Less TV, More Sleep for Kids

Sleep decreased by bedtime television

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Insufficient sleep can lead to all sorts of health issues, especially for children. Yet research shows children get less sleep now than they did 100 years ago. TV may be one reason.

A recent study looked at the various activities more than 2,000 children did before bedtime.

Watching television was the top activity the children reported before they went to sleep. TV watching was also linked to later bedtimes.

The researchers concluded that reducing TV time before bed may help children get a longer night of sleep.

"Turn the TV off before bed."

The study, led by Louise S. Foley, PhD, from the National Institute for Health Innovation at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, aimed to understand the relationship between activities that children and teens did before bedtime and their sleeping habits.

The study involved 2,017 children and teens, aged 5 to 18, who were interviewed face-to-face and in a follow-up phone call about what they did during the hour and a half before they went to sleep.

The participants gave information about their pre-sleep activities for four different days, half on weekends and half on weekdays. They chose from about 250 different activities for each 5-minute segment of time during the 90 minutes before sleep. Parents helped the younger children.

The researchers then divided the top 20 activities reported into three categories of screen sedentary time, which included watching TV, using the computer and playing video games.

Non-screen sedentary time included activities such as eating, reading or talking. Self-care activities included ones like brushing teeth, showering and getting ready for bed.

These findings were then compared to four different categories of sleep onset, which included "very early, early, late or very late."

These sleep time categories varied for two different age groups. The average time of "very early" sleep for the 5- to 12-year-olds was around 7:40 pm. It was around 8:30 to 8:45 pm for the teens.

"Early" was just before 8:30 pm for the younger kids and around 9:30 pm for the older kids. "Late" was 9:00 pm for the younger kids and around 10:10 pm for the teens. "Very late" was about 10:00 pm for the younger kids and 11:15 pm for the teens.

Overall, watching TV was the most commonly reported activity among the participants. Time spent watching television took up about 30 minutes of the 90 minutes before they went to sleep.

The participants who fell asleep at the latest times, compared to the others, also spent more time watching TV than the others. Each change from one sleep category to the next was associated with about 4 to 13 more minutes of screen time.

For example, the younger girls (aged 5 to 12) who were classified as "very early" sleepers reported an average of 17 minutes of watching TV before bedtime. The younger girls with "very late" times of going to sleep reported an average 27 minutes of TV time.

There were similar patterns among the younger boys and teenage boys, though the teen girls only had slight differences in TV time across the four sleep categories (all about 32 minutes).

The next seven activities all involved self-care except for eating (ranked fourth).

This evidence supports the idea that TV time may be contributing to less sleep for kids since going to sleep later is linked to getting less sleep overall.

William Kohler, MD, the director of Pediatric Sleep Services at Florida Hospital Tampa and a dailyRX expert, noted that the TV can interfere with sleep in three different ways.

"It can cause content problems in that the excitement from the TV or the fear from a program can influence the ability to get to sleep," Dr. Kohler said. "Either the child is revved up because they're excited about the content, or they're frightened potentially from the content."

Also, simply watching TV delays time when children could be going to sleep, he said.

"Another factor is that the light from the TV itself can interfere with melatonin production and interfere with getting to sleep," Dr. Kohler said. Melatonin is the hormone that tells the body to sleep, and it can be suppressed by light exposure.

Dr. Kohler said that other studies have shown that other technology, such as texting or computer use, can contribute to poor sleep, but the TV is particularly a problem.

"The TV is a very common and unfortunate cause for getting insufficient or poor quality sleep," Dr. Kohler said.

Insufficient sleep in children is linked to difficulty concentrating, poor grades in school, difficulty with coordination, obesity, hyperactivity, metabolic problems and higher levels of aggression.

The researchers noted that finding ways to reduce how much TV the children and teens watch before going to bed may help them get to sleep more quickly and improve their sleep time overall.

The study was published January 14 in the journal Pediatrics. The research was funded by Sport and Recreation New Zealand, the New Zealand Ministry of Health, the New Zealand Ministry of Education and the New Zealand Ministry of Youth Development. No conflicts of interest were reported.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
January 12, 2013
Last Updated:
January 15, 2013