Infants and Young Children Lose Sleep with Increased TV Time

Putting your fussy baby in front of the television to get some quiet time may land you with an even crankier baby the next day.

Increased television time can lead to decreases in sleep time, according to a study published in the journal Pediatrics. According to the researchers, inadequate sleep in childhood can lead to poor mental and physical health, “including impaired academic performance, depression, injury, and increased obesity risk.”

The study, titled “Television Viewing, Bedroom Television, and Sleep Duration From Infancy to Mid-Childhood,” was conducted by researchers from Harvard Medical School and the Department of Pediatrics at Massachusetts General Hospital for Children. The researchers studied 1864 children, analyzing data on the children’s average television viewing, the presence of a bedroom television, and sleep. Using mixed effects models, the researchers assessed the association of television exposure with contemporaneous sleep, with adjustments for the age of the child, gender, race/ethnicity, maternal education, and income.

Based on the results, the researchers associated greater television viewing time with shorter sleep duration, with each additional hour of viewing associated with 3 fewer minutes of sleep per day at 6 months of age, 2 fewer minutes at 3 years, and 6 fewer minutes at 7 years. Regardless of television viewing time, having a bedroom television was linked to less sleep. The association of bedroom television viewing time and sleep varied by race/ethnicity, with racial/ethnic minority children between the ages of 4 and 7 losing 32 minutes of sleep per day. In comparison, non-Hispanic white children experienced only lost 12 minutes of sleep per day. Between subjects, the effects of bedroom television viewing did not vary by age or gender.

However, within subjects, gender did cause variances in the association of television viewing and sleep duration. Boys who increased viewing by 1 hour per day over any period experienced a decrease in 4 minutes per day in his average sleep duration. Girls however, did not show a change in sleep duration based on the same increased viewing.

“Given the associations between greater TV viewing and shorter sleep suggested by this study and the strong evidence that greater TV viewing and shorter sleep are associated with poor outcomes,” wrote the researchers in their report, “screen time interventions have the potential to improve sleep.”