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Watching TV may harm infants' sleep patterns

Parents who are having difficulty getting their infant or toddler to stick to a consistent naptime and bedtime should consider reducing the amount of time their child spends glued to the tube, new study findings suggest.
/ Source: Reuters

Parents who are having difficulty getting their infant or toddler to stick to a consistent naptime and bedtime should consider reducing the amount of time their child spends glued to the tube, new study findings suggest.

Infants and toddlers who spend the most time in front of the television appear to have the most problems conforming to regular sleeptimes.

“Regular sleep schedules are an important part of healthy sleep habits and help to prevent sleep problems such as nighttime awakenings,” Dr. Darcy A. Thompson, at the University of Washington in Seattle, told Reuters Health.

Parents who struggle with keeping their child on schedule should “think about how much media they’re using,” added Thompson’s co-author, Dr. Dimitri A. Christakis of Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center in Seattle.

Children in the United States are known to watch more than 19 hours of television each week, but the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under the age of 2 not watch any television and those older than 2 years watch less than 2 hours per day.

“There’s a lot of reasons to minimize if not completely eliminate viewing in the first three years of life,” Christakis told Reuters Health.

Influence on sleep schedules
Studies conducted among children and adolescents reveal various adverse effects associated with television viewing, including obesity, aggressive behavior, attention problems, poor sleep habits and disordered sleep. Few researchers have investigated the effects of television viewing among infants and toddlers, however.

To investigate its influence on their sleep schedules, Thompson and Christakis analyzed data from the National Survey of Early Childhood Health, on 2,068 children aged 4 to 35 months.

They found that children less than a year old generally watched less than an hour of television per day, but those aged 12 to 23 months, watched 1.6 hours of television each day, and those 24 to 35 months watched more than 2 hours of daily television.

Also, about a third (34 percent) of children had irregular naptimes and more than a quarter (27 percent) had irregular bedtimes.

Overall, the more time children spent in front of the television, the more likely they were to have irregular sleeping schedules, Thompson and Christakis report in the medical journal Pediatrics.

The reason for the association between television viewing and sleep disturbances is unknown, but one theory is that the bright light of the television before sleep may interfere with the normal sleep/wake cycle, Thompson and Christakis note. Also, rather than calming children before bed, TV viewing may stimulate them.

“Our data show it may actually pose problems for children trying to sleep,” Christakis said.

In light of the findings, Thompson recommends that parents not only remove televisions from their child’s room, but that they also “closely monitor” their child’s television viewing.

Television “should be viewed as a tool,” Christakis said, adding that parents need to have a “strategic plan” for its use. Echoing this sentiment, Thompson offered the following advice: “If parents decide to have TV as a part of their children’s lives, they should think about how they want to use it and they should choose developmentally appropriate shows.”