Preschoolers who watch television sleep 'significantly less', new study

Preschoolers who watch television sleep less, new study
Preschoolers who watch television sleep less, new study Photo: SHUTTERSTOCK

Preschoolers who watch television sleep "significantly less" than those who don't, finds new research which looked at the impact of TV on sleep duration and quality.

"Given that we already have some data about why sleep and naps are important for young kids, we decided to look into what are the factors that determine when they sleep, how they sleep and why they sleep," said lead author and neuroscientist Rebecca Spencer from the University of Massachusetts .

As part of the study, published in the journal Sleep Healtha group of 470 preschoolers wore actigraphs on their wrists for up to 16 days. Parents and caregivers answered questionnaires about demographics as well as their kids' health, behaviour and television use. 

And the results were clear: preschoolers who watched less than one hour of television per day clocked 22 minutes more sleep at night than those who watched more than one hour each day. Over a week period that's nearly 2.5 hours more.

On average, kids without TVs in their room slept for 30 minutes more at night than those with TVs. And while kids with TVs in their room had longer daytime naps (on average 12 minutes more) they still slept 17 minutes less during a 24-hour period than kids without TVs in their room. Additionally, kids with TVs in their rooms watched TV later at night and watched more adult shows.

"These findings suggest that TV use in young children does impact sleep duration and quality and daytime napping does not offset these negative impacts," the authors write.

If you're wondering just how common it is for 3-5 year-olds to have bedroom TVs, well it's possibly more than you think. According to the study, 36 per cent of kids had one in their room, with a third of those often falling asleep with the television on. While the study relies on US data, Aussie numbers tell a similar story. A report from the Australian Institute of Family Studies, found that around 60 per cent of 4 -5 year olds had more than two household TVs while around 20 per cent of 6 - 7 olds had a TV in their bedroom 

The study authors hope the findings helps smash the myth that TV helps their kids fall asleep at night. "Parents assumed that TV was helping their kids wind down," Ms Spencer says. "But it didn't work. 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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Ms Spencer adds while she intends to examine the impact of devices such as iPads and smartphones she believes television use by kids is probably underestimated by their parents.

"I think TV is its own beast to understand," she says.

The study comes following the release of new guidelines from the World Health Organisation (WHO), which recommend kids aged two to four have no more than one hour of "sedentary screen time" - including playing computer games or watching TV - per day. Specifically, the WHO notes that when it comes to screen time "less is better".

Current Australian Government guidelines recommend the following for preschoolers:

Physical activity: At least 180 minutes spent in a variety of physical activities, of which at least 60 minutes is energetic play, spread throughout the day; more is better;

Sedentary behaviour: Not being restrained for more than 1 hour at a time (e.g., in a stroller or car seat) or sitting for extended periods. Sedentary screen time should be no more than 1 hour; less is better. When sedentary, engaging in pursuits such as reading, singing, puzzles and storytelling with a caregiver is encouraged; 

Sleep: 10 to 13 hours of good quality sleep, which may include a nap, with consistent sleep and wake‑up times.

"Unsupervised use of screens while a child is sedentary for long periods of time, can lead to language delays, reduced attention spans, lower levels of school readiness and poorer decision-making," the guidelines note. "This is due to the child's reduced social interaction with parents and carers. Quality sedentary behaviour like reading, storytelling and puzzles support healthier growth and development."

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