99-023 (Television and Sleep)
Distributed September 27, 1999
For Immediate Release
News Service Contact: Kristen Cole

Judith Owens

Television at bedtime is associated with sleep difficulties in children

A television in the bedroom is the most powerful predictor of overall sleep disturbances in school-aged children, according to a new study by Dr. Judith Owens, assistant professor of pediatrics in the Brown University School of Medicine.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — The children who have the most difficulty sleeping, resist going to bed, and wake up most during the night, are the children who watch television just before bedtime, according to a Brown University study reported in August 1999.

Dr. Judith Owens surveyed 495 children in kindergarten through fourth grade at three public elementary schools in Rhode Island about their television viewing and sleep habits for the study. Parents completed questionnaires about their children’s sleep behavior and television viewing habits, and teachers completed a questionnaire about daytime sleepiness.

Watching television before bed was common among those surveyed: Seventy-six percent of families reported that it was part of their child’s usual bedtime routine. In fact, most parents reported that they needed or used television to fall asleep themselves.

About 40 percent of parents said their children had at least one sleep problem, such as struggles over going to bed or difficulty falling asleep. A television in the bedroom was the most powerful predictor of overall sleep disturbances. Twenty-six percent of the children had a television in their bedrooms.

“Television viewing around bedtime may not be the benign influence many parents think it is,” said Owens, assistant professor of pediatrics in the Brown University School of Medicine and director of the pediatrics sleep disorder clinic at Hasbro Children’s Hospital in Providence. “Just because you use television to fall asleep doesn’t mean it is going to help your child ... it may have a stimulating rather than soothing effect.”

Health care providers must be aware of the link between television viewing and sleep disturbances and must question patients about bedtime television viewing during routine behavioral screenings, said Owens, who led the research with Dr. Rolanda Maxim, a pediatrician at the Knights of Columbus Developmental Center in St. Louis, Mo.

The study is the latest in a growing volume of research that associates children’s television viewing habits with a variety of significant behavioral consequences. Among those: obesity, poor eating habits, decreased physical activity and physical fitness, and impaired school performance. It appeared in August on the Internet version of Pediatrics, a journal published by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

On average, American children spend almost as much time per week watching television – about 25 hours – as they spend in school.