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For parents who have been up half the night with a child terrified by a nightmare, it’ll come as no surprise that new research suggests scary television programs, movies and videos can give kids bad dreams.
The study, “The Impact of a Healthy Media Use Intervention on Sleep in Preschool Children,” tested whether changing the type of videos and TV shows that children ages 3 to 5 watched improved their sleep. Results appeared in the Aug. 6 edition of the journal Pediatrics, published by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
The study conducted by the Seattle Children’s Research Institute involved 565 families in the Seattle area. Half were put in the “healthy media group” and given support to change their children’s viewing habits and replace violent media content—even popular shows like “SpongeBob SquarePants”—with more positive, age-appropriate shows and channels for six months. The second group was given unrelated information.
Researchers then assessed the preschoolers’ sleep, including how long it took for them to fall asleep, how often they woke, the frequency of nightmares, if they had difficulty waking and if they experienced daytime tiredness. They concluded that children who switched to more “pro-social programming” had significantly lower odds of sleep problems. The effect persisted across the intervention year, but faded six months after the program ended.
According to the study’s authors, the results suggest there is a causal relationship between media viewing and children’s sleep. They recommend health care professionals and parents consider healthy media choices to prevent and treat kids’ sleep problems.