Firelands blog empower

Published on October 24, 2017

Is Too Much Screen Time Bad for Children's Sleep & Health?

There’s no denying we live in a digital world. Most Americans – 95 percent of us, to be exact – own a cellphone of some kind. And even though it’s adults who own the mobile devices and tablets, young children are using them, too.

touchscreen use infants

In one survey, 33 percent of parents said they had concerns or questions about their child’s technology use in the past year.

Could one of those concerns be whether the increased screen time is affecting our children’s health?

Quick Answer:

According to a recent study, parents have a valid reason to be concerned. The use of touchscreen devices has been linked to sleep loss in infants as young as six months old.

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Sleep Loss & Screen Time

We’ve known traditional screen time from devices like televisions and video games can affect sleep quality and developmental outcomes in children. Enter the reign of smartphones, tablets and other touchscreen devices, and we see a similar pattern of sleep disturbance in not just children, but infants, too.

The study found that for every hour infants and toddlers between six to 36 months old spent using touchscreen devices, they lost 15.6 minutes of sleep. There was also a correlation between tablet use and the length of time it took a child to fall asleep at night.

And yes, many infants do have access to such devices. Family ownership of touchscreen devices rose from 7 percent in 2011 to 71 percent in 2014. These devices are attractive to parents for their little ones because they’re portable, convenient, and offer a seemingly healthy amount of brain stimulation – but research is showing they may cause health effects like problematic sleep.

Health Risks from Lack of Zzz’s in Children

Many people naturally correlate sleep problems with adults. Babies and children typically sleep much more soundly and for longer periods of time than their older guardians. But sleep troubles in children are more common than people think, and they can be devastating to a child’s health which depends so heavily on sleep for proper cognitive and physical development.

“Reduced sleep duration during the first two years of life may have long-term consequences on later developmental outcomes,” the study reported.

Health problems that can be linked to sleep difficulties include:

  • Problems with mental and physical health
  • Lower cognitive performance (i.e. concentration problems, mood, judgment)
  • Academic problems (decreased ability to learn and retain information)
  • Greater risk for a number of diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease
  • Greater risk of obesity

How to Know if Your Child Needs More Sleep

Many times when kids aren’t getting enough sleep, they show it differently than adults. Instead of appearing drowsy and fatigued, they may act hyper and wound-up. They may try to resist naps or bedtime, making it seem as though they’re not tired.

Pay attention to the amount of screen time your child has with media, especially around bedtime. Banning touchscreens and other media within a few hours of bedtime can help reduce the negative effects on your child’s sleep. Stick to a consistent bedtime each night, and establish a soothing wind-down routine for your child.

Also, keep in mind the following guidelines from the National Sleep Foundation for how much sleep children of various ages should be getting:

  • Newborns (0 to 3 months) – 14 to 17 hours of sleep per day
  • Infants (4 to 11 months) – 12 to 15 hours per day
  • Toddlers (1 to 2 years) – 11 to 14 hours per day
  • Preschoolers (3 to 5 years) – 10 to 13 hours per day
  • School-aged children (6 to 13 years) – 9 to 11 hours per day

If you think your child may be having sleep problems, learn more about the sleep medicine services offered at Firelands Regional Medical Center today.

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