Published On: Tue, Apr 25th, 2017

Study: Babies and toddlers exposed to touchscreen devices sleep less

touchscreen-devices-children-losing-sleep-791783LONDON – The use of touchscreen devices in the home has skyrocketed in recent years, but understanding their impact on early childhood development has been lacking.

Partially filling the gap was a new University of London study, which found that toddlers who spend time playing on smartphones and tablets seem to get slightly less sleep than those who do not.

The study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, suggested that every hour spent using a touchscreen each day was linked to 15 minutes less sleep in young children.

The trade-off appeared to be that the youngsters playing with touchscreens developed their fine motor skills more quickly.

Researchers involved in the study questioned 715 parents of children under three years old, asking how often their child played with a smartphone or tablet and details of the child’s sleep patterns.

The responses indicated that 75 percent of the toddlers used a touchscreen on a daily basis, with 92 percent of those between 25 and 36 months-old using a device, and 51 percent of those between six and 11 months also using one.

The children who played with touchscreens had around 15 minutes less sleep for every hour of touchscreen use, as well as sleeping less at night and more in the day.

BBC News reports that Dr Tim Smith, one of the researchers, explained: “It isn’t a massive amount when you’re sleeping 10-12 hours a day in total, but every minute matters in young development because of the benefits of sleep.”

The study is not definitive, but Dr Smith told the BBC it “seems to indicate touchscreens have some association with possible sleep problems.”

However, his research has also shown that toddlers who actively use touchscreens (swiping rather than watching) accelerate their development of motor skills.

So should young children be allowed to play with touchscreens?

According to Dr Smith: “It’s very tricky right now, the science is very immature, we are really lagging behind the technology and it’s too early to make clear proclamations.”

He added that the best bet was to follow similar rules for the amount of time spent in front of the TV: putting a limit on the total time spent on devices; ensuring children still do physical things; ensuring that content is age-appropriate; and avoiding the screens in the hour before bedtime.

Dr Anna Joyce, a cognitive developmental researcher at Coventry University, told the BBC: “As the first study to investigate associations between sleep and touchscreen use in infancy, this is a timely piece of research.

“In light of these findings and what we know from previous research it may be worth parents limiting touchscreen, other media use and blue light in the hours before bedtime,” she agreed.

Recent studies in adults have suggested that exposure to blue light – such as that given off by smartphones and tablets – in the hours immediately preceding bedtime is associated with lowered quantity and quality of sleep.

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