How Television Affects Sleep? 8 Bedtime Rituals Instead of TV Update 04/2024

When it comes time for bedtime, a lot of parents turn to the television to help their children relax and fall asleep quickly. Full House and Saved by the Bell were two of my favorite shows as a kid growing up in the 1980s. What’s the harm in allowing your children to watch television before bedtime when there are so many instructive programs to select from?

Research shows that a lot! Explore this hotly debated subject a little further to learn what the scientific community has to say about how television viewing affects children’s sleep patterns.

The Truth About TV & Sleep

Researchers at the University of Auckland in New Zealand have found that media use before naps or bedtime is bad for both children and adults.

During the 90 minutes leading up to their bedtimes, the study examined the number of times children and teens spent playing video games or watching television. They came to the conclusion that children who watched more TV and played more video games before going to bed had more difficulty falling asleep than children who watched less or no TV or video games before night.

Parents who frequently use television as a part of their children’s naps or bedtime rituals will be pleased to hear this news. As a parent, be aware that allowing your child to watch television before bedtime could be making it harder for them to go asleep.

A Time-Honored Tradition

Around a huge radio, a family could likely be found listening to the evening shows before bed about a century ago. Rather than huddling around a radio to watch The Ed Sullivan Show or Howdy Doody after dinner, families began gathering around a 14-inch black-and-white TV as technology evolved. After dinner, many parents and children still congregate to watch a favorite show, even after generations have passed. Pre-bedtime television viewing can account for as much as 50 percent of a person’s time, according to an American Time Use Survey. A cassette player sat on my dresser as a child, and I would often fall asleep listening to the calming stories that sounded.
Listening to these tales of adventure while I slept became second nature to me, so much so that I often dreamed of the experiences that I’d read about. There’s something wonderful about being whisked away from your mundane surroundings and thrust into a fantastical realm where wishes come true. The practice of reading aloud to children before they go to sleep is beneficial for their development of literacy and their ability to acquire new things. Even for families who spend most of their days apart, reading together can be an opportunity to re-connect. If you and your loved ones are in the same room watching television, it’s still not a bonding experience because you’re not actually talking to each other.

Why Could It Be a Problem?

What’s the problem? I grew up watching TV before bed, and I’m OK now. What’s the worst that might happen if it’s only for a few minutes? In what amount is too much? You’re not the only one who’s had these thoughts. Parents and doctors have been debating for years over how much television children should watch, especially before bed. More than one hour a day of sedentary screen time is not recommended for children under the age of 5, according to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) most recent guidelines on physical activity, sleep, and sedentary behavior.
An AAP advisory has proposed that this similar age range should be confined to one hour of high-quality, educational programs with their parents or carers. AAP also recommends “that all screens be turned off 30 minutes before sleep and that TV, computers, and other displays be allowed in children’s bedrooms.” If physicians and sleep experts are worried about children’s screen time, what’s the harm in letting them watch a few minutes of TV before they go to sleep? A closer look at what Science has to say about the impact of watching television on children’s health is in order.

Delayed Sleep Cycle

Many parents allow their children to watch television in the evening so that they can unwind and, ideally, get to sleep more quickly that night. Research suggests that the contrary may be true, which is a problem. Watching television before night lowered the amount of time spent in bed by 30 minutes in a survey of 207 children aged 8-17. Another study that looked at sleep and TV viewing in 495 kindergartens through grade four children revealed that children who watched television before bedtime had a delayed onset of sleep and a shorter overall rest period. The presence of a television in a child’s room was revealed to be the strongest indicator of overall sleep disturbance in this study. The long-term consequences of sleep disorders in youngsters are startling, even if a few minutes of snooze time seems inconsequential. A lack of sleep can increase a child or teen’s risk of injury, depression, hypertension, or obesity, among other things. Even though it may seem counterintuitive, it is possible that proper sleep throughout these critical years of development may improve mental and physical health as well as lead to better attention and behavior.


Many people long for the simpler times of yesteryear when kids played outside more and families raised their children in close proximity rather than in seclusion. Back then, it seemed like the only things kids had to worry about were who was “it” for hide-and-seek and whether Mom was cooking that dreadful meatloaf dish for dinner again. Sadly, as children’s usage of technology and screen time has increased, so has their level of anxiety.

The WHO and AAP both recommend that children’s screen time be limited to one hour of instructional programming or less, but youngsters are still watching hours of TV every day and seeing pictures that are meant for adults only. Young children may internalize their anxieties and feel anxious if they lack the mental capacity to rationalize what they have seen.

Youngsters who watched television before bed were more likely to wake up during the night, according to a study of 495 children. 153 university students were asked about their childhood experiences with scary media, and 90% of them said they had encountered it as a child, creating residual fear in more than 26% of them.


If you’ve ever had a nightmare after viewing a terrifying movie, you’re not the only one. Stephen King, thank you for making me wake up in the middle of the night covered in sweat after a particularly frightening dream about a clown. When youngsters watch television before going to sleep, they are more likely to suffer from nightmares.

It was found that children who saw violent images on television before bedtime had greater nightmares and difficulty falling and staying asleep, according to a 2011 study in the Journal of Pediatrics Children who had televisions in their bedrooms were more likely to suffer sleep terrors and nightmares, according to new research of 100 healthy children. In addition, watching television in the evening was found to be more disruptive than watching during the day.

Blue Light

Blue light, a hot-button topic in recent years, has also attracted a lot of media attention. The circadian rhythm, the body’s internal clock, has been proven to be harmed by artificial blue light emitted from screens and other electronic devices. Due to its ability to postpone the production of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin, artificial light has the potential to increase alertness and disturb sleep cycles.

In reaction to dimming light, the pineal gland typically starts releasing melatonin a few hours before bedtime. To avoid this, people should avoid blue light from electronic screens, fluorescent lamps, and LED lights. People who are exposed to blue light in the evening may find it more difficult to fall asleep, lessen the quality of their REM sleep, and wake up feeling fatigued even after getting enough sleep.

Different Effects on Different Ages

When it comes to the influence of watching television before bedtime, there are a number of factors that come into play.

Toddlers & Preschoolers

Shows aimed at children under the age of four are one of the fastest-growing segments of Netflix’s programming. These cute presentations, which feature catchy melodies educating children about numbers, shapes, and the alphabet, are hard to resist. It’s unfortunate, but many parents (myself included) have misunderstood this as a “license” of sorts, rationalizing increased screen time as “educational.”

Watching TV with young children has never been found to be particularly beneficial, educational, or otherwise. In this age group, the World Health Organization recommends that children obtain between 10 and 14 hours of sleep per day to ensure proper growth and development. In these early years, children should only watch one hour of television per day, yet even this little amount might have detrimental impacts.

Researchers studying screen time in kids 24 months old and younger discovered that every hour of screen time cut down on overall sleep time by about half an hour!. Preschoolers who watch less TV each day get an extra 22 minutes of sleep each night, totaling 2.5 more hours per week than those who watch more than one hour each day. As a result, preschoolers who did not have televisions in their bedrooms slept 30 minutes longer at night than those who did.

School-aged Children

It’s common for children to spend fewer and fewer hours sleeping as they get older and spend more and more time in front of a computer or other device. Kids in this age group frequently watch television in the mornings before school, may be exposed to television as part of their school day, and commonly watch television in the evenings before bed.

School-aged children who spend a lot of time in front of the television are less likely to get a good night’s sleep, according to research. The researchers also discovered that “children younger than 8 years may be unable to discern between real life and fiction” as a result of “violent sequences in animated features.”


More than any other age group, teenagers spend most of their time watching television, playing video games, or surfing the Internet. According to some estimates, adolescents between the ages of 8 and 18 spend up to 9 hours a day utilizing entertainment media.

Media use has been linked to decreased sleep at night (leading teens to sleep in later in the morning), as well as increased exhaustion, among adolescents. Research of 55 adolescents found that media use after bedtime was associated with a later onset of sleep and a worse level of sleep efficiency. When it comes to TV time, teens who have regulations in place sleep an extra 30 minutes per night, according to the Sleep in America Poll from 2006.

On the Other Hand…

How can we not put the finger at media, given the rise in media use and the fact that 50-90 percent of youngsters may not be getting enough sleep? There are numerous studies showing the bad impacts of viewing television on children, but recent research reveals that perhaps television isn’t the villain we’ve made it out to be. A recent Oxford University study revealed a virtually little link between children’s screen use and sleep problems. According to the study’s lead author, Andrew Przybylski, “every hour of screen usage was associated with 3 to 8 fewer minutes of sleep a night.” This study found that children who adhered to the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines on-screen usage reported sleeping an additional 20 to 26 minutes per night.

Why Does Watching TV Before Naps and Bed Make It Harder to Fall Asleep?

According to the study’s findings, youngsters who spend time watching television or playing video games have their brains stimulated, making it more difficult for them to wind down and drift off to sleep.

Researchers also found that children’s circadian cycles may be affected by the backlighting from television and gaming system screens. Due to the fact that our circadian rhythms are crucial for informing us of the proper times for falling asleep and waking up, anything that disrupts these cycles will also disrupt our ability to sleep.

What Happens If My Toddler or Preschooler Doesn’t Get Enough Sleep?

An hour less sleep a week was found for youngsters who spent 30 minutes or more watching TV or playing video games before bed. That may not seem like much, but medical professionals concur that sleep deprivation has long-term consequences.

Chronic sleep deprivation is also extremely harmful to children’s health. A lack of sleep can have serious repercussions on a child’s development, and we’ve highlighted this in a number of pieces.

  • Sleep deprivation can lead to behavioral issues in young children, including toddlers, preschoolers, and elementary school students.
  • ADHD diagnoses have been linked to sleep problems that induce sleep deprivation, such as sleep apnea and
  • Restless Leg Syndrome. Of course, television won’t create sleep disorders, but we need to ensure that these children get enough sleep.
  • In young children, sleep deprivation can cause depression.
  • Over time, a lack of sleep can cause a youngster to gain weight and become obese.

The bottom message is that persistent sleep deprivation is bad for a child’s general health, especially for a toddler or preschooler. Dr. Roya Samuels, a pediatrician who was involved in the study, points out that the findings are consistent with previous research.

Possible Alternatives

Some fantastic options exist for parents who are concerned about their children watching television before night. Even if your children have become accustomed to watching TV in the evenings, you may need to overcome some resistance by gradually reducing the amount of time they spend watching TV and portraying the shift in a positive manner. These eight bedtime rituals can serve as a jumping-off point as you experiment with different activities to see what works best for your family.

8 Bedtime Rituals Instead of TV

  • Preparing for bedtime by reading is a great way to relax, stimulate the imagination, and connect with your child.
  • Playing cards or board games as a family can be a great diversion from watching television. Who’s up for some Monopoly?
  • In today’s age, you can watch your favorite shows whenever you want, regardless of when they aired. Try two 30-minute chunks earlier in the day instead of an hour of TV before night.
  • If you allow your children to watch a television show or movie before bed, make careful to steer clear of anything that depicts violence or has upsetting themes.
  • Consider letting your children listen to audiobooks if you don’t have the opportunity to sit down with them and read together. This way, they may still benefit from imaginative stories without being exposed to harmful blue light.
  • It has been demonstrated in research that listening to music can help people go asleep faster, stay asleep longer, and have better sleep at night.
  • More and more people are reaping the benefits of yoga’s calming effects on sleep. It’s possible to teach children about yoga poses in a fun and engaging way using kid-friendly tools.
  • Journaling can help you clear your mind and filter your thoughts before going to sleep so that you can get a good night’s sleep. When children are young, this practice can help them develop good pre-bedtime routines that will last a lifetime.


Children who watch television before bed could be less likely to get a good night’s sleep and more likely to suffer from anxiety or nightmares, depending on what they’re watching.

Sleep is essential for a variety of reasons, including improving cognition, preserving health, and balancing emotions. As a parent, I’m disturbed enough by the data to change my family’s TV viewing policy. Our bedtime routine will look a lot like books, a bath, and a good night’s sleep instead of a movie night on the couch.

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