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Turn off the TV; it's time for bed

June 9, 2009 |  3:22 pm

TV People often blame the alarm clock for their lack of sleep. Rising at 6 a.m. or 7 a.m. each day to go to work or school is the problem, they say. But what about bedtime? More people have the freedom to choose to go to bed earlier to get eight or nine hours of sleep, right?

However, according to a new study, television viewing habits interfere with this logic. The study, presented this week at the Associated Professional Sleep Societies annual meeting in Seattle, suggests that television appears to be an important determinant of bedtime (in other words, "Letterman" is over, so it's time for bed) and is thus contributing to people's sleep debt.

The survey, by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, examined data from more than 21,000 people ages 15 and older who completed the American Time Use Survey between 2003 and 2006. The survey examined which activities people undertook two hours before and after bed time. Television viewing was, by far, the most popular pre-sleep activity, accounting for almost half of Americans' pre-bedtime activity. Instead of deciding to go to bed because it was late or because of fatigue or because one has to get up at 7 a.m., factors related to television viewing determined bedtime.

Most people have two choices to reduce chronic sleep debt:go to bed earlier or get up later, a co-author of the paper, Dr. Mathias Basner, said in a news release. "While the time of work may not be flexible, giving up some TV viewing in the evening should be possible to promote adequate sleep."

In other studies presented at the meeting:

  • People who play computer or console games for more than seven hours a week and who identify their gaming as an addiction sleep less during weekdays and experience greater sleepiness than casual gamers or nongamers, according to research from the University of Arkansas. The study of 137 college students found that few of the addicted gamers realized the impact their habit was having on their sleep.
  • When parents mandate early bedtimes for teenagers, they may be helping reduce the teens' risk for depression and suicidal thoughts, researchers from Columbia University found. The study included more than 15,000 teenagers, including 1,143 who had depression and 2,038 who had experienced suicidal thoughts. Those with parental-mandated bedtimes ofmidnight or later were 25% more likely to suffer from depression and 20% more likely to have suicidal thoughts. The study supports the idea that inadequate sleep could lead to depression, said the lead author, James Gangwisch.

Information on the meeting can be found at

- Shari Roan

Photo credit: Bizuayehu Tesfaye / Bloomberg News