Tod­dlers los­ing sleep due to use of tablets

The Daily Telegraph - - News - By Charles Hy­mas

BA­BIES and tod­dlers as young as six months are los­ing sleep as a re­sult of us­ing touch­screen tablets, the first study of its kind re­vealed, rais­ing fears that the tech­nol­ogy could harm brain devel­op­ment.

The re­search into the use of ipads and other touch­screen de­vices by chil­dren aged six months to three years found that for ev­ery hour on screen, they lost 16 to 17 min­utes of sleep.

The de­vices’ blue light, which can dis­rupt cir­ca­dian rhythms by sup­press­ing the sleep hor­mone mela­tonin, the emo­tional buzz of us­ing them and the time chil­dren spent on them are blamed by the re­searchers for up­set­ting tod­dlers’ sleep pat­terns.

Sleep is crit­i­cal to early brain devel­op­ment and sci­en­tists are in­creas­ingly wor­ried by the grow­ing ev­i­dence of dis­rupted sleep linked to tech­nol­ogy.

They warn that, as chil­dren get older, lost sleep can lead to food crav­ings and thus obe­sity, mental ill health, poorer con­cen­tra­tion and greater sus­cep­ti­bil­ity to colds and other bugs.

The Amer­i­can Academy of Pae­di­atrics has rec­om­mended chil­dren un­der two should be kept away from on­screen tech­nol­ogy – and that for twoto five-year-olds, it should be lim­ited to only one hour.

The study of 715 fam­i­lies by Birk­beck, Univer­sity of Lon­don found that three quar­ters of tod­dlers from six months to three years old used a touch­screen tablet on a daily ba­sis.

It rose from half (51 per cent) of those aged 6 to 11 months to 92 per cent of two- to three-year-olds, av­er­ag­ing be­tween 20 and 40 min­utes a day across the en­tire age range, and up to two hours for the heav­i­est users.

Re­searchers, who tracked the tod­dlers over three years, found those who used touch­screens had bet­ter hand and fin­ger dex­ter­ity than those who did not. There was no dif­fer­ence be­tween reg­u­lar and low users in reach­ing mile­stones such as speak­ing or walk­ing.

Dr Tim Smith, a reader in cog­ni­tive psy­chol­ogy at Birk­beck, said sleep loss was a con­cern: “It was not just less time asleep over­all but they also took longer to go to bed. Sleep is so important for well-be­ing and devel­op­ment. It could have a long-term con­se­quence.”

Teenagers’ sleep is be­ing dis­rupted by their fear of miss­ing out on chat among their friends dur­ing the night, ac­cord­ing to Prof Stephany Biello of Glas­gow Univer­sity. Her re­search found it ac­counted on av­er­age for 13 per cent of their dis­rupted sleep dur­ing the night. “For a sub­set of young peo­ple, that anx­i­ety can be very great,” said Prof Biello.

The time chil­dren spend on phones be­fore sleep was re­vealed in re­search for Screen Ed­u­ca­tion, a US campaign group, which found al­most a fifth of teenagers ad­mit­ted spend­ing one to two hours on their phones in bed. A fur­ther 11 per cent spent two to three hours, while 11 per cent spent more than three hours.

Prof Yvonne Kelly, of Univer­sity Col­lege Lon­don, said ado­les­cent lack of sleep was an emerg­ing health is­sue. She said: “You are more likely to crave foods with the risk of be­com­ing over­weight, there are mental health is­sues, cog­ni­tive per­for­mance can be af­fected, there’s an im­mune sys­tem re­sponse which means you are more likely to get colds and a mus­cu­lar skele­tal im­pact. You need sleep to feel you haven’t been hit by a wreck­ing ball the next day.”

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