Sleep Time or Screen Time: Why Balancing Screen Time and Sleep Time is Essential for Weight Management

Sleep! Why is it so important? As adults , we are well aware of the effects of getting too little sleep; we may feel sluggish, forgetful, moody, unable to concentrate.  and our productivity can be greatly affected. 

In an age with so many screen gadgets including TV, smartphones, and computers, insuring your child gets enough good, quality sleep can be difficult.  These gadgets make life more fun, more entertaining, and have become a prominent learning platform. TV programs and video-games are now among the most time-consuming activities for children. While  some believe that social media keeps us from experiencing the “real world,” there is something to be said for being able “socialize” and share with  others in this manner. 

However, as with everything fun and good, screen time should be limited. Without limits, a desire for more screen time (and even a dependence) can develop. Screen time should not be allowed to interfere with sleep. 

WHY IS SLEEP SO IMPORTANT?

  • Sleep is important for proper growth and development in children and adults. 
  • We cannot function properly without adequate sleep. 
  • Getting enough quality sleep helps improve brain development and overall cognitive function in children.
  • Sleep has also been shown to help reduce stress and boost the immune system.

Dr. Racheal Dawkins of Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital recommends the following sleep hours for children: 

Infants under one  year: 12-16 hours

Children 1-2 years old: 11-14 hours

Children 3-5 years old: 10-13 hours

Children 6-12 years old: 9-12 hours

Teenagers 13-18 years old: 8-10 hours 

(https://www.hopkinsallchildrens.org/ACH-News/General-News/The-importance-of-sleep-for-kids).

It is important for parents to insure that their children are getting enough good, quality sleep for healthy growth and development.  This will also help to foster good sleep habits in children as they grow into adulthood. .

TELEVISION ADDICTION REALITY

Television viewing is the most popular form of leisure activity in the United States, consuming an average of 2.8 hours per day in the general population according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2012.

One of the earliest reports about the amount of time spent by children in front of the television was a 1962 study by Robert D. Hess and Harriet Goldman in the journal of Child Development (https://www.jstor.org/stable/1126454) The report stated that children below the age of 12 spent, on average, 22 hours per week watching television. The article also showed that, while there was no concern about health issues, parents were wary of their children spending so much time watching television.

Also, a 1996 edited work of Robert Kubey  ((http://www.swlauriersb.qc.ca/schools/recit/tlaptop/mliteracy/depend.pdf)) explored how television dependence may be formed when  individuals try  to fill  time or use television as a means of distraction. While the work of Harriet and Goldman in 1962 considered 22 hours per week as dependence, Robert Kubey, in 1996, reported the time spent watching television to have increased to 60 hours per week.

Further, a 2010 investigation was carried out by Cary W. Horvath (http://dx.doi.org/10.1207/s15506878jobem4803_3) to determine what should be considered normal versus dependent television viewing. This report provides a television addiction scale, which can serve as a guide for parents in setting limits on screen time in their homes. 

With the advent of smartphones, laptops, tablets, etc. devices such Phones and Tablets, there is an even greater increase in the number of hours spent on screens, especially when there are no school activities or when the school is on break.

TV ADDICTION AND SLEEP DISTURBANCE 

We have been talking about how essential sleep is for children. We will now review the association between media use and sleep disturbance amongst children as supported by several different scientific reports.

A research brief prepared by Frederick J. Zimmerman for the Kaiser Family Foundation in 2008 (https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED527857.pdf) reported three different studies highlighting the decline in sleep time and sleep quality among children aged 1-5 years. These studies show that within 25 years, the hours of sleep dropped from an average of 13.5 hours to 8.7 hours per night as a result of increased television viewing. The author also reported that 20-30% of American children are suffering from one type of sleep problem or another, however this percentage reduced to 18% with  advancement in age and entrance into elementary school. This should come as somewhat of a  relief for parents, as increased school activities and activities  with friends outside the children’s respective homes reduced screen time.

Baumgartner T, et al., in 2006 (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16497116) associated increase television use among children with an increased level of arousal and the stress hormone cortisol, which inadvertently affects the quality of sleep and sleep time. Higuchi et al., in 2003 (https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1365-2869.2005.00463.x), also showed the relationship between television use and suppression of melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep and biology that determines the onset of sleep. 

Van den Bulck J in 2004 (http://psycnet.apa.org/record/2004-11640-005), along with several other researchers, associated television viewing with nightmares that lasted more than two weeks in children across different age groups. This also decreases sleep quality in the children affected. 

In addition, these studies made us realize that television content also matters, as some content can promote sleep; some can hinder sleep. 

Therefore, it is of utmost importance for the parents to look into the content their children are viewing.

SLEEP DISTURBANCE AND CHILDHOOD OBESITY

Having established a relationship between television use amongst children and sleep disturbance, and the fact that children can form a television and screen dependence habit, it is important for parents to know how this habit can influence weight management as they strive to instill a healthy lifestyle in their children. Therefore, it is important to know  if there is an association between sleep habits and childhood obesity.

Miriam E Bar-on published a review in 2000 (https://adc.bmj.com/content/83/4/289.short) in which she stated that television viewing affects both fatness and fitness. She also cited multiple studies linking television to childhood obesity, as children hooked on the television tend to eat more and exercise less. 

Results from a project supported by the Lucie and Andre´ Chagnon Foundation and the Government of the Province of Quebec in 2006 (https://www.nature.com/articles/0803291) showed that the longer the time children spend watching television, playing video games or using a computer, the higher the tendency toward childhood obesity. 

Apart from the studies stated above, there are several studies linking  television dependence and  reduced sleep hours and quality with childhood obesity. 

Possible solutions suggested by most of these studies include: 

  • Parental control of television content and viewing time. 
  • Parents leading by example, as children learn from what Parents do more than what parents tell them to do. 
  • Parents should consider not allowing televisions in their children’s bedrooms. 
  • Parents should encourage  plenty of  physical activity for their children, especially during school breaks/holidays.
  • Parents should set and enforce an early bedtime to ensure enough quality sleep time for their children. 

With a growing number of reports showing a direct correlation between inactivity, sleep disturbance and childhood weight gain, it is important for parents to monitor screen time and sleep time, and to lead by example.


Ismaheel Akinwale Bio