeheartedly agree.

So before you tune in for the next episode of CSI: Everybody Dies, check your options. Maybe there’s a story that could leave you energized and encouraged, instead of angry and anxious. If nothing good is on (and there rarely is), it’s healthier to stare out the window.

For me, this study proves that Hope Floats and that Saving Hope is possible. Good night and restorative sleep to you all.