Toddlers losing sleep due to use of tablets
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.”