The Stimulant Box

By Emily Gold / November / December 1999
November 5th, 2007
You might reach for the television remote at bedtime, but new research shows that your child should not. Brown pediatrician Judith Owens has concluded that children who watch television just before bed have the most trouble going to sleep and staying there.

A professor of pediatrics and director of a pediatric sleep-disorders clinic, Owens says the problem is that TV overstimulates children. Using parent and teacher questionnaires, she studied the sleep and television-viewing habits of 495 children in kindergarten through fourth grade at three public schools in Portsmouth, R.I. She found that children watching television at bedtime express more anxiety about sleeping and resist going to bed. The results of the study were published in the September issue of Pediatrics, a journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The parents surveyed did not see the connection between sleep problems and the TV set, Owens said. Though they vigilantly monitored which shows their children watched, three-quarters said television was part of their child's regular bedtime routine, and 15 percent reported that their child fell asleep in front of the television at least twice a week. "We sort of anticipated that they'd be reading at bedtime," Owens says, "but clearly that's not the case." Even more amazing, Owens says, is that more than a quarter of the children had sets in their own bedrooms. "Kids that age," she adds, "have no business having television sets in their bedrooms."

Owens is not the only doctor urging parents to turn off the TV. The American Academy of Pediatrics declared in August that children younger than two should avoid television altogether, and that older children should watch no more than two hours a day.

Owens offers this advice to parents: "If you don't have a television set in your child's bedroom, don't put it there. And if you have one there, really consider taking it out."

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November / December 1999