TV affects sleep of preschoolers
June 27th, 2011
12:01 AM ET

TV affects sleep of preschoolers

Watching violence on television or TV before bedtime can lead to sleep problems for preschoolers, according to a new study in the journal Pediatrics. Experts have known for some time that too much TV time can negatively impact our sleep, but this new research finds that what young children watch and when they watch it can make a difference as well.

The study looked at the television viewing habits and sleep problems of more than 600 preschoolers in Seattle, Washington. When children watched age appropriate TV in the morning or afternoon, they didn't have problems with their sleep, but when the shows contained violence, young people were more likely to experience nightmares and walk up feeling tired.

Part of the problem, researchers say, is that younger children are watching shows meant for older kids, and preschoolers can't yet distinguish fantasy from reality.

"For a 7- to 10-year-old they are really at a point where cognitively they can grasp that that's not real violence and they can see the humor in it – it's not frightening for them. But 3- to 5-year-olds just aren't developmentally there yet," explains study author Michelle Garrison, Ph.D., with the Seattle Children's Research Institute.

Garrison also found that watching television right before bedtime made it more difficult for children to get to sleep, meant  more nightmares and waking up during the night,  even if the shows were educational and geared specifically for young children.

"Screen time during the hour before bed can get kids more aroused and then they're going to have a harder time falling asleep," explains Garrison.

She suggests parents turn the TV off at least 60 minutes before kids get tucked in.

Shows that are meant for adults carry risks as well, she says, and she advises parents not to watch potentially violent programs such as the evening news when children are in the room.

"Even if they think the child isn't paying attention, the child is absorbing it and they'll see shootings and war footage and they really don't have the capacity to understand that that's not necessarily happening right there is their neighborhood right now," says Garrison.

Children who had televisions in their rooms tended to watch more than other children and saw more violent programming. When parents were asked about having a set in the bedroom, many said they thought it would help their child sleep, but this is not what the research shows.

"Sometimes parents will look at their child zoned out in front of the TV and think they are really relaxed. But often when kids get that glazed over, zoned out look they are actually over stimulated and not relaxed," explains Garrison.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that preschoolers watch no more than two hours of television a day. High quality programming geared for this age group offers not only educational benefits, the Academy points out, but can help with building social skills as well.

"It can help children learn about cooperative problem solving, about how to negotiate things, help them learn empathy," says Garrison.

Experts offer these tips to help parents with their children's viewing habits. First of all, take the television out of the bedroom and watch TV with your child whenever you can.

"And watch what you watch; in other words, is that something that you think is appropriate for your child. You may want to watch the program first to see if it's ok for your child to watch or if it's too intense. And finally, don't be afraid to turn the TV off," says Pediatrician Don Shifrin, former Chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics' Committee on Communications

Another good source for families is Common Sense Media, according to Garrison. This website offers reviews on TV programs and movies, looking at the levels of violence, scary content and educational value.

soundoff (100 Responses)
  1. lifer69

    To be published in the journal "Duh".

    June 27, 2011 at 02:05 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Personman123

      Pretty much exactly my first thought!

      June 27, 2011 at 06:22 | Report abuse |
  2. Stopthemadness

    Man I only wish that were true my kid won't go to sleep with spongebob playing in the background. But as soon as her head hits the pillow she is out like a light only to wake back up at 5 a.m. no matter what day of the week it is.

    June 27, 2011 at 02:34 | Report abuse | Reply
    • LRoy

      The same was true in 1966 when I was that age. Only back then, we didn't have computers or electronic games to add to the mix. Even today-at the age of (almost) 49, I still stay awake WAY past my bedtime...fighting to the death to keep my eyes open...if there's something good on the telly.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:53 | Report abuse |
  3. unowhoitsme

    TV affects everybody, not just preschoolers. Look at all the crap that is on TV, even in cartoons! We no longer have a TV in our home. My kids are now involved with sports, art, and activities to stimulate their minds and bodies! And they sleep well at night, too!

    June 27, 2011 at 03:40 | Report abuse | Reply
    • JAG

      I agree. We got rid of ours a couple of years ago, and we're all much happier. If there's no tv at all the kids stop asking to watch it and look for other things to do, and my husband and I no longer feel like we waste our evenings sitting mindlessly on the couch next to each other. I think getting rid of It was one of the best parenting decisions we've made.

      June 27, 2011 at 09:07 | Report abuse |
    • Rad

      Now if you could just ween yourself off the internet....

      June 27, 2011 at 09:17 | Report abuse |
    • LRoy

      I would bring back the television and invest in classic DVDs. Ones we grew up watching. I mean how violent is Beaver?

      June 27, 2011 at 11:55 | Report abuse |
  4. KS

    "High quality programming geared for this age group offers not only educational benefits, the Academy points out, but can help with building social skills as well."

    You know what else helps with building social skills? Going outside and playing. Or...not watching TV.

    June 27, 2011 at 06:29 | Report abuse | Reply
    • LRoy

      Remember back in the 60s and 70s PBS had educational programming during the day? Not cartoons but real classroom learning. I remember watching shows on music, French, art, phonics (Mrs. Mirror). That's what needs to be.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:58 | Report abuse |
  5. Andy

    I'd argue that too much of any type of TV will affect a child's sleeping patterns. Token Timers LLC (www.tokentimers.com) has developed an inexpensive, robust, token-based system for controlling the TV, video games and computers. I know this because I helped develop the product! Now...This product is not for every family, but I think a growing number of people around the world are becoming well aware and convinced of the harm of excessive TV. The Token Timer can serve as a reward or allowance based system that helps take some of the burden off the parents. Our testing has shown that implementing such a system with children as young as 4 years old can be extremely beneficial in fighting depression, obesity, and ADHD while promoting such things as creativity, reading, social interaction, time management, intelligence, outdoor activities and the list goes on! We are small grass roots start up so feel free to check out our web site and shoot the Token Timer team an email if you'd like more information. Thanks!

    June 27, 2011 at 07:15 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Chris

      Your product sounds unbelievably stupid.

      Also, if you can't afford advertising and have to spam message boards, then it means other people also realize this and are not buying it, soooo...... lol.

      June 27, 2011 at 08:34 | Report abuse |
    • really?

      "....that helps take some of the burden off the parents." It should be the "burden" of the parents – it's called PARENTING.

      June 27, 2011 at 10:56 | Report abuse |
    • JJMurray

      Gee, so this system works just like when my parents used to say "You can watch a half hour of TV" and when that time was done they made me shut it off? Wow! What a concept! NOT.

      June 27, 2011 at 12:11 | Report abuse |
    • kastaway

      already doing that without needing to buy a new product! earning rewards is hardly a new concepts for parents.

      June 27, 2011 at 13:01 | Report abuse |
    • Andy

      Haha...as I said this product is not for everyone. Some families don't need such a system although in today's digital world there are a lot more options than back in the day. Even when I use the product for myself, it’s amazing how quickly 35 minutes flies by while in front of the tube. Anything that promotes a healthier lifestyle by helping to get kids, and I might add many adults, away from their TV's and back into the real world, I'd think would be welcomed. The fact is, most people watch too much TV....it's no wonder the US has so many problems with obesity, prescription drugs and depression. @ Chris...have you ever tried to start your own business...I'll take all the free advertising I can get!

      June 27, 2011 at 23:20 | Report abuse |
  6. Langley

    My sister and I would watch Rugrats at 7 and we'd be in bed by 7:45. Those were the days.

    June 27, 2011 at 07:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. IMO

    Having a 5 year old in the house, I've given up on watching "my" TV while she is awake. TV is dominated by violence and Double entendre. Apparently that's all that does it for our society. Our censorship laws need to be stronger. To the person that's now going to respond, "If you don't like something, don't watch it"...EVERYTHING is inappropriate on TV these days for a 5 year old other than "her" channels. And even then some of that needs monitoring, like Disney after 6 pm.

    June 27, 2011 at 08:13 | Report abuse | Reply
    • lisa

      I would have to disagree that our censorship laws need to be stronger. I think that once you take the roll of becoming a parent you are your childs censor. If you miss watching your shows, buy a pvr and record them, watch them after your child goes to bed. And don't think that just because something has a Disney label attached to it that it means its appropriate for all ages, Disney caters to a large audience not just your child.

      June 27, 2011 at 08:40 | Report abuse |
    • lizzymama

      i'm going to agree with lisa. you're the parent, do your job.

      June 27, 2011 at 08:49 | Report abuse |
    • Bernardo

      Throw the TV out, then you won't have an issue

      June 27, 2011 at 12:01 | Report abuse |
    • JJMurray

      So everything on TV isn't appropriate since you said except for her channels. Well then, watch her channels with her. That's what parents do. You have kids you make certain sacrifices. Don't want to make them, don't have kids.

      June 27, 2011 at 12:09 | Report abuse |
    • Sandra S.

      If your 5 year old is understanding the double-entendres, you have one heck of a precocious 5 year old!

      June 27, 2011 at 14:32 | Report abuse |
  8. Jules

    My kids watch tv, but they also read or are read to every night before bedtime. It's healthy, educational and gives me time one on one with each of them.

    June 27, 2011 at 08:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. CJM

    I read an AP story about this in the newspaper this morning. One thing the CNN report didn't say was that it was a "government-funded study" and that it "wasn't rigorous enough to tell whether TV caused sleep problems". The thing it didn't say that I was most interested in was HOW MUCH government money was wasted on a study that anyone with common sense already knows. Our government at work – again. Very frustrating.

    June 27, 2011 at 08:33 | Report abuse | Reply
    • jjj4567

      As it points out in the article many parents have TVs in their children's rooms because the parents believe that it helps their children sleep. This research contradicts this and might help the parents rethink bedtime plans. I can think of many families where there is an exhausted cycle of TV, poor sleep, too tired to do much, too much TV, poor sleep, is repeated daily. If parents have a concrete reason to stop trying to use TV as part of their families bedtime routine it might help a lot. When a parent goes about changing these things they want to know that they are not making the sleep problems worse but cutting out TV. Without studies like this they are just left with their "common sense" which tells them that watching TV is restful.

      June 27, 2011 at 09:08 | Report abuse |
    • CJM

      jjj4567 – My biggest problem with this is the government paying for a study that wasn't "rigorous enough". To me, that's a waste of our money. Do it right or don't use my money to do it. Also, everyone, no matter the age, has different sleep needs/patterns. I fall asleep better with the TV on, or with some background noise. My husband has to have it quite. Kids are the same. Parents have to go with what works best for each child.

      June 27, 2011 at 09:21 | Report abuse |
    • BR

      @jjj4567 – Yes, this kind of thing happens regularly but there's no reason to get on the anti-government bandwagon without some facts. The Journal of Pediatrics is a peer reviewed medical journal.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:07 | Report abuse |
    • JJMurray

      jjj – I'm wondering when parents developed the idiotic notion that a TV in a preschooler's bedroom helps them sleep. When in the world did THAT become a rational thought.

      June 27, 2011 at 12:07 | Report abuse |
    • DKB

      What is a waste of time, would be funding research where the outcome is already know.

      Research isn't "solve a problem with a silver bullet" or don't publish. What most people don't realize is progress occurs in steps. Do a small study that costs less to justify doing a far more expensive larger scale study. If the small study shows promise, then spend more money delving deeper. If the small study shows zero reason to continue further then you can stop without the extra cost.

      Like someone said, this was published in a peer-reviewed journal. Research is almost never black and white results, because especially in human studies you cannot control all variables, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't study this at all.

      Like the article said, many people use TV's as essential parenting tools. It is no longer "common sense" in s society which is often reactionary and driven by stress-coping mechanims (over-worked parents). Sometimes the most important research is to study "basic" questions on deeper levels.

      July 15, 2011 at 14:44 | Report abuse |
  10. Chris

    There is no good reason for a 3 to 5 year old child to be watching television in the first place.

    June 27, 2011 at 08:36 | Report abuse | Reply
    • BR

      It's about what's appropriate. There are lots of excellent, educational shows for kids this age....were you deprived of Sesame St. or Mr. Rogers?

      June 27, 2011 at 11:01 | Report abuse |
  11. LEmomma

    We LOVE Electric Company. My 4 and 5 year old kids watch it several times a week. It's so neat we don't mind watching it either. However, my kids also like Diane Sawyer and once or twice a week she's on during dinner time. We talk about what they see. They do seem to be afraid the war is close by. As much as we explain that it's not I'm never sure if they believe me. t's probably a good idea if we just record it and watch it after they go to bed from now on.

    June 27, 2011 at 09:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. TV or Television Fan

    Watching violence on television or TV before bedtime can lead to sleep problems for preschoolers, according to a new study in the journal Pediatrics.

    whats the difference between television and tv? is it really an either or proposition?

    June 27, 2011 at 10:35 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Laura

      Though it's poorly worded, I think it is meant to express that violence on television at any time of the day, or any television right before bed are both harmful.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:30 | Report abuse |
    • grammarnazi

      Cute.... but no.

      "Watching *violence on television* or *TV*...."

      Forgotten how prepositional phrases work, have we?

      June 27, 2011 at 12:54 | Report abuse |
  13. BR

    Seriously??? What lunatic didn't know this?

    June 27, 2011 at 10:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Barry

    Did we really need a study to learn this?

    Come on, people—common sense!

    June 27, 2011 at 10:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Deep North

    What's wrong with people. The TV has an off button...Use It!

    June 27, 2011 at 11:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Victor

    To ask a serious question...why would anybody ever allow a child to have a television in his/her room? For that matter, why would anybody have a TV in their own bedroom. In both cases, it can only separate the family and prevent true togetherness. It would also prevent a couple from doing the two things I would think they would most like to do in bed. I really would like to know because it all seems like a formula for total disaster and so avoidable.

    June 27, 2011 at 11:35 | Report abuse | Reply
    • JJMurray

      We have a TV in our bedroom and it doesn't interfere with anything. As for "preschool" kids having a TV in their room, now that's just poor parenting. When I was in 10th grade I saved up money from the job I worked to buy a small TV for my room. That was the ONLY way I would get one as a kid. My parents would have laughed at me if I asked for one.

      June 27, 2011 at 12:05 | Report abuse |
  17. Guest

    It' s "wake up" not "walk up". I am seeing a dramatic increase in the number of errors in CNN reporting.

    June 27, 2011 at 11:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Bernardo

    "She suggests parents turn the TV off at least 60 minutes before kids get tucked in"

    Better solution: not having a TV in the home, period. Throw the video games out while you're at it as well. They need a relationship with their parents, not a relationship with an electronic stand-in.

    June 27, 2011 at 11:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. JJMurray

    First, this is parents' perceptions, not very scientific. Second, they said it wasn't a robust enough "study" to link TV and sleep problems. Third – it's a pity the headline didn't reflect that.
    Bottom line – Journalism is buried in the plot next to common sense but the reporters continue to molest the corpse.

    June 27, 2011 at 12:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Sandra S.

    Reading the first sentence of the article ("Watching violence on television or TV before bedtime can lead to sleep problems..."), I'm left wondering "What's the difference between 'television' and 'TV'?" (Or did they mean to write "Watching violence on television, or "TV," before bedtime can lead to sleep problems..."?) Does CNN.com employ any copyeditors?

    June 27, 2011 at 14:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. RaZZZ

    It is important to ensure adequate break time before bed – no matter what you’ve been doing prior to going to bed, especially children, you need to give your mind and body time to relax before laying down for sleep. Whether you’ve been working, studying or watching T.V, quit what you’re doing at least an hour before bedtime. A poll for the National Sleep Association found that 87% of respondents watched T.V within an hour of going to bed – at least a couple times a week. Violent shows, news reports and vivid stories stay in our heads long after we’ve watched them. Watching T.V or doing anything else that stimulates the brain before bed hinders your quality of sleep.
    For some tips on what is OK before bed you can download the ebook, Get To Sleep Now! http://instantlyfallasleep.com Its got loads of information on what to avoid and what will help. For example, instead of watching TV before bed and stimulating your brain, call your mom or talk to your children/partner. Chatting is an incredibly beneficial way to slow down your brain, relax, unwind, get your thoughts out and fall asleep.

    June 28, 2011 at 21:15 | Report abuse | Reply
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    January 16, 2012 at 04:01 | Report abuse | Reply
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    January 16, 2012 at 04:01 | Report abuse | Reply
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