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Monday 24th June 2019

Violent media linked to child sleep issues

6th August 2012

Non-violent and age-appropriate viewing is linked to a better night's sleep and fewer nightmares in children, a new study shows.


A randomised, year-long trial led by researchers at the University of Seattle in Washington state found that children whose media viewing was healthy and age-appropriate were less likely to have problems with sleep than children who were allowed to watch violent material.

According to a research team led by Michelle M. Garrison and Dimitri A. Christakis, observational studies have consistently shown an association between media use and child sleep problems.

They carried out a study of 565 families with children ages 3 to 5, who were randomly assigned either to a media intervention limiting their children's viewing to non-violent, age-appropriate content, or a control group that followed a healthy eating programme.

The families in the media intervention received an initial visit from a case manager who discussed the children's viewing habits with the family, including television, DVDs or computer content.

They handed out educational materials encouraging parents to control their children's media viewing and limit it to content deemed "appropriate" by the study leaders, for example, programmes like Sesame Street and Curious George.

The case manager followed up on the intervention families with e-mails and phone calls.

The majority of the children involved in the study were white, with a mean age of 4. Half of the parents were college-educated, while most families had two parents. Less than 10% of the children had a television in their own bedroom.

At the start of the study, around 40% of the children had trouble sleeping, and they averaged around one hour of media viewing daily, including around 22 minutes of violent content.

Parents reported that the most common problem was in getting their children to sleep in the first place, with some children needing more than 20 minutes to fall asleep on at least two days in any given week.

Some reported their children woke up more than once in the night, while others were sluggish and sleepy in the mornings or during the day.

Writing in the journal Pediatrics, the researchers recorded significant differences in sleep scores between the intervention group and the control group.

They said that because the intervention made no attempt to regulate the length of time spent viewing media, the difference was indeed linked to the media content viewed by the children, possibly because more violent content had an effect on anxiety or hyperactivity levels.

While the benefits were clearly visible throughout the study, the differences between the two groups' sleep scores fell dramatically six months after the study ended, however.


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