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July 2, 2011

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Watching nightime TV hurts kids' sleep

IF your preschooler can't sleep - turn off the violence and nighttime TV.

That's the message in a new study that found sleep problems are more common in 3- to 5-year-olds who watch television after 7pm. Watching shows with violence - including kids' cartoons - also was tied to sleeping difficulties.

Watching nonviolent shows during the day didn't seem to be linked with sleep problems in the 617 youngsters studied.

The study builds on previous research linking media use with kids' sleep problems, and bolsters arguments for limiting screen time.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time for children up to age 2, and no more than two hours daily for older children. It urges doctors to ask parents at each checkup how much their children watch TV and whether kids have bedroom TVs, which the academy discourages.

Previous studies have found that at least one in four US preschoolers have TVs in their bedrooms, and many families mistakenly believe that watching TV will help their kids sleep, says Dr Michelle Garrison, lead author and a scientist at Seattle Children's Hospital Research Institute.

The government-funded study was released online this week by the journal Pediatrics.

Overall, about 112 children studied - nearly one in five - had one or more frequent sleep problems most days of the week. These included difficulty falling asleep, awakening repeatedly at night, nightmares, or daytime sleepiness.

Kids who watched the most nighttime or violent TV had the most sleep trouble. TV was the main source of screen time rather than computers or video games.

The study relied on parents' reports of kids' sleep difficulties and TV habits, and wasn't rigorous enough to tell whether TV caused sleep problems. It could be that poor sleepers might be more likely to watch TV; or family factors such as lax parenting could have been involved.

Experts said the theory that screen time causes sleep problems makes sense.

Dr Dennis Rosen, a sleep medicine specialist at Children's Hospital Boston, says the research highlights a common problem.

"It certainly fits with what I see" at his sleep disorders clinic, Rosen says.

Young children go to sleep best with nighttime rituals that calm them, including bedtime stories and cuddling with parents, says Dr Marc Weissbluth, a sleep disorders specialist at Chicago's Children's Memorial Hospital and author of several books on healthy sleep habits.

TV can have the opposite effect, stimulating children, and if it's replacing that down time with parents, it can be unhealthy, Weissbluth says.

While some preschoolers still nap during the day, sleepiness late in the day or early evening at this age is a sign that children need to go to bed earlier at night, he says.

Lack of sleep "is as dangerous as iron deficiency" and can cause behavior difficulties, memory problems and academic struggles, he says.


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