Children who sit in front of a television just before bedtime are more likely to experience sleep-related problems such as nightmares and daytime fatigue, according to a study published in the journal Pediatrics.
Until now, no published study has explored the impact media content, timing, and use has on a child’s sleep, writes Michelle Garrison, lead author of the study.
Garrison, a research scientist at the Seattle Children’s Research Institute, asked the parents of more than 600 children between the ages of 3 and 5 to keep detailed “media diaries” for one week. The parents were instructed to capture the time, title, and length of each program viewed.
The data revealed that 28% of preschoolers who watched television for at least 30 minutes after 7 p.m. experienced an interrupted sleep most nights of the week, compared to 19% of children whose television consumption took place before 7 p.m.
Unsurprisingly, children who had televisions in their bedrooms – roughly 10% of the study’s participants – watched an additional 40 minutes of television per day, resulting in an even higher risk of experiencing an interrupted sleep.
“A bedroom television may increase opportunities to watch violent or frightening content, and adult-targeted television content has been associated with increased sleep problems in young children,” according to Garrison. “Not only did these children have greater media use overall, but they averaged an additional 15 minutes of evening use and 12 minutes of daytime violent use, both of which increase the risk of sleep problems.”
On average, the children involved in the study consumed almost 73 minutes of television per day. Nearly one quarter of the total time spent in front of a television occurred after 7 p.m.
The American Academy of Pediatrics, which publishes the journal Pediatrics, recommends that parents reduce nighttime television use and avoid putting televisions in their child’s bedroom. Moreover, Garrison encourages paediatricians to find the time to consult with parents on what is appropriate when it comes to children and the media.
“Paediatricians can advise parents to focus on reducing violent content and evening media use, which may be both more acceptable and feasible for families living in the digital age than focusing on a global reduction or elimination of media use,” she writes. “For families reluctant to change their child’s media use, discussion about the impact on sleep may increase parental motivation.”
For more information on violence in the media, please read Blood and gore no more: kids like cartoons better without the violence and Kids and TV in the background.