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- A new study of thousands of US kids suggests that screen time doesn’t have a drastic effect on sleep.
- For kids in the study, each hour of screen time correlated with three to eight fewer minutes of sleep per night.
- The study’s lead author said that other factors, like consistent wake-up times, are more important for quality sleep in kids.
Digital devices are often believed to sap quality sleep, but a new study suggests that may not be the case for kids.
The study, published November 2 in the Journal of Pediatrics, analyzed data from the US 2016 National Survey of Children’s Health. Caregivers of more than 50,000 kids answered questions about the average amount of times their kids slept and the average amount of time the interacted with screens, including computers, phones, TVs, and video games.
The results showed that each hour of screen time a child had during the day was associated with three to eight fewer minutes of sleep per night, depending on age. (Kids in the study spent roughly three hours a day looking at screens.)
Because digital screens are now used by kids of all ages – and because research indicates that 50% to 90% of school-aged kids aren’t sleeping enough – it’s thought that screen time may negatively impact sleep, study author Dr. Andrew Przybylski wrote in the paper’s introduction.
But these findings show that the relationship between sleep and screen use in kids is “extremely modest,” Przybylski, a professor at Oxford University’s Internet Institute, said in a statement about the study. (Though it’s worth noting that the study relied on self-reported data from caregivers, which could be less reliable than actual measurements of screen and sleep time.)
“This suggests we need to look at other variables when it comes to children and their sleep,” he added in the statement. “Focusing on bedtime routines and regular patterns of sleep, such as consistent wake-up times, are much more effective strategies for helping young people sleep than thinking screens themselves play a significant role.”
Some experts have noted that not all screen time is inherently bad.
“If a child is alone in their room, looking at stuff online, the assumption is they might be looking at porn or being cyber-bullied,” developmental psychologist Dr. Sue Fletcher-Watson told Business Insider last year. “Actually, you might be having a nice chat with a friend or looking up something for your homework.”
But there may still be some downsides when kids use screens and digital devices.
Screen time may be sedentary time, for example, and excessive screen use may increase the risk of obesity, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). The AAP also notes that children who watch lots of TV as infants or preschoolers may “show delays in attention, thinking, language, and social skills,” possibly because they may be interacting less with family members.
In older kids, screen use may put kids at risk for cyberbullying or may negatively their impact school performance, among other potential cons.
And, new findings aside, the AAP website does say that media use “can interfere with sleep,” possibly because of the blue light emitted by digital devices.
The AAP recommends that screen time other than video chatting “be discouraged” for kids younger than 18 months. The organization says parents of 18- to 24-month-olds may introduce “high quality” programs or apps and recommends using them with children to help them learn, rather than letting them interact with media on their own. For kids ages 2 to 5, the AAP recommends limiting media use to one hour per day. (You can also use the AAP’s Family Media Plan tool to make a custom plan that works for your family.)
“Media and digital devices are an integral part of our world today,” the AAP said in a list of tips for parents published in May 2018. “The benefits of these devices, if used moderately and appropriately, can be great. But, research has shown that face-to-face time with family, friends, and teachers plays a pivotal and even more important role in promoting children’s learning and healthy development. Keep the face-to-face up front, and don’t let it get lost behind a stream of media and tech.”
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