What is it about?

We studied the association of media consumption and sleep quality in 530 three-year-old children in Southern Germany as part of the Ulm SPATZ Health Study. Improving on earlier studies, we ascertained data on electronic media consumption (TV as well as newer media devices) and conventional book reading. Moreover, because sleep habits develop across childhood, we restricted to three-year-old children rather than including a broader age range. We found that in particular child TV consumption exceeded recommended levels of max. 30 minutes per day in every 7th three-year-old which was associated with decreased child sleep quality. We cannot fully exclude the possiblity of reverse causation by using TV watching as a sleep aid. However, we also found an inverse association of other computer or internet use with child sleep quality: the more the worse. This was true especially for those that had good sleep quality at age 2 years which argues against this electronic media consumption as a sleep aid. Moreover, we found that conventional book use (viewed by the children themselves or read out by the parents) may prevent a worsening in night wakings from 2 to 3 years of age.

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Why is it important?

Electronic media consumption has become an integral part of most societies around the world. As a consequence, childhood expsoure to electronic media seems inevitable. It is important that parents understand the ramifications of childhood electronic media exposures. Impaired sleep, fostered by electronic media consumption, has been linked to various physical and psychological health impairments throughout childhood. Our study documents that preventive action needs to be put in place potentially earlier, i.e. in the first years of life, than has been previously thought or discussed. Parents and their children are likely to benefit from educational programs on sleep, sleep hygiene, and media consumption.

Perspectives

When interpretaing the results, it is important to know that the study was conducted in a setting with what I would call moderate electronic media consumption. While all but 1 family had electronic media devices in the household, only 9 children owned a device such as a mobile phone or tablet PC themselves and only 3 further children had a TV in their bedroom. Watching TV or DVD was common with screen time up to 1 hour per day for 58% of the children, but only 14% of the children clearly exceeded recommended levels with more than 1 hour per day. Computer gaming and other computer or internet use was markedly less frequent and contributed less screen time per day. Overall, parents of 39.1% of the children indicated using books up to 1 hour per day only. We do continue the study with yearly assessments and so far have collected data on the same families when the children were 4 years old - the 5-year follow-up is currently underway. We have also supplemented the data acquisition by questions on timing of the media consumption across the day (morning, mid-day, evening). These longitudinal data will allow us to have a closer look at directionality of effects and also on development of prevalence of media consumption as well as development of child sleep quality. Look out for more publications from our group and the Ulm SPATZ Health Study...

PD Dr. med. Jon Genuneit
Universitat Leipzig

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This page is a summary of: Media consumption and sleep quality in early childhood: results from the Ulm SPATZ Health Study, Sleep Medicine, December 2017, Elsevier, DOI: 10.1016/j.sleep.2017.10.013.
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