If you’re having trouble getting your preschooler to sleep at night, you may want to monitor what they are watching on TV before bedtime. A new study suggests that kids between the ages of 3 and 5 years old have more trouble getting to sleep and staying asleep if they’ve watched violent TV shows or computer videos or age-inappropriate media content.
Kids in this age group who were exposed to non-violent and age appropriate materials, in the hours before bedtime, were 64 percent less likely to have any type of sleep disturbance.
Children this young have a more difficult time separating reality from fiction. Even an episode of the popular kid’s program SpongeBob SquarePants might be considered too violent for very young children noted the study’s lead author Michelle Garrison.
"Making a relatively simple change in what kids are watching is a change worth the effort," said Garrison, a principal investigator at the Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development at Seattle Children's Research Institute. "Sometimes parents feel overwhelmed by the idea of getting rid of TV altogether, but switching shows can make a big difference."
The link between media use and children’s sleep problems isn’t new; other studies have had similar results using a variety of children ages and media use. This study focused on three to five year olds and the viewing of violent media or age-inappropriate content before bed.
The current study included nearly 600 children aged 3 to 5 living in the Seattle area. Families were randomized into one of two groups: One group received a home visit, follow-up phone calls and mailings with coaching about how to make better media choices for their young children; the other group simply received mailings about nutrition.
The researchers didn't attempt to reduce the total number of hours of media use. The goal instead was to reduce violent and age-inappropriate content.
Some of the programming that was considered age–inappropriate might surprise parents.
"An 8-year-old can watch superheroes and understand that it's not what happens in real life," Garrison said. "But the same content can be overwhelming and scary for a 3-year-old. The idea that people might just explode is scary for a 3-year-old."
Garrison said the research suggests that parents should instead select shows such as Sesame Street, Curious George and Dora the Explorer. "These shows can be beneficial for preschool children to watch, because they emphasize things such as literacy, numbers and social skills," she said.
"When kids in this age group watched violent or age-inappropriate media, they were more likely to have nightmares, have a hard time falling asleep and wake up during the night," Garrison said.
Kids who watched non-violent, age –appropriate media were 64 percent less likely to have trouble going to sleep or staying asleep.
Garrison also noted that children in this age group really shouldn’t be engaged in any media use before bed.
"Even shows with really good content can still be a problem for sleep," she said. "When kids are reading a book or playing with toys before bed, they control the pace. But TV ramps their brains up when they're trying to slow down."
The study will be published in the September issue of the journal Pediatrics, and is already online.
One of the best ways to settle down for the night is to read a story to your child at bedtime. Story time can add a gentle slowing-down routine at night and help develop an early interest in learning to read and books. It’s also a wonderful way to bond with your child, especially after a hectic day. All together now, “Once upon a time…….”