Must-not-see TV: Violent content leads to sleep problems for kids
August 6th, 2012
08:48 AM ET

Must-not-see TV: Violent content leads to sleep problems for kids

Any parent with a child old enough to speak has no doubt endured many sleepless nights as the result of bad dreams. Sometimes there’s a monster hiding in the closet. Other times there are bugs crawling underneath the bed, or a witch lurking in the hallway.

Countless observational studies have reported an association between media and sleep problems in children. But a new study published Monday in the American Academy of Pediatrics now purports a causal relationship between violent or inappropriate media and poor sleep.

The study’s authors analyzed more than 500 children aged 3 to 5, their media viewing habits and their quality of sleep. The results show that replacing violent content with age-appropriate and educational alternatives can indeed lead to improved down time.

“The results of this study are no surprise to me,” says clinical psychologist Wendy Walsh. “Young children are very concrete, literal thinkers. They just don’t get the concept of pretend monsters or pretend violence. Violent media can cause anxiety in small children that can clearly disrupt sleep.”

It should be noted that the study’s results are drawn from a much larger data pool, part of an even broader study aimed at decreasing aggressive behavior and increasing “pro-social” behavior (voluntary behavior intended to benefit another). The methods of that study include persuading parents to substitute more appropriate media content for their kids, since considerable research has demonstrated that violent media exposure can lead to aggression, as well as other behavioral and emotional problems in young children.

Participating parents were asked to lead an intervention of their kids’ TV time by replacing inappropriate content with shows such as “Curious George,” “Sesame Street,” and “Dora the Explorer.”

Moms and dads were also encouraged to watch TV alongside their children and to discuss the programs they watched with their kids. Not only does this practice increase parental awareness of the content their child is exposed to, but it also seeks to enhance the positive effects of educational and pro-social media (although another study concluded such co-viewing and subsequent discussions might not mitigate the negative effects of violent or scary media).

Quality of sleep was assessed by utilizing a portion of the Child Sleep Habits Questionnaire, which in part quantifies the frequency of sleep-onset latency, repeated night wakings, nightmares, difficulty waking in the morning and daytime tiredness. The most common sleep problem, according to the authors, was difficulty with sleep-onset latency, with 26% of children taking  more than 20 minutes to fall asleep a majority of nights per week.

Following baseline measurements, children in the intervention group experienced statistically significant reductions in their sleep disruptions, as compared with those subjects in the control group. Six months after the interventions ended, however, the improvements decreased. The study’s authors therefore encourage parents to continue making healthy media choices for their children as they grow older and media options continue to evolve.

“Whether that video content is violent or not,” Walsh adds, “watching any TV... before bed can affect the ability to sleep well. TV is just too stimulating before bed, even for adults.”

soundoff (20 Responses)
  1. Portland tony

    Hmmmmm! I as a child had the occasion bad dreams and I can assure you TV wasn't to blame! Nor were movies. Living in Europe before TV was available. (Giving away my age) It was perhaps a vivid imagination on my part. And if I was lucky enough to remember the nightmares after awaking , I found that they weren't
    so scary after all! Occasional bad dreams are normal in my opinion!

    August 6, 2012 at 10:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Jane Mars

    I am obsessive about what my son watches, or isn't allowed to watch (I think Sesame Street is too fast now, and Dora the Explorer is just annoying as hell)...that said, this article is a lot funnier if you've seen the 1987 GI Joe animated movie with all of its references to "pro-social" television.

    August 8, 2012 at 01:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Amir Ali

    I see this report n its my own experience its Pak Airforce peoples getting work sleeping person watching film like a dream n feel tiredness when getup...

    August 12, 2012 at 05:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Amir Ali

    Monster near close to babies r sind police deptt n bugs r they belongs sind n sind having snake n other inside ground animals when network attach babies got..

    August 12, 2012 at 05:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Amir Ali

    They r pakistan peoples party ministers they attach with hindus/sikhs for cocaine,drugs so ground animals attachments its natural n rational to seniors,babies..

    August 12, 2012 at 05:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Amir Ali

    My sister daughter is flying outside even my mother head ISI using for drugs network she sleeping snoaring like dunkey sound its karina kapoor n gen ashfaq....

    August 12, 2012 at 05:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Amir Ali

    Clifton police in hands of indian celibrity for robberies and main street karachi well known for drugs n all kind of crimes they are no 1 with ms mishal obama..

    August 12, 2012 at 05:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. ondeck

    Really? C'mon are parents today really so clueless or selfish or irresponsible that they don't know children should not be watching violence and it could affect their sleeping – how freakin stupid have we become as a society that we need an article to tell us this. Our poor kids are don't stand a chance – the bar just keeps getting lower and lower.

    August 12, 2012 at 13:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Hemet Arthritis Doctor

    II do believe in this. When I was a kid every time that I see a horror film or something violent I dream about it. Because of that I was really scared going to sleep. Is there anyway that they could prevent the nightmares?

    September 13, 2012 at 00:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Robert Vanderen

    great post I really loved it


    April 26, 2014 at 15:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. sarah

    why would parents let there kids watch that stuff anyways? do they want to scar and rot there kids's minds for gods sake

    December 2, 2014 at 09:00 | Report abuse | Reply
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