Updated at: 23-02-2022 - By: Jane Brody

In order to assist their children wind down and get to sleep faster, many parents turn to television before bedtime. Full House and Saved by the Bell were two of my favorite shows when I was a kid. What’s the harm in allowing your kids watch TV before bed now that there are so many fresh educational programmes to select from?

According to research – a lot! Let’s dive a little deeper into this controversial topic and see what science has to say about how television may impact children’s sleep habits.

The Truth About TV & Sleep

Research shows that a great deal! If you’re curious in how television affects children’s sleep, let’s take a closer look at the research behind the issue.

Children and teenagers were observed for 90 minutes before their bedtimes to see how much time they spent playing video games or watching TV, and then to see how long it took them to drift off to sleep. Those children who watched more television and played more video games before going to bed took longer to fall asleep than those who did not watch any television or play video games at all. ‘

This is great news for families that use television as a bedtime or naptime routine for their toddlers and preschoolers. Make sure your child isn’t having trouble falling asleep because you let him watch TV immediately before nap or bedtime.

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A Time-Honored Tradition

The practice of reading aloud to children before they go to sleep is beneficial for their development of literacy and their ability to acquire new things. Even for families who spend much of their day apart, reading together might provide an opportunity to re-connect. Because there is no face-to-face connection when everyone sits down to watch TV together, this pastime is not a good way to build family ties.

Why Could It Be a Problem?

Children should be allowed to watch a small amount of television before going to bed, but why are doctors and sleep experts concerned about their children’s screen time? A closer look at what Science has to say about the impact of watching television on children’s health is in order.

Delayed Sleep Cycle

Anxiety-inducing

Childhood was simpler in the past when children spent more time playing outside and families lived in close proximity rather than solitary confinement with their children. When I was a youngster, the only things I had to worry about were who was going to be “it” in hide-and-seek and if Mom was going to prepare that dreadful meatloaf dish again. Sadly, as children’s usage of technology and screen time has increased, so has their level of anxiety.

However, despite the guidelines of the WHO and AAP, children are spending hours a day in front of the television, often viewing violent and distressing imagery meant for adults. Those children who lack the mental capacity to rationalize what they’ve seen may experience anxiety as a result.

Watching television before bed raised anxiety in the same study of 495 children stated above, making it more difficult to fall asleep and increasing the number of night-time awakenings. In another research of 153 university students, nine out of ten admitted to being exposed to frightful media as children, leading to persistent worry in more than 26% of students at the time of assessment.

Nightmares

If you’ve ever had a nightmare after viewing a terrifying movie, you’re not the only one. I will never forget waking up drenched in sweat following a particularly terrifying dream about a clown after watching the movie “It” for the first time…thank you, Stephen King. When youngsters watch television before going to sleep, they are more likely to suffer from nightmares.

It was revealed that youngsters who saw violent visuals on television before going to bed had greater nightmares and difficulty sleeping and keeping asleep. Sleep terrors and nightmares were substantially more common in children who had a television in their room, according to another research of 100 otherwise healthy youngsters. In addition, watching television in the evening was found to be more disruptive than watching during the day.

Blue Light

Blue light, a hot-button topic in recent years, has also attracted a lot of media attention. The circadian rhythm, the body’s internal clock, has been proven to be harmed by artificial blue light released from screens and other devices. Since the hormone melatonin is delayed by this artificial light, it might increase alertness and disturb sleep cycles.

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A few hours before going to sleep, the pineal gland releases melatonin because the light levels are decreasing. A delay in the aging process occurs when humans are exposed to blue light, such as that emitted by electronic screens, fluorescent bulbs, or LED lights. Exposure to blue light in the evening may make it more difficult to drift off to sleep, reduce the amount of REM sleep, and cause people to wake up feeling fatigued despite getting enough sleep.

Different Effects on Different Ages

Toddlers & Preschoolers

Shows aimed for children under the age of four are one of the fastest-growing segments of Netflix’s programming. It’s hard to think of a better way to teach kids about numbers, shapes, and alphabet than with these adorable performances that contain catchy music. Unfortunately, this has been misinterpreted by many parents, including myself, as “permission” to engage in more screen time for the sake of “learning time.”

Young children’s exposure to television has never been shown to be beneficial, educational or otherwise. It is recommended that children in this age group obtain between 10 and 14 hours of sleep a day to ensure optimal development and growth. Even a small amount of television can have detrimental impacts on children in their early years.

A study of toddlers aged 24 months and under found that for every hour spent in front of a screen, overall sleep time was cut in half! 450 preschoolers took part in another study in which it was shown that those who watched less than an hour of TV per day slept 2.5 hours more each week than their counterparts who watched more than an hour everyday. Additionally, preschoolers who didn’t have televisions in their beds slept 30 minutes longer at night than those who did.

School-aged Children

The amount of time spent sleeping decreases as children enter the school years, but the amount of time spent in front of a screen increases. Children in this age group frequently watch television in the mornings before school, may be exposed to television during the course of the school day, and frequently watch television in the evenings before going to sleep.

School-aged children who spend a lot of time in front of the television are less likely to get a good night’s sleep, according to research. “Violent situations in animated flicks may also contribute to impulsive aggressive actions among youngsters younger than 8 years since they may be unable to discern between real life and fiction,” they said.

Teens

More than any other age group, teenagers spend most of their time watching television, playing video games, or surfing the Internet. According to some estimates, adolescents between the ages of 8 and 18 spend up to 9 hours a day utilizing entertainment media.

Media use has been linked to decreased sleep at night (leading teens to sleep in later in the morning), as well as increased exhaustion, among adolescents. According to a research of 55 teenagers, media use after bedtime was linked to a later start time and less efficient sleep. Sleep in America polled teens in 2006 and found that those who established strict TV time limits get an extra half-hour of sleep each night.

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On the Other Hand…

Why Does Watching TV Before Naps and Bed Make It Harder to Fall Asleep?

Children who spend time watching television and playing video games excite their minds, making it more difficult for them to relax and fall asleep fast, according to the researchers who conducted the study.

Researchers have also found evidence that the backlighting from televisions and gaming systems can disrupt children’s circadian rhythms. In order to get a good night’s sleep, we must remember that our circadian rhythm is responsible for letting us know when it’s time to sleep and get up.

What Happens If My Toddler or Preschooler Doesn’t Get Enough Sleep?

One hour less of sleep per week was found to be the result of youngsters who watched TV or played video games for at least 30 minutes prior to going to bed. Healthcare specialists acknowledge that chronic sleep deprivation has its toll over time, even if it doesn’t seem like much.

Chronic sleep deprivation can have serious consequences for children, as well. In the past, we’ve discussed the negative effects that lack of sleep can have on a toddler or pre-schooler:

  • Toddlers, preschoolers, and school-aged children who are sleep deprived are more likely to exhibit behavioral issues.
  • Disorders including sleep apnea and Restless Leg Syndrome have been connected to the diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Of course, television won’t create sleep disorders, but we need to ensure that these children get enough sleep.
  • Depression in youngsters can be brought on by sleep deprivation.
  • Sleep deprivation has been linked to obesity in early children.

The bottom message is that persistent sleep deprivation is bad for a child’s general health, especially for a toddler or preschooler. As pediatrician Dr. Roya Samuels points out in the report.

Possible Alternatives

8 Bedtime Rituals Instead of TV

  • Reading before bed can be calming, inspiring, and a great way for parents and children to connect.
  • Playing games together as a family can be a fun alternative to watching television. Anyone interested in playing Monopoly?
  • In today’s age, you can watch your favorite shows whenever you want, regardless of when they aired. Opt for two 30-minute portions during the day rather than one hour before bed.
  • To minimize anxiety and nightmares, don’t let them watch anything violent or distressing before bedtime. If you must let them watch something, choose something else.
  • If you don’t have time to read to your children, consider letting them listen to audiobooks so that they may still benefit from the imaginative stories without being exposed to blue light.
  • In research, listening to music has been proven to help people fall asleep more quickly, stay asleep longer, and have a better night’s rest.
  • Increasing numbers of people are reaping the benefits of yoga’s calming effects on sleep. Yoga positions may be taught to children in a pleasant and engaging way using a variety of kid-friendly resources.
  • A good night’s sleep can be achieved by journaling your thoughts and feelings before going to bed. When children are young, this practice can help them develop good pre-bedtime routines that will last a lifetime.

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Conclusion

Children who watch television before bed could be less likely to get a good night’s sleep and more likely to suffer from anxiety or nightmares, depending on what they’re watching.

You can’t learn or remember anything if you aren’t getting enough sleep. I’m worried enough as a parent that I’ve instituted some new guidelines for my family about viewing television before night. However, while we may still have a movie night on the couch from time to time, our bedtime ritual will be much more focused on reading books before going to sleep.

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