There’s no denying that electronic devices have become a staple in most households containing young children. Whether it’s reading them an interactive bedtime story, giving them a game to keep them entertained and quiet for a few minutes, or letting them watch a movie on a long road trip, touchscreen devices in particular can be very useful tools to parents. It should therefore be no surprise that young children who don’t work or go to school are among the most active users of touchscreen devices. Researchers have recently discovered that infants and toddlers who spend more time on these devices sleep less at night.
You may have heard or read that the use of other types of electronics such as television and video games has been linked to sleep problems in children, but much less is known about portable touchscreens like tablets and smartphones. A research team led by Tim Smith from Birkbeck University of London found that every additional hour of tablet or smartphone use among children between the ages of six months and three years results in about 15 minutes less total sleep.
From June 2015 to March 2016, the parents of 715 infants and toddlers between six months and 3 years old participated in an online survey. A rough 70 percent of the parents surveyed owned touchscreen devices of some kind. The parents were asked to report the average duration of their child’s daytime and nighttime sleep, the time it typically takes for their child to fall asleep, and the frequency of their night awakenings.
According to the findings in their study, the babies and toddlers who spent more time with a touchscreen device slept less at night. Some of these children did manage to nap a little longer during the day, but they slept for less time overall despite that.
On average, each hour that a child spent on a smartphone or tablet resulted in 26 minutes less nighttime sleep, and about 10 minutes more daytime sleep, amounting to 15.6 minutes less total sleep. In addition, touchscreen use was also linked to an increase in the time it took these kids to fall asleep, but there appeared to be no effect on the number of times these kids woke up at night.