Spiders Take Over Forests in Guam

What if a lack of insectivorous birds led to an incredible boost in spider populations in a single environment? Apart from being the worst place imaginable, how else would an ecological niche be affected? Biological researchers from Rice University in Texas, the University of Washington and the University of Guam have not only found that these spidery conditions exist in Guam but that jungles on the island territory contain as much as 40 times the amount of spiders as any other island nearby.

With the birds are away, the spiders have come out to play. So how was it that multiple bird species just disappeared from the country? It all started with the brown tree snake. Native to coastal areas in Australia, Papua New Guinea and the islands in northwestern Melanesia, the nocturnal brown tree snake is believed to have entered Guam by way of hitching a ride inside cargo planes sometime in the 1940s. Once on the island, brown tree snakes met no natural predators and over time began to take over.

In no time many bird species began to die off because of the snakes, and after only five decades all but two of the island’s dozen native bird species had been wiped out. Never before had research been conducted that looked at the implications caused by an invasive species in an entire forest. By studying this situation in Guam, this team was able to get a first-hand look at the effects an invasive species has on a whole island environment.

“There isn’t any other place in the world that has lost all of its insect-eating birds,” said Haldre Rogers, a Huxley Fellow in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Rice University and the lead author of the study. “There’s no other place you can look to see what happens when birds are removed over an entire landscape.”

Without the birds, the jungle grew eerily quiet and the spiders quickly got to work. In no time, webs accumulated over the jungle canopy—filling in all opens spaces, leaving anyone choosing to walk through unable to do so without the aid of a stick to help clear a path. The problem has gotten so severe that all steps are taken to ensure that brown tree snakes do not leave the island. Every year the United States spends over $1 million to search airplanes flying out of Guam to ensure the snake does not leave.

Yet, even with these measures in place, the average traveler will have a hard time locating the nocturnal reptiles. It is partially for this reason that the problem of eradicating the snakes has become so difficult. And now that the snakes have moved on to preying on lizards, one wonders what effects this new shift will have in the future. Researchers can be sure that their work here is nowhere near finished.

According to Rogers, these results “show that birds have a strong effect on spiders. Anytime you have a reduction in insectivorous birds, the system will probably respond with an increase in spiders.” The study shows that the environment is a fragile interconnected device with precise and individually working functions. When something is out of sync another will falter and then another and another until the whole finds a different way of equalizing. But what exactly be the result of such a correction can hardly be imagined.  Sometimes the adjustment can be subtle; other times, however, spiders may take over.


Photo Credit: sofia.usgs.gov/virtual_tour/pgfernforest.html

American Jaguar Granted 838,232 Acres of Protected Land!

A major victory has been achieved on behalf of the American jaguar. A new proposal from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has the potential to save the animal by affording the endangered species necessary protection. Under this new agreement from the FWS, 838,232 acres of land (approximately the size of Rhode Island) in southern New Mexico and Arizona will be set aside as protected land to allow the animals to step back and away from the brink of extinction.

The land, which is considered by many to be a “critical habitat” for the large cat species, has been an area of growing concern for conservationists over the years. As the jaguars have been pushed further and further away and into an area that is only a fraction of the size its original territory, it was almost certain that current populations would not be able to keep up and remain sustainable.

“Jaguars once roamed across the United States, from California to Louisiana, but have been virtually extinct here since the 1950s,” explained Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD). Over the last 20 years, the CBD has spent a considerable amount of time working to bring back dwindling populations of the cat. With this decision, all the work has been well worth the wait. “Today’s habitat proposal will ensure North America’s largest cat returns to the wild mountains and deserts of the Southwest. Jaguars are a spectacular part of our natural heritage and belong to every American—just as surely as bald eagles, wolves and grizzly bears,” said Suckling.

Like other declining animal species in the U.S., jaguars have been pushed from their original stomping grounds by predator-killing programs implemented the federal government. (The gray wolf has also been affected in much of the same way.) Therefore, anytime an animal was deemed a serious threat permission was given for that animal to be killed. Thus it was that the jaguar slipped further and further off the map, and in 1997 the animal was formally listed as an “endangered species”. Only in the past two decades have the animals been able to reclaim areas of Arizona and New Mexico.

With this new proposal, the American jaguar is expected to increase its numbers to a sustainable level. Within a year, the plans should be finalized and areas of Pima, Santa Cruz and Cochise counties in Arizona, and parts of Hidalgo County in New Mexico will be under federal protection. “You can’t protect endangered species without protecting the places they live. Species with protected critical habitat recover twice as fast as those without it,” explained Suckling. “This wild expanse of habitat is a huge boost to the return of jaguars to the American Southwest.” 

Because of the combined determination of conservationists and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the American jaguar may soon see a growth in population. Such effort should not go unnoticed. To express gratitude to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for its decision to dedicate land to the protection of the American jaguar, please sign the petition here.


Photo Credit: fws.gov/international/education-zone/meet-the-species.html

Hantavirus Takes Over Yosemite National Park

Visitors to California’s Yosemite National Park got a bit more than they bargained for after visiting the park earlier this summer. At least eight people have reportedly been infected with the deadly hantavirus after spending time in one of the camps at the 1,100 square-mile park. And with news that a third camper (the other five are expected to make a full recovery) has died from the disease, recent visitors are expressing concern that park employees could have done more to prevent the spread of the virus and protect guests.

There is no known cure for the rodent-borne hantavirus which spreads through contact (or from breathing in air that has come into contact) with the urine, saliva, or droppings of infected animals. Upon entering the body, the hantavirus can lead to fatal diseases like the hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS), a disease all eight of the visitors are known to have contracted. The disease is characterized by a high fatality rate–an estimated 38% of people who contract the disease will eventually die from it.

Because deer mice are a common carrier of the disease, the California Department of Public Health conducted a test in 2010, to estimate how prevalent the disease was in the park. They found that 18 percent of the mice tested from the park carried the virus. Even so, it is rare that humans will become infected with the disease; however if conditions allow, than the transmission is possible. Such was the case at Yosemite’s Curry Village area and High Sierra camps, where the infected persons were known to have camped. Scott Gediman, a Yosemite spokesperson maintains that the camps in question have since undergone a deep cleaning, and the risk is once again minimal.

But that might not be enough according to visitors. Despite the park contacting past guests about the issue, many fear that the park service handled the situation “irresponsibly,” and that sites that were known to have been infected should have been dealt with before additional campers were allowed access.  The biggest issue revolves around whether those camps and tents where the disease was present should have been off-limits to other campers before they were cleaned. For example, visitor Chris Reid, 61, visited Curry Village on August 16—the same day the park learned of the disease—and was not informed about the possible danger during her visit. Reid stated that had she known about the risk she would have left the camp.

“I can’t tell you how reckless I feel this is,” said a psychiatrist from California, another camper who visited the park this summer with his 5-month-old son. “If you have an amusement-park ride where people are dying, you don’t keep the ride open while you fix it.”

According to park officials, everything that could have and should have been done has been taken into account. “We feel that we took the most transparent approach possible,” explained Gediman. “As new information became available, we took the most appropriate.” Despite the disagreement, what can be certain is that the park must take better steps to alerting patrons of similar situations in the future. To petition the regional director of the National Park Service to develop a better emergency response plans for future crises such as this, sign the petition here.


Photo Credit: cnr07.llnl.gov/

Sea Otters Doing Their Part to Battle Global Warming

Sea otters may be nature’s little secret weapon for battling the rise of carbon dioxide levels in the earth’s atmosphere and, in turn, slowing down the effects of global warming. According to a new study out of the University of California, Santa Cruz, the mammals play a big part in allowing quantities of kelp blooms to amass and survive in open water. These kelp blooms help to reduce CO2 levels by absorbing the compound through photosynthesis and releasing oxygen back into the atmosphere.

And it all comes down to the sea otter diet: Sea urchins, a delicacy most preferred by the otters, feed voraciously off of live kelp forests. Because sea otters help to keep populations of sea urchins at bay, kelp is given a greater chance to thrive. In order to get a better idea about the impact sea otters have on kelp forests, researchers from UCSC took a look at 40 years of data concerning otter activity and kelp blooms in an area spanning from Alaska’s Aleutian Islands to Canada’s Vancouver Island.

After examining the date, the researchers found that where sea otters were most populous sea urchins were less prevalent and kelp was better able to bloom. Although it is an indirect effect, it is important one nonetheless. Kelp forests where sea otters frequent are able to absorb up to 12 times more carbon dioxide then in areas with less of the furry animals. What is more, researchers also discovered that CO2 absorbed in otter-kelp areas could be worth anywhere between $205 million and $408 million on the European Carbon Exchange.

Funded by both the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the full scientific report has been published in the newest (September 7) edition of Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.

Chris Wilmers, an assistant professor at UCSC believes that, without a doubt, this information is significant “because it shows that animals can have a big influence on the carbon cycle.” While researchers acknowledge the largeness of this finding, it is still very safe to say that sea otters will not singlehandedly balance the atmosphere’s oxygen to carbon dioxide ratio. But knowing that animals like the sea otter have a way of affecting the greater environment can lead to greater protection of animal species around the world. “If ecologists can get a better handle on what these impacts are, there might be opportunities for win-win conservation scenarios, whereby animal species are protected or enhanced, and carbon gets sequestered,” said Wilmers.

The days of global warming speculation are over; now, the knowledge that CO2 levels are becoming much too high is a pressing issue all around the world. This new information has provided us with a new way at looking at the problem and into ways to help battle it. “Right now, all the climate change models and proposed methods of sequestering carbon ignore animals,” explained Wilmers. Climate change can no longer be ignored; and the animals that are affected by it can no longer either.


Photo Credit: soundwaves.usgs.gov/2006/02/research.html

Elephant’s Code of Communication Cracked

Scientists believe they have a better grasp on how elephants are able to make the sounds that help them communicate to one another. As one of the most vocal animal species, elephants have acquired a vast collection of calls and signals to use for as many purposes. To announce an individual’s desires and needs, to converse between partners and families, to call for mates or potential mates, as warnings of danger, or to prepare for incoming threats—these are but a few of the reasons elephants rely greatly on their ability to communicate.

In the past, researchers have dived fully into the topic of elephant communication to try and “crack the code” behind the sounds. While looking into the topic, elephant researcher Joyce Poole found that elephants use more than 70 types of vocal sounds to express themselves to their clan. Add these are just the noises that we humans are able to hear. As it turns out, much of elephant communication is carried out on a sound frequency too low for humans to hear, between one and 20 Hertz per second. These incredibly low-pitched vocalizations are known as infrasounds and can travel for miles.

With this information already largely considered, a new set of studies went underway to try and discovery how these low-registering sounds were produced. Were the infasounds produced by a set of quick muscle contractions like that of a cat purring, or were the sounds coming from air being pushed through the vocal chords like that of a human voice? After the unfortunate but natural passing of an elephant at a Berlin zoo, researchers were granted the chance to study the vocal mechanism—the larynx—firsthand.

Christian Herbst of the University of Vienna, along with his colleagues, began their process by removing the elephant’s larynx and freezing it within hours of the animal’s passing. The organ was then taken to the larynx laboratory at the University of Vienna’s Department of Cognitive Biology, where Tecumseh Fitch joined the team and authored the project. It was this collaboration between voice scientists and biologists that set the research on the correct path.

In order to test the larynx out, Herbst and researchers began to mimic the animal’s lung by blowing humid air through the larynx. The vocal folds were adjusted to “vocal ready” positions and the infrasounds were successfully produced. Because the scientists were able to replicate these sounds almost effortlessly, this shows that elephants utilize a myoelastic-aerodynamic method of communication—or, in the same way as humans. From this, the team inferred that many animal sounds off the grid from human perception are caused in the same manner.

Additionally, another (nonlinear) phenomenon became even clearer. These “nonlinear phenomena” are present when it seems that a note on the human scale of hearing is hit—remember that screaming baby on an airplane? That one. Elephants, it turns out, are able to hit these notes as well. “If I scream, it’s no longer a periodic vibration. It becomes chaotic and you can hear a certain degree of roughness,” Herbst explained. “This can also be observed in young elephants, in situations of high excitement.”


Photo Credit: news.science360.gov/obj/pic-day/ef37d299-6d7c-4319-ab34-4e71114d36fe/elephant-family

California Looks to Ban Styrofoam Products

California may have just missed a great opportunity to lead the nation and show the world that a government can commit to the protection of the environment while still working toward maintaining an economy worth bragging about. Senate Bill 568 (SB-568), a proposed legislation that recently failed to pass in the State Assembly, would have been an oath to California’s environment that. If it had passed, SB-568 would have put a ban on the use of expanded polystyrene foam (styrofoam) for food ware within the state. Talk about a missed opportunity.

A clean environment, what an idea. While the Senate bill was not a proposed miracle, it certainly would have been a start. Let’s face it, styrofoam is just about everywhere, and not just because it is cheap and convenient (although it most certainly is). Piled high or buried deep, this cheap and harmful material is imbedded just about everywhere—along highways and streams, coastlines, and mountain areas. Certainly it has proven that what is most convenient is oftentimes the most destructive, and not just because it’s everywhere but because convenient habits are also the hardest to break.

Cosponsored by both Clean Water Action and the Surfrider Foundation, SB-568 “would prohibit the distribution and use of eps [expanded polystyrene] foam containers by food vendors and prepared food. It includes definitions for customers, food vendors, polystyrene food containers, and prepared food.” With plenty of backing, SB-568 passed the Senate Environmental Quality Committee, the Assembly on Natural Resources, and the Assembly Committee on Appropriations. But on the last day of the session the Assembly Floor failed to pass the legislation.

And that is where it stands as of now: an undeniable setback. For those opposed to the bill, the issue seems to come from a fear that by getting rid of the product, those whose livelihoods depend on its production will be out of a job. And while there is no doubt that this should be a concern, it does not have to be. If and when styrofoam is banned, there is also going to have to be an alternative product to take its place. This will still need to be marketed and still need to be sold. Switching from one to another may not be easy but important things are often not.

Even with the breaks put on the bill, many California communities have taken matters into their own hands. More than 60 cities and counties have already established their own bans on the material; and with more and more businesses and companies committing to a styrofoam-free agenda, the number is expected to increase.

Famed French explorer and environmentalist Jean-Michel Cousteau explains that a cleaner future is one that does not (and cannot) involve styrofoam products:

 “…to successfully and unconditionally prevent the degradation of our environment, we as a people, as a society, must change our ways. Specifically, we must recognize the harm caused by discarding styrofoam, and stop it…if styrofoam is banned—if styrofoam is not available to litter and end up in our landfills—we are all better off…In other words, in our efforts to preserve and protect our planet, let’s use all realistic and obvious capabilities. Banning styrofoam is one of those capabilities.”

In the end, California is better off without expanded polystyrene foam. With government backing, the transition away from this harmful material to a more environmentally-friendly alternative will be much smoother. And as big a state as California is, the change could be enough to spark positive change on the larger scale. California may have just passed on a great opportunity, but with Governor Jerry Brown’s backing it has another chance at approval. To urge California Governor Jerry Brown to ban expanded polystyrene foam containers in California, please sign the petition here.


Photo Credit: zev.lacounty.gov/news/environment/county-may-say-so-long-to-styrofoam

Neil Armstrong & Mankind’s Greatest Step

Joseph Campbell once wrote that “we must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.” If the life of Neil Armstrong, who passed away on August 25 at the age of 82, is any indication, the life that awaits the astronaut and legend will be nothing short of remarkable.

In an end perfectly designed by the Fates, Neil Armstrong departed just one month after another memorable colleague, Sally Ride, did the same. Between the two, a dynasty of American aeronautics and space exploration had been created, and with their passing the world awaits another phase—one that can only be facilitated by the work completed by the pair. For Ride, the first American woman to orbit Earth, the legacy created was in striking down what was culturally normal at the time and providing women and girls with a role model for the sciences.

Armstrong, on the other hand, was the hero envisioned by writers of old, almost; although he never led an army into war or was known for his physical prowess, his image is one that will forever be engrained in American culture—in much of the same King Arthur and the great warrior Achilles were in theirs. G.Roger Denson, in an article for the Huffington post, describes how both Ride and Armstrong, although not the typical celebrity, are the embodiment of modern day heroes:

“Despite both having achieved monumental ‘firsts’ as astronauts—Armstrong as the first to set foot on the Moon, Ride as the first woman to orbit the earth—there is a fundamental difference to be found between them in that Armstrong represented the classical mythic hero upholding a time-honored social order, while Ride embodied the mythopoetic hero who heralds the transition to a new age and social order, a change signaling that a censorial social order that once define a former age has now become obsolete.”

With “one small step” in 1969, Armstrong launched himself into history and into the dreams of children everywhere.

When John F. Kennedy committed America to “landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth,” Armstrong was a 30-year-old test pilot for NASA, a new government agency at the time. With experience flying 78 missions in the Korean War, Armstrong became the last of a group of astronauts selected to take part in NASA’s manned-aircraft missions. He would go on to be a large part of both the Gemini and Apollo missions.

On July 21, 1969, Armstrong took his (and the world’s) first step on the surface of the moon and forever cemented himself in history. For over two hours, videos captured him and Buzz Aldrin working on the moon’s surface—gatherings samples, taking pictures, and setting up experiments. Because Armstrong was the only one of the pair to carry a camera, many of the pictures from the moon were taken by Armstrong and not of him. Which is actually quite fitting.

Despite a volume of accomplishments, Armstrong was not one to boast. Preferring a life out of the lime-light, Armstrong kept to himself for the most part, interviews and television appearances kept at a minimal. Simply put, he let his achievements do the talking. According to Campbell, “A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself”—Armstrong, then, will forever be a hero.


Photo Credit: hq.nasa.gov/alsj/a11/A11NAAFlownSuit.html 

China Strikes Hard Against Counterfeit Drug Operations

When it comes to illegal pharmaceutical operations, Chinese authorities are letting it be known that the government is not going to stand for this type of activity any longer. In early August of this year, the Chinese government proved this when they launched a nationwide crackdown of counterfeit drug operations which resulted in the arrest of almost 2,000 people who were either directly or indirectly involved in the production or distribution of these fake drugs.

For the operation to be successful, the Chinese government had to employ more than 18,000 officers in the weeks leading up to the arrests. As of now, it seems as if all the training and work paid off: In the end, 1100 production facilities have been destroyed and over $180 million dollars’ worth of contraband was seized. For many of these facilities, it was obvious just how little attention was paid to the product, focusing rather on the big money of the business.

“We’ve seen peeling paint and dirty equipment and mould in the manufacturing sites, we’ve seen the use of boric acid, rat poison, brick dust, highway paint…have all been found as ingredients,” explained Scott Davis, regional director for the U.S. drug-manufacturing company Pfizer, whose global security division was involved in the shutdown.

This move comes amidst growing concern that counterfeit drugs (particularly those intended to treat cancer, hypertension, and diabetes) have grown so prevalent in the country that they are now disrupting real supply chains and are becoming increasingly harder to differentiate from actual product. What is more, just earlier this year it was discovered that hospital workers in Zhejiang Province had been collecting old packages of high-end medications in order to disguise and sell fake drugs.

Because of the high payoff of the counterfeit drug trade, many organized crime groups are switching from the trafficking of drugs like heroin and cocaine. Additionally, the internet has made it even easier for criminals to reach consumers directly all while maintaining their anonymity. Yet for patients that rely on the high-quality medicine, they are being cheated—out of their money as well as their health.

Fake pharmaceuticals like these can have a severe impact on any person that is dependent upon receiving proper medication. Apart from the obvious fraud, many believe that these counterfeits are responsible for causing liver damage and cardiac arrest in the patients who have used them. “We’ve seen that where there’s been medicines produced that have no active ingredient whatsoever or way over the prescribed amount of active ingredients,” said Davis.

Althought the government has repeatedly promised to drive out these illegal operations and enforce drug and safety measures already in place, most of these “businesses” retreat even further underground, becoming almost impossible to catch, only to pop up once again just a few months down the road. In 2007, when Zheng Xiaoyu, former head of the State Food and Drug Administration, was found guilty of taking bribes and inadequately supervising the market, the Chinese government had him executed.

Despite the massive strike against illegal operations in the past and now, this seems to be a problem that does not easily go away. For years, the Chinese government has been targeting this activity but the problem has yet to be completely maintained. Outside help is needed. To urge the International Police (INTERPOL) to get involved, sign the petition here.


Photo Credit: utcourts.gov/lawlibrary/blog/utah_state_government/

Ebola Rears Its Ugly Head Once Again in Uganda

Several deadly cases of Ebola in Uganda have officials worried that a much larger outbreak of the disease may close at hand. Over the course of July, 14 Ugandans have passed away due to the consequences of the deadly disease and at least 26 new cases have been brought to the attention of local hospitals and medical personnel. With these numbers expected to rise, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni urged residents of the west African country to be wary and steer clear of unnecessary contact.

“Ebola spreads by contact when you contact each other physically…Avoid shaking hands, because that can cause contact through sweat, which can cause problems,” Museveni warned residents in a broadcast to the country. “Do not take on burying somebody who has died from symptoms that look like Ebola—instead call health care workers because they know how to do it.” Museveni also encouraged residents to “avoid promiscuity” as that can be another conduit for the disease to travel.

And with good reason, too: Ebola is a highly infectious disease and is capable of being transmitted easily through the slightest of contacts. Although rare, Ebola is incredibly destructive and is often characterized by fever, weakness, pain in joints and muscles, sore throat and headaches. As the disease progresses in the body, vomiting, diarrhea and stomach pains severely dehydrate and weaken patients (not all, but many also will develop painful skin rashes all over the body and red eyes). Eventually, both internal and external bleeding will force the patient to succumb to the disease. Without a certain cure, the Ebola virus is able to kill the vast majority of those who become infected.

While it is still unknown where the disease originated, Uganda provides the perfect mix of elements for unstoppable growth. The landscape and climate allow the disease to breed and multiply into worrisome amounts. Dense rainforests harbor the disease and populations of bats help with the distribution. And because of these conditions, Uganda is no stranger to outbreaks—in 2000, many people in the northern region of the country were infected and 224 people died. In 2007, 42 were killed in western Uganda, and one 12-year-old girl died from the disease in 2011.

To make sure that this recent spout does not get out of hand, multiple global health organizations including members of the Ministry of Health of Uganda (MoH), the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the World Health Organization (WHO) are already on the grounds. “These outbreaks have a tendency to stamp themselves out, if you will, if we can get in and…stop the chain of transmission,” explained Tom Skinner, spokesman for the CDC.

Daily field research reports along with neighborhood-wide surveillance have been organized by the MoH, and the WHO are recommending that travelers, for now, skip their trips to Uganda. In order to better protect the people of Uganda (and all they come into contact with), these organizations must be encouraged to continue their work until the threat is minimized. To push WHO to continue its work in targeting and eliminating the Ebola outbreak in Uganda, sign the petition here.


Photo Credit: commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ebola_virus_particles.jpg

TV-MA: Violent Television Puts a Hamper on Bedtime

If your young kids are having trouble sleeping at night, you may want to take a look at what television programs are watched right before bedtime. In a recently released report, researchers from the Seattle Children’s Research Institute found that violent or intense content could significantly affect a child’s sleep pattern, including their ability to fall asleep. The study is set to be published in the September issue of the medical journal Pediatrics.

Even as adults, it is hard to argue against the effects late-night television or movies may have on an otherwise restful night. But as the study’s lead author, Michelle Garrison, set out to find, changing these habits could mean the difference between sweet dreams and nightmares. “Making a relatively simple change in what kids are watching is a change worth the effort,” explained Garrison. And unlike other options, this does not require a trip to the doctor’s office.

For the study to begin, Garrison and her colleagues sought families in the Seattle area who had children between the ages of three and five: eventually, 565 children and their families signed on. This group was then divided into two groups. In one group of 276 children, parents were asked to change their nightly viewing habits, switching regular broadcasts with “healthy media.” Information on healthy eating and nutrition was sent to the other 289 children and their families. All families were asked to keep diaries and take surveys to log programing and sleeping habits. Input was collected on three separate occasions after six month intervals.

After examining results, Garrison concluded that “when kids in this age group watched violent or age-inappropriate media, they were more likely to have nightmares, have a hard time falling asleep and wake up during the night.” Children that abstained from this type of media, and instead watched material considered healthy, were much more likely to have better sleeping habits. For the group of children that stuck to “healthy media,” 64 percent were less likely to have problems sleeping or falling asleep over the group that was only provided with nutritional information.

For Dr. Sangeeta Chakravorty, the director of the Pediatric Sleep Evaluation Center at the Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh, these results were not surprising. “Clearly, children process information while they sleep,” Chakravorty explained. “If it’s the last thing they do before bed, they’ll be processing that as they sleep.”

Judging what type of programming is “healthy” may be harder than it sounds. Kid-centric shows like Spongebob Squarepants may be more violent for young children than they seem. Children as young as three tend to have a much different interpretations of these shows than slightly older children.

“An 8-year-old can watch superheroes and understand that it’s not what happens in real life,” said Garrison. “But the same content can be overwhelming and scary for a 3-year-old. The idea that people might just explode is scary for a 3-year-old.” So, what do experts suggest? A simple switch of nighttime shows should certainly help.

According to Garrison, shows like Sesame Street, Dora the Explorer, and Curious George “can be beneficial for preschool children to watch, because they emphasize things such as literacy, numbers and social skills.” The best fix, however, would be to get rid of nighttime television altogether, and instead swapping it with an educational activity like reading or playing with toys. These activities allow children to take charge of their own pace and not get riled up by the shows they are watching. In this way, bedtime could be a much better experience: for both children and parents alike. Hopefully.


Photo Credit: ihm.nlm.nih.gov/luna/servlet/detail/NLMNLM~1~1~101448409~156606:-Four-children-seated-on-the-floor-?printerFriendly=1