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Television viewing can impact children’s sleep quality and health

Television watching and inadequate sleep are associated with poor mental and physical health
Television watching and inadequate sleep are associated with poor mental and physical healthRobin Wulffson, MD

A new study evaluated the effects of excess television watching and bedroom TV sets on children’s sleep quality. It pointed out situations in which television viewing could impact a child’s physical and mental health. The findings were published online on April 14 in the journal Pediatrics by researchers at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital for Children, both in Boston, Massachusetts.

The authors note that previous studies have reported that television watching and inadequate sleep are associated with poor mental and physical health. In view of this, they conducted a study to evaluate the associations of TV viewing and bedroom TV sets with sleep duration from infancy to mid-childhood.

The study group comprised 1,864 children in Project Viva. The project is a longitudinal (over time) research study of women and children. Its goal is to determine ways to improve the health of mothers and their children by assessing the effects of mother's diet as well as other factors during pregnancy and after birth. The parents reported their children’s average daily TV viewing and sleep (at age 6 months and then annually from age 1–7 years) and the presence of a bedroom TV (annually from 4–7 years of age). They conducted a statistical analysis to evaluate associations of TV exposures with; the data was adjusted for the child’s age, gender, race/ethnicity, maternal education, and family income.

Of the 1,864 children, 643 (35%) were racial/ethnic minorities; 37% of the households had incomes of $70 000 or less. From 6 months to 7 years, the average sleep duration of the children decreased from 12.2 hours to 9.8 hours per day; TV viewing increased from 0.9 hours to 1.6 hours per day. When the children were 4 years of age, 17% had a bedroom TV; this percentage rose to 23% at 7 years of age. Each one hour per day increase in lifetime TV viewing was associated with 7 minutes per day less sleep. The association of bedroom TV varied by race/ethnicity; bedroom TV was associated with 31 minutes per day less sleep among racial/ethnic minority children, but not among white, non-Hispanic children (8 fewer minutes per day).

The authors concluded that more TV viewing, and, the presence of a bedroom TV among racial/ethnic minority children, were associated with shorter sleep from infancy to mid-childhood.

Take home message:

This study notes the importance of monitoring your children’s TV watching for their physical and mental health. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children younger than two years should non watch television at all. It also recommends limiting older children's TV viewing time to no more than one or two hours per day. A healthy alternative to plopping the kids in front of a TV set is to play games with them or read to them (or encourage book reading when they are able).