WASHINGTON – When her parents say it's time for bed,5-year-old Kyrsten Kirby asks to watch a cartoon video instead.
“She wants a movie,so we put in a movie,” said her mother,Mary,adding Kyrsten has a television in her room that plays only videos. “We put it in before she gets to bed.”
The kindergartner,from La Plata,Md.,who was visiting a museum on a school field trip,said she likes “The Cat in the Hat” or Scooby Doo cartoons.
But sleep experts and pediatricians say children shouldn't watch television before going to sleep,and stimulants such as video games,cell phone instant messaging and caffeine prevent healthy sleep habits.
Children who have televisions in their bedrooms sleep two hours less per week than children who don't,according to a National Sleep Foundation report on sleep habits for children 10 and under. More than 40 percent of school-aged children have televisions in their bedrooms.
The report,released Tuesday,found that children in all age groups fail to get enough sleep.
Even infants 3 to 11 months old get an average of two hours per day less than the recommended 14 to 15 hours of sleep they need.
Toddlers,who need 12 to 14 hours,average less than 12. Three- to 6-year-olds,who need 11 to 13 hours,average a bit over 10. And children in the first through fifth grades need 10 to 11 hours and average just less than 10.
“Not sleeping enough is going to affect their daytime functioning,” said Jodi Mindell,an associate director with the Sleep Disorders Clinic at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Mindell also chaired the National Sleep Foundation's poll task force.
While there hasn't been much research on children's sleep habits,sleep deprivation may cause tiredness,crankiness and poor school performance.
Kirby said her daughter sleeps an average of 10 hours a night and is only a little cranky in the morning when she wakes up. But after her morning routine,Kyrsten doesn't seem tired or drowsy before going to school.
Assistant Surgeon General Woodie Kessel,who is also a pediatrician,said poor sleeping can affect children's physical growth and development because “everything about their bodies is changing” and some growth hormones are released during sleep.
Parents and caregivers are also paying a price for their child's poor sleep habits. Parents of children ages 10 and under sleep an average of 6.8 hours a night,which is slightly less than the seven-hour average of all adults. About half of the parents polled said their children wake them up an average of twice a week.
One recommendation in the report is for parents to put children to bed drowsy but not asleep,so they get used to falling asleep alone.
“A child who is rocked to sleep at bedtime will need to be rocked to sleep when they wake up at 1,3 and 5 in the morning,” Mindell said.
Richard Gelula,CEO of the National Sleep Foundation,suggested parents set a regular bedtime for their children so their bodies get into the habit of sleeping the right number of hours.