TV and Media Viewing and its Effect on Toddler Sleeping Patterns

It is known that television viewing and other media may affect a child’s sleep in a negative way. Studies have discouraged the use of evening television and the location of a set in a child’s sleeping area. This study looked at the effects of the content of media, timing and the use of the media on a child’s sleep. Results showed that preschool children suffered from disturbed sleep and other sleep-related problems that increased with each hour of violent media content or evening use of television. On the other hand, nonviolent daytime use of television did not affect children’s sleep to a major extent.

Studies have shown that preschool children or toddlers have a wide variety of sleep problems that may affect at least one in five toddlers (21 percent). Some of these problems include nightmares, increased duration of sleep, difficulty in waking and frequent night awakenings. In the short term, this can cause behavioral problems in the child and stress in the parents. However, in the long run this behavior may lead to psychiatric ailments, obesity and academic failure. Media or television is often blamed for disruption of sleep and sleep-related problems. Surveys reveal that 20 to 43 percent of American preschool toddlers have a television set in their sleeping area or bedroom. This study attempted to investigate the effect of television content, viewing time and location on the onset of sleep problems in toddlers.

* The study team sent media diaries to 820 families. Parents needed to complete the media diaries with information about their children’s media use. Ultimately, 617 parents returned the completed diaries that recorded media use, content and behaviors of children aged between 3 and 5 years.
* The media diaries included information about the time of use, content viewed, co-use for television, video games and computer usage. These items were coded for violence, scariness and pacing.
* Sleep habits of the children were identified by a separate questionnaire and the scoring was obtained from sleep problems. An association between sleep habits and sleep problems was analyzed.

Key Findings
* Results revealed that children spent an average of 72.9 minutes before a media screen. Of this, it was found that an average of 14.1 minutes were spent post 7 p.m.
* Sleep problems were recorded in 18 percent of the children. Those parents with a television set in the child’s bedroom also reported more problems.
* For each extra hour spent before the screen the sleep problems score increased by an average of 0.743. For each hour of viewing violent content during the day time, sleep problem score increased by 0.398.
* Low income family children watched more violent content during the day on a bedroom television set.

Next steps/Shortcomings
Authors agree that the report was based on the parents’ views and it is a possibility that there might be an underreporting of media use in accordance with common perceptions. Also, this study did not look at the effects of television and media use on children who suffered from behavioral problems such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. The authors suggest that these lacunae in this research need further investigation.

This study shows that media use, especially in the evenings, affects a child’s sleep and leads to common sleep problems. Based on the results of this study, pediatricians could advise parents to reduce the watching of violent media content during day time as well as evenings to prevent sleep problems in toddlers and preschoolers. Furthermore, this study reveals that placing and viewing television in the child’s sleeping area is linked with sleeping problems. Further studies are required to determine if reducing media exposure in the evenings and violent content exposure during any time of the day can improve children’s sleep over time and also allow for a reduction in behavioral problems and learning difficulties.

For More Information:
Media Use and Child Sleep: The Impact of Content, Timing, and Environment
Publication Journal: Pediatrics, June 2011
By Michelle Garrison, PhD; Kimberly Liekweg; Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development, Seattle, Washington

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