Why Do People Fall Asleep in Movie Theaters?

No one shells out $15 for a movie ticket to take a nap, yet many people can’t help falling asleep in movie theaters — even during loud action films. What gives? Sure, movie theaters are dark and those plush reclining seats are comfortable enough, but is that enough to cause a healthy adult to pass out in the middle of the afternoon? According to studies, topping the list of the most sleep-inducing activities is lying down to rest in the afternoon, followed by watching TV, and then sitting and reading. Movie theaters don’t show up until No. 6, which has a sleep-inducing score of less than half of watching TV, but twice as sleep-inducing as sitting and talking with someone. It turns out that posture plays a big role. A situation with a high sleep-inducing score is one where you’re not moving much. You might be sitting, but you won’t be standing and you won’t be moving your head and neck. When the muscles in your head and neck relax, that sends signals to the brain to reduce something called the “secondary wake drive” — and when that drive is reduced, sleep is more likely to take over. That’s because sleepiness and wakefulness are products of two separate bundles of nerve cells in your brain that regulate the “sleep drive” and the “wake drive.” Whichever is dominant at any given moment determines whether you’re awake or out cold. So, why is TV-watching twice as likely to put people asleep? Probably because a lot of adults watch TV to wind down at the end of a long day, precisely as the wake drive is giving way to the sleep signals. Falling asleep in the movies, even sometimes, is a sign of a sleep deficit. That deficit could be caused by simply being overtired or because of a sleep disorder. One reason why older people are more likely to doze off in movie theaters is that you’re more likely to have a sleep disorder as you age. So, if you’re one of those people who always start to snore 10 minutes into the latest action flick, you might want to tell your doctor.