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Babies and toddlers who use touchscreens sleep less

The TABLET project is the first scientific study of the early use of touchscreens

Traditional screen time (television and games consoles) has been linked to sleep problems in children, but as portable touchscreens (smartphones and tablets) become increasingly ubiquitous this effect may now be being seen in children as young as six months old. 

The first study to look at the link between touchscreens and sleep in babies and toddlers is published today in the journal Scientific Reports

Researchers at Birkbeck and King’s College London questioned 715 parents about their child’s daily touchscreen use and sleep patterns. They 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 and also took longer to fall asleep. For every additional hour of touchscreen use during the day, children were sleeping for nearly 16 minutes less in each 24 hour period.  

Sleep is important for cognitive development - especially during the first few years of life, so the findings have important implications. By 2014, 71% of families owned a touchscreen device and of the families participating in the study, 75% of the toddlers (aged between 6 months and 3 years) used a touchscreen on a daily basis, increasing from 51% at 6-11 months to 92% at 25-36 months.

Dr Tim Smith from Birkbeck, said: “These results indicate that the popularity and accessibility of touchscreen devices has led to high levels of usage by babies and toddlers, and this is associated with reduced sleep. Future research is now needed to build on this initial study to try and understand whether touchscreen use is causing sleep problems and how types of use may mitigate these risks.

“It’s also important to note that one of our earlier studiesshowed that increased active touchscreen use (for example scrolling, rather than passively watching videos) was associated with earlier achievement in fine motor milestones in babies. Before totally restricting touchscreen use, which might have potential benefits, we need to understand in depth how to use this modern technology in a way that maximizes benefits and minimizes any negative consequences for young children.”

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