Children's Health

Violent videos associated with sleep problems in preschoolers

Preschoolers seemed to sleep better when their parents were encouraged to cut kids' exposure to violent or age inappropriate videos throughout the day, in a new study.

Researchers found that within months after urging parents to switch their children's viewing to nonviolent and age-appropriate videos, those children were about 20 percent less likely to have a sleep problem than kids whose parents didn't receive the same advice.

"One of the things that's exciting for me is that if families want to make these changes, it doesn't require going to the doctor's office or going to a person's home," said Michelle Garrison, the study's lead author from the Seattle Children's Research Institute.

Previous research has suggested a link between the kinds of media young kids see during the day and sleep problems at night.

To see whether changing media use to avoid violent or frightening content could improve kids' sleep, Garrison and her colleagues, who published their findings in the journal Pediatrics on Monday, sent invitations to families in the Seattle area with children between the ages of three and five years old to join the study.

Ultimately, 565 children and their families participated, and were randomly divided into two groups.

In one group, the parents of 276 children were encouraged to change their kids' viewing habits over six months by substituting only "healthy media." After evaluating each family's situation, researchers provided channel guides and suggested appropriate shows, such as Dora the Explorer, Sesame Street and Curious George.

In the comparison group, parents of 289 children were sent healthy eating information instead.

The families then kept diaries and answered surveys to track their children's sleep and viewing habits. The questionnaires were collected at the start of the study and again six, 12 and 18 months later.

Better content and better sleep

At the beginning of the study, 42 percent of the kids in the intervention group had some sort of sleep problem, as did 39 percent of kids in the comparison group.

The most common sleep problem, according to the researchers, was children taking too long to fall asleep several nights per week.

After six months, sleep problems fell to 30 percent in the group whose parents were encouraged to switch shows and videos. The comparison group also improved, but the number with sleep problems only dropped a few percentage points, to 36 percent.

A year after the study started, those rates were similar, but sleep problems did start to reappear at the 18-months mark.

"It's possible that families were making strides to make better media choices when we were in their lives, and it faded off after the study," said Garrison.

Dr. Umakanth Khatwa, sleep lab director at Boston Children's Hospital in Massachusetts, told Reuters Health that this study shows the media children consumed throughout the day has an impact on their sleep. It's not just scary movies before bedtime that keep children up.

"What happens once you watch a scary movie, you don't stop thinking about it as a child," said Khatwa, who was not involved with the new study.

Garrison said parents can use the TV rating system to find appropriate content or visit for more information.

Khatwa added that, aside from choosing more appropriate content, ending "screen time" at least two hours before bed, establishing consistent bed and waking times, and parents being aware of what they're watching when their children are around may also help.