a child in front of a TVHow much television is too much? For school-aged children, watching television for more than an hour and a half each day is linked with less sleep, explains a study from the Center for Research in Environmental Epidemiology in Barcelona. The results emphasize the need for parents to monitor how much TV their children watch to ensure that kids are not losing out on sleep time.

Data for this study came from a large health study. The researchers utilized information about the sleeping and television-watching habits of 1,713 children from Menorca and from the Spanish cities of Sabadell and Valencia. The researchers asked parents to report how much time children spent watching television and the number of hours their children slept. The Spanish parents were surveyed when their children were two-years-old with a follow-up at age four; the Menorcan parents reported on their children at age six with a follow-up at age nine. The research team tallied up the amount of time kids spent watching TV each day—children who watched less than an hour and a half daily were in the “shorter” group, while children watching more were in the “longer” group.

The researchers report that, for all age groups, children who were “longer” viewers got less sleep than the “shorter” viewers. At the outset of the study, the range of TV-watching was zero to eight hours per day, with a median of about one hour. Sleep times ranged from three to 20 hours per night with a median of 12 hours at age two, 10 hours at age for and 11 hours at age six. Between the initial and follow-up surveys, the median sleep amount dropped by approximately two hours for each age group, but children who increased their television consumption between assessments lost an additional 20% of sleep time on average.

The study controlled for factors that can affect sleep like gender, weight, exercise, parents’ marital status, and others. The study did not gather data about the type of television shows or the time of day that children watch TV.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents limit screen time to two hours or less each day. The National Institutes of Health suggest that preschool age children need 11 to 12 hours of sleep each night and school-age children need at least ten. Parents need to be informed about what is healthy for young children and be observant to ensure that kids are getting enough sleep.

This research is published in JAMA Pediatrics.

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