(CBS News) Watching violent television shows and movies meant for older kids may take away from young children's sleep.
New research from the August 6 issue of Pediatrics shows that if parents were to swap their child's media viewing habits for positive-minded, age-appropriate TV, he or she may experience a better night's sleep.
For the study, investigators at Seattle Children's Hospital Research Institute studied the sleep schedules of 565 local kids who were between 3 and 5 years old. Half of families were randomly assigned to receive a home visit and several phone calls and letters from a case manager, whose role was to help the family replace violent and age-inappropriate viewing content with more educational or "prosocial" programming. Prosocial programming includes shows that teach a positive message of friendliness, sharing, cooperation and empathy.
Parents in this intervention, called the "healthy media" group, were also encouraged to watch television with their kids. The other half of families served as control subjects, receiving unrelated mailings about nutrition facts. No parents in the study were asked to cut back on their child's overall TV-viewing time.
Through questionnaires given every six months for 18 months, researchers tracked the children's sleep, looking at how long it took to fall asleep, presence of nightmares or night-walking, problems waking up and daytime tiredness. They found that the kids whose families received advice from case managers on "healthy" programming were 20 percent less likely to have a sleep problem that interferes with a full night's rest.
She told HealthDay that "violent" media may even include popular kids' shows like SpongeBob SquarePants and programs meant for older children.
Study author Dr. Michelle Garrison, a principal investigator at Seattle Children's Hospital, told the hospital's "On the Pulse" blog that a healthy-television intervention may benefit kids beyond bedtime, and reduce their risk for aggression and behavioral problems that have been tied to violent television in past research.
"For me, the findings are exciting because it means we're really on the right track focusing on media, and it really is worth targeting and focusing on," said Garrison.
They researchers say the study shows a causal relationship between violent television and kids' sleep problems, and say doctors and parents should consider healthier viewing options to prevent and treat kids' sleep difficulties. Garrison told Healthday that shows such as Sesame Street, Curious George and Dora the Explorer can be beneficial for preschool-aged children because they emphasize social skills and teach numbers and literacy.
The researchers however added that the sleep improvements lasted for a year but faded about six months after the program ended, suggesting the need for an active intervention.
Common Sense Media has tips on age-appropriate television, movies and video games for kids.