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Published on January 28, 2013

Is TV Making Your Kids Sleepy?

Friends, neighbors, co-workers and family members – they probably all tell you that they’re going through life exhausted.  It seems that, more than ever before, Americans are not getting enough sleep.

And the problem apparently extends down to our children. Anecdotally, teachers often report that elementary-age kids are showing up to school too tired to focus on their work. Youngsters are modeling the behavior of their parents –pushing and pushing themselves through life, even if they know that it’s time to hit the hay.

“There is definitely an increase in sleep problems in children ― such as sleep apnea associated with obesity, and insomnia, especially in adolescents,” says Vatsala Ramprasad, M.D., medical director of the Crozer-Keystone Pediatric Sleep Center at Crozer-Chester Medical Center.

Like their parents, children are frequently glued to some kind of electronic device; 46 percent of kids get more than two hours of screen time every day. And for younger children, that device is usually the television. Watching a lot of TV is usually considered bad for a child’s developing body – kids who watch a lot of TV read less, exercise less and are more likely to be overweight. And now it appears that you can add sleep deprivation into the mix.

A new study from New Zealand reports that children who watch a big dose of TV before going to bed don’t fall asleep as quickly as children who don’t park themselves in front of the boob tube before going to sleep. Increasingly, the issue is that children have televisions in their bedrooms. Researchers recently discovered that the biggest reason children have TVs in their bedrooms is that their parents just put them there without much thought. Uh… that’s a bad idea.

Doctors say watching television creates a chemical reaction in the brain, reducing melatonin and making it more difficult to fall asleep.

“The blue light from TV, phones and computers is intensely stimulating to the brain,” Ramprasad says. “We generally say no TV, video games or texting for at least two hours before bedtime.”

Parents should create a pre-bedtime routine for their children that does not involve television or other screens, and focuses instead on activities such as games or reading. And Ramprasad advises making sure they get to bed at a reasonable hour.

“From about nine years old they need nine to 10 hours of sleep [a night], even as adolescents.”

Crozer-Keystone offers a multidisciplinary approach to the identification and treatment of all types of sleep disorders. CKHS also offers skilled care for pediatric sleep disorders through the Crozer-Keystone Pediatric Sleep Center at Crozer-Chester Medical Center. For more information or to make an appointment, visit http://sleepcenters.crozerkeystone.org or call 1-888-SLEEP-03 (1-888-753-3703).

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