Why Netflix Wants You to Take a Break

It’s bad for your brain

Key Takeaways

  • Netflix is testing a feature that will allow subscribers to set a timer for their viewing period.
  • A viewing break will extend battery life on devices and give your brain a rest, observers say.
  • With so much time at home this past year due to the pandemic, the amount of screen time has increased for many adults.
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Netflix is testing a new feature that will allow subscribers to set a timer for their viewing period. Experts say giving your brain a break from binge-watching is a good idea.

The new feature—only available on select Android devices and currently limited to adult profiles—lets you choose between four settings: 15 minutes, 30 minutes, 45 minutes, or the end of the show. The app will stop at the end of the timer; observers say a viewing break will extend battery life on devices and give your brain a rest.

"If people want to limit the time they stream, timers are very valuable," Paul Levinson, a professor of communications and media studies at Fordham University, said in an email interview. "If a streaming TV series is good, it will be difficult to turn away from it and do something else. Too much media consumption can leave not enough time for work, chores, and other essential activities."

Pandemic Binge-Watching

With so much time at home this past year due to the pandemic, the amount of screen time has increased for many adults, Meghan Marcum, chief psychologist at mental health treatment center A Mission for Michael, said in an email interview. "If the new normal becomes a routine, it can mean less time interacting with friends and family," she added.

"Too much media consumption can leave not enough time for work, chores, and other essential activities."

Looking at a screen for an extended period can cause eye strain, sleep disturbance, and difficulty focusing, Marcum said. It also can lead to an increased risk of obesity, loss of cognitive abilities, and problems socializing with others.

"Too much time away from reality can also bring distorted perceptions on what is real or lead some viewers to become desensitized to violence and other forms of trauma," Marcum said. "These problems tend to occur gradually over time, however, [and] limiting screen time can be a proactive step to help to ward off some of these potential concerns."

woman using her tablet in bed at night
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Marcum recommends using apps that monitor your viewing time, including Freedom, Screen Time, and Dinner Time, but not every expert says you need an app. According to Levinson, the human brain is "still the best device to keep track of our streaming."

Can Netflix Be Addictive?

While Netflix can help pass the time, Will Malnati, CEO of media company At Will Media, believes too much binging could be addictive. 

"The more that you incorporate Netflix into your life, the more your thirst for it grows," he said in an email interview. "I find that with Netflix, it’s almost all-consuming; when you’re watching it, it’s usually all you are doing."

"If the new normal becomes a routine, it can mean less time interacting with friends and family."

Other forms of media are less intrusive, Malnati said, explaining how people listen to podcasts while performing other activities like exercising, chores, or traveling. 

"It can add to, rather than take away, the balance from your life," he said. "You can think of podcasts as something that you are, in fact, 'consuming,' but it does not demand nearly as much of your attention."

Users should seek alternatives to overconsuming entertainment services like Netflix, said Malnati, who also is a podcast producer. 

"I do think the majority of consumers are tuning in to Netflix for entertainment, and it's often difficult to come out smarter or feeling as if you have gained information," he said. "What’s nice about the podcast space is that it’s growing so quickly—there are so many options for who and where you want to get your information from—that wasn’t the case even just a few years ago."

As someone who spends far too much time on Netflix, I’ll be trying out the new time limit feature as soon as it rolls out to my devices. The massive variety of episodes available on the service has seriously cut into my productivity. I’ll be sure to cut down on my viewing time as soon as I finish watching The Great British Baking Show. One season down, only seven more to go.

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