A scientific study has discovered that toddlers and younger children that constantly play or use devices with touchscreens such as tablets have less sleeping time. The more toddlers play with touchscreen devices the less they get to sleep, according to a study released on Thursday that suggests the findings could be cause for concern. For every hour of using a touchscreen phone or tablet during the day, children aged six months to three years got to sleep 16 minutes less in each 24 hour period. The researchers reported this in the journal Scientific Reports. However, the study could not determine conclusively if the extra screen time was responsible for children sleeping less, or if the loss of sleep had any adverse health effects.
An expert not involved in the research and simply analyzing the results said that the research should be interpreted with extreme caution. Sleep is critical for cognitive development, especially during the first few years of life in children when the brain and sleep patterns should evolve together and be synchronized. In earlier research going back to the 1970’s and 80’s, they have shown that television watching and extreme video game use are linked to sleep problems in children. However, the increasing use of touchscreen technology by an even younger generation of children remained unexplored.
In 2014, more than 70% of families in the United Kingdom, where the study was done, owned a touchscreen device. For the present study, parents of 715 toddlers and younger children were asked to report their child’s daytime and night-time sleep, how quickly their children fell into slumber, and how often they woke during the night. The time children spent on touchscreen devices was also tracked. Three-quarters of toddlers monitored used a touchscreen tablet or phone on a daily basis. For children aged two or three, that percentage climbed to 92. On average, the devices were used 25 minutes per day. Not only did more screen time correlate with less sleep, it was also associated with children taking longer to feel asleep.
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Several experts commenting on the findings challenged the study’s methodology and conclusions. For instance, some stated that there could be other possible explanations to the link between screen time and less sleep. Others analyzed that perhaps it could be the other way round in which the parents of toddlers who already sleep less are more likely to let their children use touchscreens. It was also pointed out that the average amount of lost sleep each that stood at 16 minutes may not be significant at an age when children sleep on average 12 hours. Others underlined the importance of following up because this is a timely piece of research with the already given controversial topic of screen use in childhood and adolescence. And when correlated with past research based on TV and video game screening, the present research may be on the right path.