There are often jokes made about how a 3-year-old can use an iPad better than most adults, and it is mostly due to the fact that young children now spend an equal amount of time using a touchscreen.
However, the blue light emitted from mobile devices is known to cause sleeplessness, and in toddlers and small children, scientists found that one hour of touchscreen time leads to a 15 minute decrease in sleep time that night.
The study interviewed over 700 parents who reported their child’s behavior and habits when it came to using a handheld electronic device. The parents all had children under the age of 3 and reported their child’s sleep patterns along with the information about the tablets or smartphones.
In the results of the survey, 75 percent of the parents reported that their toddler used a smartphone daily. Fifty-one percent of the children between the ages of 6 and 11 months used one daily, with 91 percent of the children aged 12 to 36 months using one every day. These numbers are prominently higher than any study prior, as the generation of “touchscreen toddlers” continues to boom.
As the parents also reported the sleep patterns of their children, the correlation between touchscreen time and sleep habits became more clear. The toddlers who had at least one hour of screen time generally slept 15 minutes less than those who did not use a smartphone. The average toddler in the study used a mobile device for approximately 25 minutes, which would result in about six minutes of less sleep per night.
While the correlation between screen time and less sleep was clearly made, experts urge parents not to lose sleep over it. The study was not definitive, but provides some insight into the effect of touchscreens on toddlers.
“[The study] seems to indicate touchscreens have some association with possible sleep problems,” said Dr. Tim Smith, one of the authors of the study. “It isn’t a massive amount when you’re sleeping 10-12 hours a day in total, but every minute matters in young development because of the benefits of sleep.”
Another effect of touchscreen time on toddlers was that, when using the mobile device, they saw a quicker development of motor skills. Using a screen instead of just watching it — for example, swiping, clicking and dragging — helped to hone the infant’s motor skills.
However, the effect of the touchscreen on sleep is of little concern, according to researchers.
“As the first study to investigate associations between sleep and touchscreen use in infancy, this is a timely piece of research,” said Dr. Anna Joyce, Cognitive Developmental Researcher at Coventry University. “In light of these findings and what we know from previous research it may be worth parents limiting touchscreen, other media use and blue light in the hours before bedtime. Until we know more about how touchscreens affect sleep, they shouldn’t be banned completely.”