Touchscreen use may be robbing tots of valuable sleep time

By Greg Hamilton • Published: July 28th, 2017
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Scientists, and many parents, know that if a child spends too much time in front of a TV screen or a computer monitor it can lead to sleep problems and developmental issues. Now, research has shown that playing with touchscreen devices may be costing children valuable time getting to — and staying — asleep. While the results may not seem new, what is surprising is the age of the children studied: between 6 and 36 months.

Sleep is critical for cognitive growth, especially during the first years of life when the brain and sleep patterns are evolving. Poor sleep habits can lead to long-term physical and mental health problems. University of London researchers wanted to see if touchscreen play among the tiniest users impacted the quantity and quality of sleep.

They surveyed parents of 715 infants and toddlers and found that 75 percent of those between 6 months and 3 years old used a touchscreen every day. Usage ranged from nine minutes in 6- to 11-month-olds to 45 minutes for 26- to 36-month-olds. In results published in Scientific Reports, they found every additional hour of screen time meant, on average, 26.4 minutes less of night-time sleep.

The team said the study could not determine if the extra screen time alone was responsible for the children sleeping less, citing studies in older kids that show factors such as content, timing and environment could damage sleep habits. They also said touchscreen use may have positive effects for children, such as improving their fine motor skills.

But the study results support the notion that, for young kids especially, a good night’s sleep is vital, even if it means missing out on some touchscreen play time.