The more toddlers play with touchscreen devices the less they sleep, according to a study that suggests the findings could be cause for concern.
For every additional hour using a touchscreen phone or tablet during the day, children aged six months to three years slept nearly 16 minutes less in each 24 hour period, researchers reported in the journal Scientific Reports.
But the study could not determine if the extra screen time was responsible for tiny tots sleeping less, or if the loss of shuteye had any adverse health effects.
Sleep is critical for cognitive development, especially during the first few years of life, when the brain and sleep patterns evolve in tandem.
For the study, parents of 715 infants and toddlers were asked to report their child’s daytime and night-time sleep, how quickly their children fell into slumber, and how often they woke during the night. The time children spent on touchscreen devices was also tracked.
Three-quarters of toddlers monitored used a touchscreen tablet or phone on a daily basis.
For children aged two or three, that percentage climbed to 92. On average, the devices were used 25 minutes a day.
Not only did more screen time correlate with less sleep, it was also associated with a longer transition into slumber.
Several experts commenting on the findings challenged the study’s methodology and conclusions.
“There could be many possible explanations for the link between screen time and less sleep,” Kevin McConway, of Britain’s Open University, said.
“It could be the other way round. Maybe the parents of toddlers who already sleep less are more likely to let their children use touchscreens,” he said.