Improve Your Child's Sleep With Age-Appropriate Viewing Habits
August 6, 2012

Improve Your Child’s Sleep With Age-Appropriate Viewing Habits

John Neumann for - Your Universe Online

Results of a randomized trial, published in the journal Pediatrics on Monday, suggest that children who were exposed to age-appropriate video were about 20 percent less likely to have a sleep problem than kids whose parents didn´t follow the same advice.

“One of the things that´s exciting for me is that if families want to make these changes, it doesn´t require going to the doctor´s office or going to a person´s home,” said lead author Michelle Garrison, from Seattle Children´s Research Institute.

Previous studies had also suggested a link between the kinds of media young kids see during the day and sleep problems at night. However, with most of the research conducted in a cross-sectional fashion, it had been unclear whether media viewing caused the sleep problems or was a result of sleep difficulties with the child.

Garrison and her colleagues sent invitations to families in the Seattle area with children between the ages of three and five years old to join the study, with ultimately 565 children participating and randomly divided into two groups, reports Andrew M. Seaman for Reuters Health.

The parents of the first group of 276 children were encouraged to change their kids´ viewing habits over six months by substituting only “healthy media.” After evaluating each family´s situation, researchers provided channel guides and suggested appropriate shows, such as Dora the Explorer, Sesame Street and Curious George.

In the comparison group, parents of 289 children were sent healthy eating information instead. The families then kept diaries and answered surveys to track their children´s sleep and viewing habits. The questionnaires were collected at the start of the study and every six months afterwards for the remainder of the study.

The average age of the children was 4, and the majority were white and almost half of the parents had completed college, and most were two-parent families. Fewer than 10 percent of the children had a television in the bedroom. Average daily media viewing was slightly more than one hour per child, with about 15 minutes in the evening, and roughly 22 minutes involving violent content.

Nearly forty percent of the children had some type of sleep difficulty with the most common problem being falling asleep, soon after being put to bed. Twenty-six percent of the children needed more than 20 minutes to fall asleep two to four times each week and 12 percent took that long to fall asleep five or more nights every week, writes Nancy Walsh for MedPage Today.

Other frequently reported sleep difficulties included waking more than once during the night, having trouble waking up in the morning, and tiredness during the day.

Six months after the beginning of the study, sleep problems fell to 30 percent in the group whose parents were encouraged to switch shows and videos. The comparison group also improved, but the number with sleep problems only dropped a few percentage points.

A year after the study started, those rates were similar, but sleep problems did start to reappear at the 18-months mark. “It´s possible that families were making strides to make better media choices when we were in their lives, and it faded off after the study,” said Garrison.

Dr. Umakanth Khatwa, sleep lab director at Boston Children´s Hospital in Massachusetts, told Reuters Health that this study shows the media children consumed throughout the day has an impact on their sleep. It´s not just scary movies before bedtime that keep children up.

“What happens once you watch a scary movie, you don´t stop thinking about it as a child,” said Khatwa, who was not involved with the new study.

Garrison said parents can use the TV rating system to find appropriate content or visit for more information. Khatwa added that, aside from choosing more appropriate content, ending “screen time” at least two hours before bed, establishing consistent bed and waking times, and parents being aware of what they´re watching when their children are around may also help.