Toddlers with more screen time sleep less, study finds

Toddlers who play with touchscreen devices frequently will sleep less, according to a study.
Toddlers who play with touchscreen devices frequently will sleep less, according to a study.PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER

PARIS • The more toddlers play with touchscreen devices, the less they sleep, according to a study that suggests that the findings could be cause for concern.

For every additional hour using a touchscreen phone or tablet during the day, children aged between six months and three years old slept nearly 16 minutes less in each 24-hour period, researchers reported in the journal Scientific Reports.

But the study released on Thursday could not determine if the extra screen time was responsible for tiny tots sleeping less, or if the loss of shut-eye had any adverse health effects.

Sleep is critical for cognitive development, especially during the first few years of life, when the brain and sleep patterns evolve in tandem. Earlier research has shown that television watching and video game use are linked to sleep problems in children. But the burgeoning use of touchscreens by an even younger cohort remained unexplored.

In 2014, over 70 per cent of families in Britain, where the study was conducted, owned a touchscreen device. For the study, parents of 715 infants and toddlers were asked to report their children's sleep in the day and night-time, how quickly they fell into slumber, and how often they woke during the night. The time the 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 for 25 minutes per day.

More screen time was also associated with a longer transition into slumber. However the quality of sleep did not appear to change.

Several experts commenting on the findings challenged its methodology and conclusions.

"There could be many possible explanations" for the link between screen time and less sleep, said Mr Kevin McConway, an emeritus professor of statistics at The Open University in Britain.

"It could be the other way round - maybe the parents of toddlers who already sleep less are more likely to let their children use touchscreens," he said.

It was also pointed out that the average amount of lost sleep every day - about six minutes - may not be significant at an age when children sleep on average 12 hours out of every 24 hours.

Others underlined the importance of following up.

"This is a timely piece of research given the already controversial topic of screen use in childhood and adolescence," said Ms Anna Joyce, an expert in cognitive development psychology at England's Coventry University.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 15, 2017, with the headline 'Toddlers with more screen time sleep less, study finds'. Print Edition | Subscribe