Once again the studies support the existing notion that the more children watch television the less likely they are to receive the sleep they need as they grow. Researchers from Harvard University revealed today that children’s TV viewing habits are detrimental to the amount of time they spend sleeping, with children who spend the most amount of time watching television having shorter bouts of sleep. The study found that this is increasingly so for minority children.
The Project Viva study, which was published in the journal Pediatrics, followed more than 1,800 children between six months of age and eight-years-old who were enrolled by their mothers as a part of this long-term research project. Project Viva investigated various aspects related to children’s health, starting from before the child was born and continuing onward through childhood.
Following the mothers and their children for seven years, the study collected data from the mothers via questionnaires that were answered yearly, which asked mothers to provide information about their children’s television viewing habits, whether a TV was available in the children’s bedroom, how much time the children were exposed to a TV during infancy, and the amount of time their children spend watching television as they have gotten older. Also asked was the average amount of time their children spent sleeping everyday.
What was found by the recent Harvard study was that watching television is detrimental to children’s health, as there was a consistent, albeit small, link between longer hours spent watching TV and fewer hours spent sleeping. The study concluded that for the children in the study, with every hour they spent watching TV there was a reduction of seven minutes in sleep time, the link being even stronger among boys.
For children who had TVs in their bedroom, they slept an average of 30 minutes less per day than children who did not have a television in their bedroom, which was especially so for children in the ethnic minority. The percentage of children who slept with TV’s in their bedroom increased as they matured, rising from about 17 percent to 23 percent between the ages of four and seven. Elizabeth Cespedes, who is the lead author of the Project Viva study, expressed uncertainty as to why minority children were more affected by having TV’s in their room than white, non-Hispanic children. What was consistent, however, was the fact that ethnic minority children slept less and watched more TV than other children.
The Project Viva study reinforces previous research that also found a correlation between the amount of TV a child watches and the amount of sleep they receive, particularly having a TV in the child’s bedroom. Consistent throughout all the studies was the conclusion that this pattern of less sleep and more TV is harmful to child development, as children depend on sleep for proper health and growth.
Cespedes explained that inadequate time sleeping during childhood is known to influence adverse outcomes for children as they mature, which include problems with shortened attention spans, poor academic performance, and increased incidence of obesity. In December of last year, Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Pediatric published research that also showed a link between watching television and childhood obesity, which also suggested that there was a link between the disruption of sleep patterns and the likelihood for a child to gain weight.
The Harvard study shows that watching television is detrimental to the health of children, as they depend on sleep for their health and wellbeing. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends against watching television for children who are under the age of two and to keep TV time for older children limited to one hour a day. Some mothers are convinced that the TV is necessary in order to help their children fall asleep, but experts say this is not the case. What children need is consistent sleep hours, regular bedtime routines and an environment that is free of the television where they can sleep at night.
By Natalia Sanchez