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61 TV Shows to Watch When Painsomnia Keeps You Up at Night

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What do you do when chronic pain leaves you hurting so badly you’re unable to fall asleep?

For many in the chronic illness community, “painsomnia” is a frequent struggle. There are a variety of coping mechanisms people may turn to in order to drift off, but watching a few episodes of TV (or, on really tough days, binge watching a season or two) is one of the most popular ways to pass the time when everyone else is fast asleep.

But deciding which show to watch can be important: Are you trying to lull yourself to sleep? Or have you given up on sleep and are just trying to distract yourself from the pain? Depending on what you hope to get out of watching TV, as well as your unique interests, the types of shows you watch won’t necessarily be the same ones your fellow spoonies watch. Some may prefer a light and mindless comedy, while others enjoy getting totally immersed in the complex, serial plot of a drama or sci-fi show.

Whatever type of show suits you and your needs, we’ve got you covered. Below are our chronic pain community’s recommendations for shows to watch when you’re struggling with painsomnia – broken down by genre. If you’re looking for something new to watch the next time you just can’t get to sleep, hopefully some of the following suggestions can offer some guidance.

Here’s what our community recommended:

Funny and familiar:

the office and friends
“The Office” and “Friends”

1. “‘Brooklyn 99‘ always makes me laugh without fail. The show is often unexpectedly hilarious, which keeps my attention. They handle social justice issues with humor, but don’t cheapen the struggle, which is a difficult balance to achieve. Highly, highly recommend!” – Carrie A.T.

2. “‘The Office!’ Or ‘Parks and Recreation!’ They are fun shows, always funny, and draw you into them, no matter how many times you watch them, so you are able to focus more on the show than your pain. I go between watching these series every night, literally. They help so much!” – Catherine A.M.

3.I need comedy. I need really ridiculous and senseless comedy to distract from everything. I have memorized all of ‘Family Guy‘ and ‘Bob’s Burgers‘ and love all of the stand up specials on TV. If I watch anything that causes even the slightest anxiety then I’ll spiral.” – Kathryn B.

4. “‘Friends‘ is always my go to. Whether it’s a bad pain day, bad mental health day or both. ‘Friends’ always lifts me up and makes me laugh, and usually keeps me distracted from whatever is going on, be it pain or depression.” – Larissa P.

5.Any show or movie that I’ve seen before, and don’t particularly have to pay attention to. A ‘binge’ of a TV show via Netflix is good, as it’ll go from show to show as I doze.” – Becky M.T.

6. “‘Golden Girls,’ ‘That 70s Show,’ ‘Roseanne.’” – Vanna Y.

7. “‘The Andy Griffith Show‘ on Netflix. I also watch this every day. It portrays a simpler, happy time. Obviously I enjoy zoning out and watching the same few series all the time. I also love M*A*S*H but Netflix took it off, and I also can’t watch every episode if I’m having a hard time because some are harder hitting.” – Amanda T.T.

8. “‘Frasier.’ Dr. Crane always takes the pain away! One of the most witty shows. Great to distract you from the fact that it’s 2 a.m. and your hip is dislocated so you can’t lay on it, or your back, or sit. Good times, good times.” – Katrina G.

9. “‘Seinfeld.’ Laughter is the best medicine.” – Tonya W.

10. “‘Arrested Development.’ Because it is completely ridiculous and you don’t have to think that much to ‘get it.’” – Megan R.M.

11. “‘Full House!’ Happy and upbeat, it never gets old and always gives me so many laughs!” – Cassidy S.

12. “‘Scrubs!’ Being able to laugh helps a lot at odd hours of the night.” – Natalie H.

13. “‘Schitt$ Creek‘ makes me laugh! My husband and I binge watched it all!” – Taylor M.

14.There’s a newer show that I enjoy – it’s called ‘Superstore.’ It’s so ridiculously silly with likable characters.” – Kathryn M.

15. “‘Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.’ It is so absurd that it makes me laugh even when I am in pain. And does not require a lot of concentration to follow the plot.” – Michelle K.

16. “‘The Office‘ is always my first go-to. My second is ‘How I Met Your Mother.’ I love the light comedies. I recently binged ‘Santa Clarita Diet.’ I may have woken up very symptomatic one day but at least I didn’t wake up and need to eat people to survive.” – Krystal K.

17.I watch nonsense cartoons for grown-ups like ‘Rick and Morty,’ ‘The Simpsons,’ ‘Family Guy,’ ‘American Dad,’ whatever. Just something I can smile at but doesn’t require much thought. The noise keeps you from feeling so alone, the comedy helps distract from the pain, and having something to do helps the time pass so I don’t feel stuck in one miserable moment forever. I don’t think the creators of those shows could really understand how much I rely on their work to keep my mind out of that dark place. It’s really easy to get to that point in the middle of the night.” – Jackie S.

Gentle, mindless and soothing:

bob ross and the judges of the great british bake-off
“The Joy of Painting” With Bob Ross and “The Great British Bake Off”

18. “‘Aggretsuko.’ It’s this cute little anime about a red panda who pushes herself to be perfect but secretly is into death metal as an escape. I can relate to holding things inside and trying to be perfect, but at the same time it’s utterly cute and a nice way to switch off.” – Rosie H.

19. “‘The Joy of Painting’ with Bob Ross. It is so calming to watch and just helps you relax plus you can get easily distracted with the painting. It is my go-to show when I can’t sleep. It’s on Hulu, Netflix and YouTube so anyone can watch it. It has also helped put me to sleep due to how calming it can be and it is the best for sleepless nights.” – Danielle P.

20.If you like reality shows but wish there wasn’t so much over-the-top drama and don’t mind subtitles, ‘Terrace House‘ on Netflix is great.” – Amberly B.

21. “I try to watch gentle shows like a cooking show (‘The Great British Bake Off‘) or adorable animal shows (‘The Zoo‘ and ‘Too Cute‘ on Animal Planet).” – Tavia P.

22.I enjoy late night talk shows. I record them and watch them when I can’t sleep. I get a good laugh and find I can fall asleep for a bit when there’s a dull interview.” – Amanda P.

Informative and interesting:

the war with ken burns and how it's made
“The War”: A Ken Burns Film and “How It’s Made”

23.I always watch documentaries, so I have to give my full attention to what I am watching. If I have seen a show a lot and re-watch while in pain it doesn’t distract me enough. Netflix has a few good Ken Burns documentaries, I highly suggest ‘The War‘ and ‘Prohibition.’ Netflix also has ‘Bobby Kennedy for President.’” – Olivia P.

24.I’m watching ‘Forensic Files‘ right now! It’s soothing to me, I think it’s the narrator’s voice. I wish he would do meditation on YouTube!” – Margit J.

25. “‘Qi,’ it’s funny and gets me to think a bit, distracting me from the pain, plus I learn all sorts of useless facts.” – Abi H.

26.History documentaries… I wonder how people in the past lived with pain and feel bad for them.” – Jean K.K.

27. “‘How It’s Made.’ It’s interesting to watch and the narrator’s voice is so relaxing.” – Courtney J.

28. “‘The Grand Tour,’ my favorite hosts of all time sure know how to make me laugh while I am amazed by cool cars. And ‘Top Gear‘ while I’m here too, Clarkson, Hammond and May era.” – Kirst F.

29.I stick to random documentaries on Netflix. Learning about what others go through or have done is fascinating to me.” – Sammi K.

Reliable, calming networks:

qvc and wheel of fortune on the game show network
QVC and “Wheel of Fortune” on the Game Show Network

30.I watch QVC ! It is actually nice because it’s also a convenient way to shop when you’re chronically ill. But normally I try to refrain from buying anything. But it’s calm and doesn’t have too much action to where it won’t let me relax enough to hopefully fall asleep.” – Bianca P.M.

31.I watch the Game Show Network… mindless fun.” – Hetha S.

32.It may sound crazy because I’m younger than most people who watch the channel, but anything on TV Land! My mom and I have been watching shows that air on there for years, and when I have to sleep on my recliner because of my pain we always have it playing. The shows are so lighthearted and relatable in most cases and is typically always soothing to me.” – Maison F.

33.Anything HGTV or Food Network – those are my go-to’s.” – Kristen K.C.

34.I love to watch British TV. You can find so many great British shows on YouTube. It helps me pretend I’m somewhere else, away from the pain and frustration.” – Christi S.F.

35.I watch the Hallmark Channel. I think ‘I Love Lucy‘ starts around 2 a.m., maybe 3 a.m.” – Caylie K.

36.I go for any familiar serial show with the same narrator (thank you Discovery Channel and Animal Planet). I can follow the story if sleep is totally out of the question, use it like white noise if I’m able to drift in or out… or fall asleep if I’m lucky!” – Tammy M.T.

Medical dramas:

dr. gregory house and dr. meredith grey
“House MD” and “Grey’s Anatomy”

37. “‘The Good Doctor,’ ‘Grey’s Anatomy,’ and ‘House MD‘ are shows I always watch. Over and over. The patients on the shows are very relatable. Makes me feel like I’m not so alone with health issues by watching those kinds of shows. It makes me not focus on the pain.” – Asher B.

38.Last night I had ‘itchsomnia,’ which is crazy making, but it did lead me to rediscovering ‘House MD‘ on Amazon Prime. Although I’ve gotten considerably more squeamish since it was on the air, it was nice to see a group of doctors actually working to cure a person rather than what I/we get, which is a lot of talk about acceptance and managing expectations, LOL.” – Peggy A.

39.Always love ‘Grey’s Anatomy.’ There have been more than a few episodes that hit close to home. Even before I was sick it was my go-to show. It takes me through the whole range of emotions and lets me cry it out.” – Jaye N.G. 

40.When I have an especially bad day, I re-watch episodes of ‘House MD,’ because if my day hasn’t included some kind of hemorrhage or necrotic skin condition, I feel slightly better off! Some of the symptoms can hit a bit close to home, but usually it gives me a sense of ‘perspective’ i.e. sure, I’m suffering, but I could be dying and I’m not.” – Zee D.

Fun, relatable and uplifting:

grace and frankie and jane the virgin
“Grace and Frankie” and “Jane the Virgin”

41. “‘Grace and Frankie!’ I’m only 22 but my symptoms are so bad that I often feel a lot older. The show is calming and never fails to make me laugh and the problems they’re having in their 70s make me feel a lot more normal.” – Katarina B.

42.I watch ‘The Middle.’ The portrayal of a typical middle class family with teenage kids and overworked/overstretched parents is so realistic.” – Lakshmi R.

43. “‘Derek!’ It is amazing and touching.” – Bridget J.

44. “‘Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries.’ An Australian import set in the 20s whose protagonist is a kickass woman private detective ahead of her time and it’s just a delightful, delightful show that never ceases to make me smile. Phryne never gives up and is unapologetically her, living her life on her terms and looking fabulous doing it. That that’s an option is a nice thing to be reminded of in the middle of a bad night or three.” – Elizabeth K.

45. “‘Charmed‘ – I love it even though I’ve seen every episode multiple times. It puts my brain in a better space, it gives amazing comfort because it’s something I share with my mom.” – Cate F.

46. “‘Once Upon a Time‘ or ‘Jane the Virgin‘ – fun, easy and lighthearted enough to be relaxing but interesting enough with enough twists to keep me entertained and stop me from zoning out and keep me distracted from pain.” – Nae W.

47. “I liked ‘Gossip Girl‘ and ‘Once Upon A Time‘ on Netflix for nights when my focus was a bit better because they had pretty good storylines and were also pretty upbeat!” – Samantha F.

48. “‘Leverage.’ Found family-slash-Robin Hood humor/banter/quick pacing that literally never made a bad episode in its entire run. They think they’re misfits, good at only one thing and believing they’re alone, but slowly find out they’re so not, and even more, that they’re better together, united in things that others might call weaknesses. The quiet reminder that it’s possible to find happiness and meaning in unexpected places — and unexpected people — in spite of, or perhaps because of, your individuality, and yes, your deficiencies, is important and needed.” – Elizabeth K.

Sci-fi, fantasy and escapist:

crowley, sam, dean and cas from supernatural, mulder and scully from the x-files
“Supernatural” and “The X-Files”

49. “‘Supernatural!’ It’s such an escape from reality and after 13 seasons they still manage to keep their fans happy. There is a lot of comedy mixed in which is fun too.” – Michelle C.

50.Any of the ‘Star Trek‘ series. Even when things look their bleakest, it reminds you of the best aspects of humanity, and gives you some hope that it might be OK. That people could eventually learn to work together toward the best interests of society. They even have some episodes that address disability and mental illness. Even if you are in a really bad place, personally, it can help to restore some hope. And hope is vital to dealing with chronic illness. Plus, I can’t wait for that medical scanner which can just tell me what’s wrong with me, and the technology to fix it!” – Kayla S.

51. “‘Doctor Who,’ I forget about my pain.” – Jobeth F.

52.If I’m in pain and up late, I need a show that will hold my interest and take my attention away from the pain. If you like sci-fi shows, I suggest ‘Stargate SG1‘ (10 seasons) and ‘Stargate Atlantis‘ (five seasons). Both are on Hulu.” – Jo O.

53. “‘Buffy [the Vampire Slayer]‘, ‘Angel‘ and ‘Doctor Who.’ They all let me escape from my reality (also why I play computer games when I can…).” – Amy C.

54.My go-to has always been ‘The Twilight Zone‘… Because I can somehow relate to the characters, it takes me to another dimension and helps me ‘escape’ from The EDS/POTS Zone for a while…” – Amelia C.

55. “‘Merlin‘ is a great show – it’s fantasy and has a great storyline to follow that keeps you focused on it.” – Kourteney K.

56. “‘The X-files.’ Because I love aliens and David Duchovny.” – Kristen M.

57. “‘Once Upon A Time!’ It helps to get lost in the magic every once in a while!” – Marissa R.H.

Serious, dramatic and distracting:

shameless and law and order svu
“Shameless” and “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit”

58. “‘Shameless‘ – watching people’s lives that are even more f$&@ed up than mine is comforting somehow.” – Ashley E.L.

59. “‘Six Feet Under.’ There’s something therapeutic about watching a family who is in deep pain that makes my life and my pain feel less intense.” – Melissa S.P.

60. “‘Law & Order: SVU.’ There are a million seasons and it’s always on.” – Lindsay W.

61. “I watch horror movies to make me feel better, because hey, at least I’m not getting possessed by demons or chased by Fred Krueger.” – Tera A.

Originally published: May 3, 2018
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