Struggling to get your kid to sleep through the night? Try turning off the TV.
Preschoolers who watch television sleep “significantly less” than those who don’t, according to new research by the University of Massachusetts Amherst, which found that kids ages three to five who tuned in to an hour or more of TV each day slept 22 minutes less than those who didn’t. That adds up to nearly 2.5 hours of missed sleep per week.
The report published in the National Sleep Foundation’s journal Sleep Health studied 470 preschoolers from Western Massachusetts who wore activity monitors on their wrists for up to 16 days, which tracked their sleep. Parents and caregivers were also questioned about the children’s health and behavior, including their detailed TV use.
The kids who watched an hour or more of television each day slept 22 minutes less than those who watched less than an hour of TV. But the one in three kids (36%) who had TVs in their bedrooms had even more disrupted rest, as they slept 30 minutes less than the little ones who didn’t have a television in their rooms. This could be because the study noted that a third of the kids with TVs in their rooms passed out with the devices still on, which often featured “stimulating or violent adult programming.”
The kids with TVs in their bedrooms did nap for 12 minutes longer on average during the day, but that extra shut-eye didn’t fully make up for the missed sleep at night, as the longer nappers still slept 17 minutes less over a 24-hour period than the kids who didn’t fall asleep in front of the TV.
“Parents assumed that TV was helping their kids wind down. But it didn’t work. Those kids weren’t getting good sleep, and it wasn’t helping them fall asleep better,” said lead author and neuroscientist Rebecca Spencer in a statement.
A 2011 study published in the journal Pediatrics also found that young children ages three to five who watched television just before bedtime, or who watched television with violent images, suffered sleep problems like trouble falling or staying asleep, or even nightmares. But it’s important to note that age-appropriate programming during the day did not appear to affect their sleep.
Parents have long wrestled with how much TV time to give their kids. The World Health Organization recommends that children ages two to four should have no more than one hour of sedentary screen time daily, and the American Academy of Pediatrics also suggests that two to five-year-olds should be limited to one hour of “high-quality programs with educational value” that parents watch with their kids each day. But more than half (54%) of the preschoolers in the UMass Amherst study blew past those guidelines on weekdays, and 87% binged on the weekends.
They’re not alone. Common Sense Media reports that toddlers ages two to four spend two hours and 40 minutes on screens each day (which can include TVs, tablets, computers and smartphones), and kids ages five to eight spend nearly three hours (two hours and 58 minutes) on screens daily.
The AAP recommends that children ages three to five sleep between 10 to 13 hours (including naps) over each 24-hour period, as getting adequate sleep promotes mental and physical health, and leads to improved attention, behavior, learning, memory, emotional regulation and quality of life. But not getting enough sleep has been associated with increased injuries, hypertension, obesity and depression in kids and teens. And a 2014 National Sleep Foundation poll warned that nearly a third of six- to 11-year-olds were getting eight or fewer hours of sleep a night.
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