Screens in Bedroom May Cause Autism Sleep Issues

TV access in the bedroom linked to less sleep for boys and especially those with autism

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Sufficient sleep is an important part of staying heathy for all individuals, especially for children. And just one simple house rule may help kids get enough sleep — remove the TV.

A recent study found that having a TV, computer or video game system in the bedroom was linked to less sleep for boys.

Boys with autism, in particular, tended to get less sleep when they had access to media in their bedrooms.

A big part of getting less sleep for boys with autism appeared to be the time they spent playing video games.

The more they played video games, especially in their bedrooms, the less sleep they got.

"Keep TVs, computers and video games out of kids' bedrooms."

This study, led by Christopher R. Engelhardt, PhD, of the Department of Health Psychology at University of Missouri-Columbia, looked at the influence of media screens in bedrooms on the sleep of boys with autism.

Media use and "screens" referred to watching television, using the computer, playing video games or using any other kind of screen-based technology, such as tablets.

The researchers compared responses on detailed questionnaires filled out by the parents of 49 boys with autism spectrum disorders, 38 boys with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and 41 boys with typical development.

The boys were all aged 8 to 17, and the questionnaires asked about how many hours the boys spent using media each day, how many hours of sleep they got each night and whether they had access to any media in their bedrooms.

The researchers found that having access to media in the bedroom was linked to less time sleeping each night for all the boys, regardless of their developmental status.

The differences in the amount of sleep were described in statistical terms along a continuum in the study, not in terms of number of average hours.

Getting less sleep appeared specifically linked to having a TV in the bedroom, not to how much TV the boys watched on average each day.

Similarly, boys with a computer or a video game system in their rooms tended to get less sleep, on average, than boys with no TV, video game system or computer in their rooms.

Yet the amount of time the boys spent playing video games each day was linked to getting less sleep.

Boys with autism got even less sleep than typically developing boys or boys with ADHD when they had access to media in their bedrooms.

This finding was true even when the researchers took into account other differences among the boys, including age, race/ethnicity, number of siblings, parents' marital status, household income and medications the child was taking.

Another factor contributing to less sleep among boys with autism — but not among boys with ADHD or who were typically developing — was a greater amount of time spent playing video games.

In fact, with deeper analysis, the researchers determined that playing video games appeared to account the most for the media use in their bedrooms that was linked to less sleep among boys with autism.

In other words, autistic boys' playing video games in their bedrooms appeared to be the biggest part of their media use contributing to getting less sleep.

"The current findings suggest that the associations between media exposure and sleep are more pronounced among boys with autistic spectrum disorders than among boys with ADHD or typical development," the researchers wrote.

The findings "suggest that in-room access to screen-based media and time spent playing video games may place individuals with autistic spectrum disorders at increased risk for sleep problems," they wrote.

William Kohler, MD, the medical director of the Florida Sleep Institute in Spring Hill, Florida, noted that sleeping problems are already common among many children with autism spectrum disorder.

"A contributing factor appears to be behavioral in the sense that the article showed an increased use of media in these children," he said. "The disruption of sleep will aggravate the symptoms of ASD, including attention and cognition."

But Dr. Kohler also noted that these problems can also be directly addressed.

"It's important to realize that this type of activity is occurring in this group of children and that it is correctable by adjusting the use of media at night and removing such things as the television, video games, etc. from the bedroom," Dr. Kohler said.

This study was published November 18 in the journal Pediatrics. The research was funded by the University of Missouri research board. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
November 17, 2013
Last Updated:
December 30, 2013