Posted tagged ‘television’

Trouble falling asleep? Turn off those screens!

April 4, 2013

The Pediatric Insider

© 2013 Roy Benaroch, MD

Lots of people, kids and adults, seem to be having trouble falling asleep. Now, one solution would be to go to med school and do a residency—you’d be so exhausted, you could fall asleep while talking to your spouse (while you yourself were talking. Good trick.) But that would be impractical, and we’d end up with too many dermatologists. Instead, a recent study has found that there might be a simpler solution. Just turn off those screens!

The study, from New Zealand, looked at sleep habits of about 2000 children from age 5-18, correlating bedtime routines with what’s called sleep latency: how long it took them to fall asleep. The data and conclusions are simple: the kids who spent more of their presleep time watching TV took the longest to fall asleep; the kids who watched the least TV right before bed fell asleep the quickest.

It makes sense. For most of human history, our circadian rhythms were controlled by the sun. When there was light, it was day. Darkness means night. Now, we spend a tremendous amount of time not only under artificial light, but even worse, staring into light sources. Your TV, your phone, your iPad, computer monitors—all of them create light. When you stare at light, your brain thinks it’s daytime. No sleepy. Get it?

That doesn’t even include the stimulating effect of TV shows and crazy video game entertainment. I’m thinking that couldn’t help anyone sleep well, either.

The research was done on kids, but almost certainly applies to adults as well. Want to fall asleep better? Get more exercise (earlier in the day), stay off caffeine (that applies to everyone else but me, I have condition*). And turn off the TV and other video sources for a few hours before bedtime.

You can use that time to read one of your new medical textbooks!

*”I have condition” is an homage to my dad, who used this overall excuse for almost, well, anything. Try it sometimes, it works great!

An evil in your home

April 5, 2011

The Pediatric Insider

© 2011 Roy Benaroch, MD

What if there were one sinister thing in the bedrooms of your home—an evil, odious thing that not only contributes to childhood obesity, but also to school failure, depression, and social isolation? Its wickedness not only damages your children, but affects you as well: it interferes with marital intimacy, promotes divorce, and by interfering with sleep can make it difficult to drive safely and perform well at work.

Ready to get out the torches and pitchforks? Ready to get rid of this hideous monstrosity, this malevolent, hateful force that sickens children and their parents, ruining health, marriage, and careers?

The sad irony: there’s nothing good on, anyway.

Get those things out of your bedrooms, and your children’s bedrooms. You’ll be glad you did.

Don’t sit so close?

February 6, 2010

The Pediatric Insider

© 2010 Roy Benaroch, MD

Will sitting too close to the television hurt your eyes?


As recently reviewed in a short article from Scientific American, there’s no risk to eyesight from watching TV too close, despite what momma told you. Apparently there was a television sold in the 1960 that was recalled because of excessive radiation, which may have led to the lasting myth of too-close television watching hurting a child’s eyes.

Kids who are nearsighted might prefer to sit closer so they can see better, but it’s not the television that caused the vision problem. Actually, most children I see whose parents are worried about vision issues because of close-watching have perfectly normal vision. I think some kids just like to watch sitting very close.

Television isn’t off the hook though– there are plenty of bad things that are related to excessive screen time: depression, poor speech skills (yes, even in toddlers who watch allegedly “educational” shows), overweight, and many other problems. TVs in children’s bedrooms are an especially bad idea.

So: though watching TV too closely won’t hurt anyone’s eyes, the best distance to watch a television is far, far away. From a different room, or a different house.

There’s nothing good on, anyway!

Television, ADHD, and other bad things

September 28, 2009

The Pediatric Insider

© 2009 Roy Benaroch, MD

Steve wanted to know: “I have a 16 month old and I was wondering how much television watching is too much? Also I heard too much TV viewing can lead to ADHD. Is this possible?”

I’ve written about television a few times before—about its association with depression in teens, and why having TVs in bedrooms is a bad idea. Studies such as this one also seem to tie excessive TV watching to symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (though other authors dispute those findings.) The association of TV with ADD seems especially strong if televisions are kept in children’s bedrooms. However, it’s not really clear that excessive television actually causes ADHD—it could be the other way around. A hyperactive, difficult-to-control child may be offered more “screen time” by exhausted parents. Or maybe the association is even less direct. We know that ADD and ADHD run in families, and we know that parents who watch a lot of TV tend to have children who watch a lot of TV, so maybe the excessive TV watching reported in children with ADD just reflects a family habit rather than anything that’s really causing anything else.

There are plenty of reasons to limit television time for children. Besides issues including teen depression and ADD, excessive television watching is also associated with a poor diet choices in preschoolers, more fast food consumption, and difficulty with sleep. Reducing TV time can also both prevent and treat obesity in children.

Need more reasons to turn off the set? How about delayed speech development (also here) in children who watch excessive TV, or an increased risk of psychological disease? Or a greater likelihood of unplanned teenage pregnancy and high blood pressure? I also found studies linking television with an increased risk for asthma and poor bone mineral content. I’m sure there are even more negative associations, but I’ve read enough to convince me many times over: television and especially young children are not a good mix.

Current guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics suggest no television at all for children less than 2 years of age, and not more than 1-2 hours per day of quality, non-commercial television entertainment for older kids. The current average screen time (adding television, video games, computer time, etc) for an American child is over six hours a day—more time, on average, than they spend in school. You can quibble over the exact amount that is “OK”, but clearly there is far too much TV now, and less of it would be a very good thing.

Besides, there isn’t anything good on, anyway.

Music versus television

September 4, 2008

KM posted, “I have read that having the television on as background noise can be distracting to a child and affect their attentiveness to tasks and play. Do you find this to be true concerning music? My two year old child is an active child with a short attention span. We listen to kid music most of the day, including while she plays. Often times, she’ll sing along to the song while playing. Is is better not to listen while playing, listen only to instrumental music, or does it make a difference?”

Leaving a TV on all day is asking for trouble. Kids who grow up watching more TV are more likely to have trouble reading, more likely to be obese, more likely to end up on medicine for attention deficit disorder, and less likely to successfully complete high school. TV, to put it bluntly, is a worthless time-suck. It exposes your child to misleading yet powerful messages that encourage junk eating and a twisted attitude about bodies and sex. The shows are bad, and the commercials are worse. If you’d like you child to watch TV, choose an age-appropriate, taped item without commercials. Watch it, then turn it off and talk about it.

Listening to music doesn’t have any of these negatives. It has not been associated with any of these bad outcomes. For a while there was enthusiasm for music listening to help toddlers or babies—the so called “Mozart” effect was said to increase brain power. The research showing this was weak, and it’s not fair to say that Mozart will help a child’s brain grow. But it is wonderful music. Whether you like classical, jazz, hip-hop, or rock-and-roll, any kind of music in the background is a nice accompaniment to the day.

Except yodeling. That’s just wrong.

TV + bedroom = bad idea.

April 15, 2008

Putting a television in your child’s bedroom is a bad idea.

That’s the conclusion of a study published in the April, 2008 issue of Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). The authors studied 781 adolescents to determine the differences between kids who have access to a TV in their bedroom versus those who do not. The results are eye-opening. 62% of the children reported having a TV in their bedroom. The kids with TVs reported not only more time watching television, but also less time exercising, poorer dietary habits, fewer family meals, and poorer school performance. Other studies have found similarly concerning results in younger children.

The AAP recommends that children not have TVs in their bedrooms. I would take this a step further, and recommend that all TVs be kept out of all bedrooms. Parents: for a better night’s sleep and better adult relationships, use your bed only for sleeping and one other thing—but not watching television.