According to a recent Oxford University study, screen time has little impact on children's sleep quality.
Screens are a fixture of modern childhood today. And as young people spend more and more time on electronic devices, the impact of these digital activities has become a prevalent issue for parents, carers and policy makers. Studies suggesting that between 50% and 90% of school-age children may not get enough sleep have led to calls for the use of technology. However, new research from the Oxford Internet Institute at the University of Oxford has shown that screen time has virtually no impact on children's sleep.
The study was conducted using data from the United States National Survey of Children's Health of 2016. Parents from all over the country have conducted self-surveys about themselves, their children and their household.
"The results suggest that the relationship between sleep and screen use in children is extremely low," says Professor Andrew Przybylski, author of the Journal of Paediatrics, "Every hour of screen time had three to eight minutes less sleep per night."
In practice, the correlation between screen time and sleep in children may be too low to significantly affect a child's sleep. For example, if you compare the average nocturnal sleep of a teenager without technology (8 hours, 51 minutes) to a teenager spending 8 hours a day on screens (8 hours, 21 minutes), the difference is insignificant overall. Other known factors, such as early school day, have a greater impact on childhood sleep.
"This suggests that we need to look at other variables related to children and their sleep," says Przybylski. Analysis of the study found that variables within the family and household were significantly related to both screen usage and sleep results. "The focus on bedtime and regular sleep patterns, such as constant wake-up times, are far more effective strategies for young people's sleep than the screens themselves play a significant role in."
The purpose of this study was to provide parents and practitioners with a realistic basis for examining the screen in comparison to the effects of other sleep interventions. "While there is a relationship between screens and sleep, we need to examine the research from what is practically meaningful," says Przybylski. "Because the impact of screens is so low, it's possible that many smaller-sample studies show false-positive results – results that support an effect that does not exist in reality."
"The next step here is to explore the exact mechanisms that bind digital screens to sleep, and although technologies and tools related to so-called" blue light "have been involved in sleep problems, it is not clear if they play a major causal role "says Przybylski. "The screens will remain so transparent, reproducible, and solid research is needed to find out how Tech affects us and how we can best intervene to limit its negative impact."
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Andrew K. Przybylski. Digital Screen Time and Pediatric Sleep: Evidence from a pre-registered cohort study The Journal of Paediatrics (2018). DOI: 10.1016 / j.jpeds.2018.09.054