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TV and video games before bed impact kids' sleep

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Children who watch television or play video games before going to bed are more likely to have trouble falling asleep, suffer from nightmares and be tired during the day, a new US study has found.

Watching television and playing video games before bed can inhibit the body's natural nocturnal rise in melatonin levels — the hormone involved in the sleep-wake cycle — the Seattle-based researchers wrote in the health journal Pediatrics.

The study involved 612 children from the ages of three to five, and their parents were asked to keep a diary of their child's television and video game usage for one week, including the title of the TV program or game the child played, the time of day, and duration of the game or show.

Twenty-eight percent of pre-schoolers who played video games or watched TV for at least 30 minutes after 7pm were found to have sleep problems most nights of the week, compared with 19 percent of children whose media usage was all prior to 7pm.

Television screens or computer monitors "can keep melatonin levels from rising normally because of the brightness of the screens," lead researcher Dr Michelle Garrison, from the Seattle Children's Research Institute, told Health.com.

The content of the TV program or video games also had an impact on the child's sleep, regardless of the time of day it was watched or played, researchers found. Thirty-seven percent of the children who were exposed to violent TV or video games for an hour or more each day had sleep problems, compared with 19 percent of children who watched less than an hour or none, Dr Garrison and her colleagues found.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends parents limit their child's media exposure before bedtime and not put computers or televisions in their bedrooms. Dr Garrison said parents should enforce one hour of "screen-free" time, and pay close attention to classifications as even light violence or slapstick comedy could be unsettling for a pre-schooler.

"The bulk of violence wasn't from TV meant for adults or teens," Dr Garrison said. "It was from children's programming, but for slightly older kids. What's fine for a seven- to 10-year-old can be too overwhelming for a three- to five-year-old."

Simple ways to help young children to get a good night's sleep include having a consistent bedtime and pre-bedtime routine, reducing daytime sleeps and ensuring your child feels comfortable and safe in their bed. For more tips check out our tips for bedtime bliss.

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