Violent Cartoons Linked to Sleep Problems in Preschoolers

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Swapping out Batman for Big Bird could help young kids sleep better, a new study found.

The study of sleep habits among 565 preschool-age children found that those who tuned in to age-appropriate educational programs were less likely to have sleep problems than those who watched sparring superheroes or slapstick scenes meant for slightly older kids.

"Content that's funny for older kids can be too violent for really young children," said study author Michelle Garrison from the Seattle Children's Research Institute, adding that even Bugs Bunny is "too much" for kids younger than 6. "We really don't want them exposed to any violence at all."

Previous studies in children have linked violent videos to disrupted sleep, raising the risk of behavioral and emotional problems. To test whether reducing exposure to violent media could improve sleep, Garrison and colleagues ran a clinical trial. The treatment: Curious George, Dora the Explorer and Sesame Street.

"That kind of media content really models good social skills, like empathy, cooperation and problem solving," Garrison said. "And we found that taking steps to reduce violent media produced tangible and sustained effects on sleep."

The study, published today in the journal Pediatrics, adds to mounting evidence that screen time – and screen content – can negatively impact sleep. How exactly? The jury's still out.

"There are so many possible pathways," said Garrison, theorizing that kids exposed to less violence may find it easier to fall asleep or have fewer nightmares. "But trying to reduce media violence is an important goal for all families. And the good news is: There's lots of great, healthy content out there for preschool children, a lot of positive options."

Garrison recommends checking CommonSenseMedia.org for information about media violence.

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