MONDAY, June 27 (HealthDay News) -- Sleep problems common to the
toddler set are made worse both by violent media content and
greater evening use of televisions, computers or video games, a new
Reviewing parent surveys and media diaries from 617
preschoolers, Seattle researchers found that each additional hour
of evening media use was linked to a significant jump in sleep
problems, as was viewing of violent content at any time during the
On average, the kids consumed nearly 73 minutes of screen time
daily, with 14 minutes occurring after 7 p.m. Children with TVs in
their bedrooms logged more screen time and were more likely to have
"We definitely thought there would be an effect from violent content and evening content, but we saw that any evening content was a problem -- it didn't really matter for sleep if it was violent," said study author Michelle M. Garrison, a research scientist at Seattle Children's Research Institute. "Also, we had been assuming a lot of them were watching programs really intended for adults and teens, but the bulk of it was children's programs aimed at ages 7 to 12."
The study is published online June 27 and in the July print
issue of the journal
About 21 percent of pre-school children deal with at least two
sleep problems, including difficulty falling asleep, nightmares,
repeated night waking or daytime tiredness, according to the study
authors. Prior research indicates that between 20 percent and 43
percent of American preschoolers also have televisions in their
This study used media diaries that recorded all screen time for
the children -- 55 percent of whom were boys and 18 percent from
low-income families -- across one week, noting the screen title of
TV, video game or computer usage and later coding it for ratings,
content and pacing.
Researchers also focused on media use after 7 p.m. compared to
the rest of the day, since median bedtimes in this age group are
between 8 p.m. and 10 p.m.
Garrison said preschool children interpret many kinds of
violence similarly, from slapstick cartoon pranks to true-life
gunfights on the news, and found all types disturbed their
"For 3- to 5-year-olds, they're just really different in how they perceive media content compared to older children," she said. "Older kids can grasp what's real and what's not. To preschoolers, animated violence is just as scary as real violence."
Eighteen percent of study participants experienced at least one
sleep problem five to seven days per week, the study said, and the
most frequent issue was difficulty falling asleep. Kids with a
bedroom TV -- who logged an additional 40 minutes of screen time
each day -- were eight times more likely to have parent-reported
Michael Gilbert, a senior fellow at the Center for the Digital
Future at the University of Southern California, said the findings
aren't surprising, noting that they confirm prior research and
reflect common sense.
But, "it's always valuable to extend our understanding and even
just confirm our common sense assumptions," Gilbert said. "We're
living in an age of massive data streams invading our worlds and,
as always, parents have to shape the flow of information their
children consume. The techno revolution we're now living through
makes this responsibility ever more difficult to acquit."
Foregoing all media use among children may not be realistic,
Garrison said, but curtailing it -- especially in the hour before
bedtime -- is probably prudent.
"There are healthy media choices parents can be making," she said. "This gives parents information . . . in terms of preventing problems."
The non-profit Common Sense Media offers
ratings and advice on children's media.