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Does watching TV affect sleep in preschoolers?

A study using smart watches to measure sleep in preschoolers who had TVs in their rooms shows how it affects sleep quality and quantity.

Sleep quantity and quality play a tremendous role in children’s healthy development. According to the American Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, toddlers and preschoolers 1 to 5 years old should have 11-14 or 10-13 hours of sleep every day, respectively. However, not sleeping enough is only one part of the problem. Good overall sleep quality is very important as well. According to the World and Health Organization (WHO), good sleep quality is important for the development and overall health of children of all ages throughout their lives.

Screen time is known to have a bad influence on sleep in preschoolers. Current WHO recommendations limit TV and other screen time to one hour a day for children 2 to 4 years old. Other pediatric organizations support these guidelines and further recommend that parents watch high-quality TV together with their preschoolers. Taken together, all guidelines agree that minimizing screen time or even eliminating it, is better for overall health and sleeping in preschoolers.

A recent American study published in Sleep Health, a journal of the National Sleep Foundation, led by Dr. Rebecca Spencer, a neuroscientist from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, conducted a study in 470 preschoolers from Western Massachusetts. “Given that we already have some data about why sleep and naps are important for young kids,” explains Spencer in a recent press release “we decided to look into what are the factors that determine when they sleep, how they sleep and why they sleep”.

The children in this study wore a digital device similar to a smartwatch, called an actigraph watch, which recorded their sleep periods. They wore this watch for 16 days and their caregivers provided demographic and TV habit-related information through answering questionnaires.

Preschoolers who watch TV sleep less

The study found that watching TV makes preschoolers sleep 22 minutes less every night, accumulating to 2.5 hours every week. Despite the young age of participants, 36% had a TV in their rooms. Thirty-three percent of these children fell asleep while watching shows often inappropriate for their age. These children slept 30 min less every night than kids without TVs in their rooms, and napping throughout the day didn’t compensate for their overall sleep duration.

Parents assume TV helps kids fall asleep

Dr. Spencer uses these findings to educate parents who mistakenly thought that TV helps their little ones calm down and fall asleep. “The good news is, this is addressable,” she says, and further explains: “Parents assumed that TV was helping their kids wind down. But it didn’t work. Those kids weren’t getting good sleep, and it wasn’t helping them fall asleep better. It’s good to have this data.”

A very important finding of the study is that 54% of the participants do not meet WHO screen time recommendations on weekdays, while the number rises to 87% on weekends.

The study clearly concludes that TV decreases both the quality and quantity of sleep in preschoolers. In the future, Dr. Spencer plans to also examine how small screens, such as tablets and smartphones, influence the quality and quantity of sleep in kids.

Written by Marina Chemerovski-Glikman, PhD


Helm AF, Spencer R MC. Television use and its effects on sleep in early childhood. Journal of the National Sleep Foundation, 2019.

Sleep fact sheet. Available from:



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