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  • This Study Finds That Kids Who Watch Too Much TV Sleep Less Than Their Peers

    How long do you allow your child to watch TV? Remember that it's important that he gets good quality sleep as well.
    by Kate Borbon .
This Study Finds That Kids Who Watch Too Much TV Sleep Less Than Their Peers
PHOTO BY iStock
  • Preschoolers who watch TV sleep less than those who do not, according to new research published in the journal of the National Sleep Foundation, Sleep Health.

    The study was led by neuroscientist Rebecca Spencer of the University of Massacusetts Amherst and developmental science graduate student Abigail Helm. They studied a group of 470 preschoolers who live in Western Massachusetts, all of whom had actigraphic devices worn like watches around their wrists.

    These devices were used by the researchers to gather data on the quality and duration of the kids’ sleep, as well as questionnaires given to the children’s parents and caregivers, who were asked about the children’s health, behavior, and TV use.

    Of the children surveyed, 36 percent had television sets in their bedrooms, and a third of the group were found to fall asleep with the TV on, often while watching stimulating or violent adult programs.

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    The researchers found that preschoolers who only spent less than an hour watching TV in a day slept 22 minutes more (almost 2.5 hours a week) than those who spent more than an hour watching TV every day.

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    Furthermore, children who didn’t have TV sets in their bedrooms slept 30 more minutes at night than children who have TV sets in their bedrooms. Though kids with TV sets in their rooms slept an average of 12 minutes more during daytime naps, they were still found to sleep 17 minutes less at night.

    According to Spencer, the findings of the study demonstrate that TV-watching does not actually help children sleep faster or better, contrary to what some parents may believe.

    “Parents assumed that TV was helping their kids wind down. But it didn’t work,” Spencer said in a press release from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. “Those kids weren’t getting good sleep, and it wasn’t helping them fall asleep better. It’s good to have this data.”

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    WHO’s sleep guidelines

    The findings of the study support the World Health Organization’s (WHO) guidelines on physical activity, sedentary behavior, and sleep for children under five years old.

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    The guidelines state that children under five years of age need at least 180 minutes of physical activity per day, with at least 60 of those minutes dedicated for moderate- to vigorous-intensity activities. Meanwhile, only a maximum of one hour of screen time per day is recommended for children ages two to four, and none at all for children ages one year and below.

    In terms of sleep, the WHO says that children ages three to four years need 10 to 13 hours of good quality sleep, which may include naps. Children ages one to two years need 11 to 14 hours of good sleep, babies ages zero to three months need 14 to 17 hours of good sleep, and babies ages four to 11 months need 12 to 16 hours of good sleep.

    The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) endorses similar recommendations, and also includes guidelines for older children: Kids ages six to nine years need 9 to 12 hours of good sleep, while teenagers ages 13 to 18 years need 8 to 10 hours of good sleep.

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    Despite the recommendations of these organizations, Spencer stated that 54 percent of the children they surveyed did not meet the WHO’s TV-viewing guidelines on weekdays. In fact, the percentage of these children reaches 87 percent on weekends.

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    Keep the bedroom TV-free

    Good and adequate sleep is conducive to optimal health and development in children. So, what can parents do to make sure their children get all the sleep they need? One step is to take the TV out of the bedroom.

    Again, according to Spencer, not only do children who watch TV sleep less, they also don’t get the good quality sleep they need. But this is only one of the negative health impacts that too much screen time can do to developing children.

    Studies have found that having a TV in the bedroom is linked to higher body mass index (BMI) in children, which may mean that they can adopt unhealthy eating habits. This can then lead to obesity, a factor which can contribute to serious illnesses such as heart disease. Watching TV in the bedroom has also been linked to behaviors like physical aggression, lower levels of sociability, and even depressive symptoms.

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    So, instead of letting kids spend hours on end sitting with their eyes glued to the TV or to their digital devices, experts recommend encouraging them to engage in active play. Aside from allowing them to enhance their skills and to develop new ones, play also gives them an outlet to expend their boundless energy. It might just be the answer you need to get them to sleep deeply at night!

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