Increased daily use of touchscreen devices by infants and toddlers is associated with a decrease in the total amount of sleep they get according to a study in Scientific Reports. However, further studies are needed to clarify what effects touchscreen use may have and the mechanisms that may underlie this association.
In recent years family ownership of touchscreen devices has risen rapidly and reports from 2016 indicate that 86% of UK family homes have access to the internet, mainly via portable media devices. However, the potential impact of touchscreen use on toddler development has been unclear.
Tim Smith and colleagues carried out an online survey involving the parents of 715 infants and toddlers aged between six and 36 months from June 2015 until March 2016. Parents were asked to report the average duration of their child’s daytime and night-time sleep, the time taken for their child to fall asleep, and the frequency of night awakenings. The authors found that babies and toddlers who spent more time using a touchscreen slept less at night and, despite sleeping more during the day, slept for less time overall. Every additional hour of tablet use was associated with 15.6 minutes less total sleep (on average 26.4 minutes less night-time sleep and 10.8 minutes more of daytime sleep). Touchscreen use was also associated with an increase in the time it took for children to fall asleep; however, no link was found to the number of times children woke up during the night although more objective measures such as sleep tracking are needed in future studies to confirm these effects.
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