Sleep and Kids

It would be too easy if we put our kids to bed and they fell asleep in the average nine minutes it takes for an adult to drop into the arms of Morpheus. If your child struggles to fall asleep, know that this is not likely to resolve merely by moving from crib to bed. As he ages, there will fewer cries and screams, and more pleas and refusals. Could there be a reason behind this? Maybe television? Video games?

Each child is unique and has his own distinct needs for sleep.  Generally, a preschooler needs 10 to 12 hours a night, maybe with a nap during the day.  The surprise is that the school-age and preteen group benefit from the same, except for the nap.  But, “media use has been shown to negatively affect a child’s sleep,” according to researchers at Seattle’s Children’s Research Institute.  In their randomized controlled study of preschoolers, they found that the children had more than 70 minutes of screen time a day, with a fifth of that after 7 PM.  Almost 20% of the parents interviewed indicated at least one sleep problem with their preschooler.  Daytime TV showing violent behavior exacerbated problems.  (Garrison. 2011)  In a similar study a decade earlier, investigators at Brown University discovered that the sleep domains most affected by television were “bedtime resistance, sleep onset delay, and anxiety around sleep, followed by shortened sleep duration.”  (Owens. 1999)  In both studies—and in several between— it is agreed that a TV in the child’s bedroom compounds the matter and translates into less-than-stellar academic performance.

Recent assaults on Sponge Bob and his kin have raised the hackles of the entertainment industry.  But theirs is not righteous indignation, and transcends the humor of a “Who?  Me?” response.  It has been suspected for decades that the electronic babysitter would require a payback.  If a person believes that life is a series of trade-offs, here’s one of them, usually showing up during the school years, unknowingly invited earlier.

Children who watch fast-paced programs—even for as little as nine minutes — perform poorly in executive function tasks, those that control and regulate other behaviors and abilities, and are necessary for goal-directed activities.  These might include knowing when to start and stop behaviors and when to change them if the situation calls for it.  It also includes being able to plan ahead, to pay attention, and to fine tune memory and motor skills.  Although they are not easy to assess, their absence is noticeable.  (Lillard. 2011)  Teachers have lamented since the 1970’s that too many children start school with five-minute attention spans.

The U.S. is not the only nation facing this problem.  German researchers realized that 25% of their children do not get the ten hours of sleep they need.  They advise that parents and care givers limit TV time in order to prevent the negative consequences of sleep deprivation.  (Heins. 2007)  The Japanese learned that not only TV, but also after-school activities that last past 8 PM can interfere with sleep / wake patterns.  (Oka. 2008)

Other electronic entertainment, not only TV, plays a role in cerebral interference.  Electronics may induce the fight-or-flight state, increase blood pressure and pulse, and disrupt overall brain performance.  The unnatural brightness of the screen can interfere with production of melatonin, the signaling molecule that tells you to fall asleep.  Fast-moving and quick-changing scenes can interrupt the wiring of a young brain, possibly leading to bad dreams and restlessness.  Electromagnetic radiation is a by-product of anything electronic, affecting children more than adults, considering that their brain tissue is more conductive, radio frequency penetration is greater relative to head size, and children will have a longer lifetime exposure than adults.  (Kheifets. 2005)

Problems begin to manifest by age seven, the time when academic load may become a family affair.  When and if you help your child with his homework, you’re sure to notice what all this is about.  A two-hour delay between electronic stimulation and bedtime is not a bad idea.   Prior to that, naturally-paced shows, or even those seemingly in slow motion (Mr. Rogers), can offset, or even prevent, the surreal experiences that occur later. (Christakis. 2011)

Garrison MM, Liekweg K, Christakis DA. Media use and child sleep: the impact of content, timing, and environment. Pediatrics. 2011 Jul;128(1):29-35.

Owens J, Maxim R, McGuinn M, Nobile C, Msall M, Alario A. Television-viewing habits and sleep disturbance in school children. Pediatrics. 1999 Sep;104(3):e27.

Angeline S. Lillard, PhD,  Jennifer Peterson, BA The Immediate Impact of Different Types of Television on Young Children's Executive Function Pediatrics. Published online September 12, 2011   (doi: 10.1542/peds.2010-1919)

Heins E, Seitz C, Schüz J, Toschke AM, Harth K, Letzel S, Böhler E. Bedtime, television and computer habits of primary school children in Germany.

Gesundheitswesen. 2007 Mar;69(3):151-7.

Oka Y, Suzuki S, Inoue Y. Bedtime activities, sleep environment, and sleep/wake patterns of Japanese elementary school children. Behav Sleep Med. 2008;6(4):220-33.

Leeka Kheifets, PhD, Michael Repacholi, PhD, Rick Saunders, PhD, Emilie van Deventer, PhD The Sensitivity of Children to Electromagnetic Fields Pediatrics Vol. 116 No. 2 August 1, 2005 pp. e303 -e313

Dimitri A. Christakis The effects of Fast-Paced cartoons Pediatrics. 2011; peds. 2011-2071;  Published Online, 12 Sept., 2011

Gröer M, Howell M. Autonomic and cardiovascular responses of preschool children to television programs. J Child Adolesc Psychiatr Ment Health Nurs. 1990 Oct-Dec;3(4):134-8.

Christakis DA, Zimmerman FJ, DiGiuseppe DL, McCarty CA. Early television exposure and subsequent attentional problems in children. Pediatrics. 2004 Apr;113(4):708-13.

Al-Khlaiwi T, Meo SA. Association of mobile phone radiation with fatigue, headache, dizziness, tension and sleep disturbance in Saudi population. Saudi Med J. 2004 Jun;25(6):732-6.

Owens J, Maxim R, McGuinn M, Nobile C, Msall M, Alario A. Television-viewing habits and sleep disturbance in school children. Pediatrics. 1999 Sep;104(3):e27.

*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. These products are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease.