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16 April 2017

Ipads Could Hinder Babies' Sleep and Brain Development

Use of touch screens could harm babies sleep and
subsequent development, the research suggests.
Credit:  Getty
The research "found that some toddlers aged 12 to 18 months were spending as much as five hours a day on touch screen devices. Even babies less than a year old were found to be spending as much as two and a half hours on such gadgets." [Babies and toddlers are too young to be using touchscreen devices!!]

Ipads could hinder babies' sleep and brain development, study suggests
by Laura Donnelly, health editor, The Telegraph, 13 April 2017

Babies' sleep and subsequent brain development may be being harmed by use of ipads and other touchscreen devices, research suggests.

The British study found that every hour infants spent on such devices was linked to a 16 minutes less sleep.

The research on more than 700 families is the first to look at the link between touchscreen devices and sleep in babies and toddlers.

It found that some toddlers aged 12 to 18 months were spending as much as five hours a day on touch screen devices. Even babies less than a year old were found to be spending as much as two and a half hours on such gadgets.

Average screen time was far lower, at less than 9 minutes for babies aged six to 11 months, rising to 44 minutes for those aged between 26 and 36 months.

Researchers at Birkbeck, University of London and King’s College London questioned 715 parents about their child’s daily touchscreen use and sleep patterns.

They found that babies and toddlers who spent more time using a touchscreen slept less at night and, despite sleeping more during the day, slept for less time overall and also took longer to fall asleep.

For every additional hour of touchscreen use during the day, children were sleeping for nearly 16 minutes less in each 24 hour period, the study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, found.

Sleep is important for the development of the brain, especially during the first few years of life, when “neural plasticity” is at its greatest.

The study found 75 per cent of the toddlers (aged between 6 months and 3 years) used a touchscreen on a daily basis, increasing from 51 per cent at 6-11 months to 92 per cent at 25-36 months.

The study could not prove a causal link between use of the devices and shortened sleep, as it relied on parents’ records.

But researchers said there were four potential mechanisms which could be taking effect.

These include the impact of blue light, which can affect the bodyclock, disrupting circadian rhythms and the stimulation caused by the content of the games or programmes, elevating psychological and physiological arousal.

Infants and toddlers might also be spending less time sleeping simply because they were staying up later on devices, especially if they were left in their bedrooms.

Fourthly, the type of children who particularly sought out longer time on such gadgets might be more likely to suffer from other conditions such as hyperactivity, the researchers said.

Researchers urged caution in the use of touchscreen devices among babies and young children.

But they said it was too early to say whether they were causing harm.

Previous research by the same team has found that babies and toddlers who used ipads had superior motor skills to those who did not.

Dr Tim Smith from Birkbeck, said: “These results indicate that the popularity and accessibility of touchscreen devices has led to high levels of usage by babies and toddlers, and this is associated with reduced sleep.”

He said the intuitive nature of the devices, meant that babies and toddlers were attracted to them.

“There is so much cognitive development going on at that stage that it’s possible any influence would have an amplifying effect,” he said.

The team now intends to embark on experimental studies to try to establish whether there is a causal relationship between use of touchscreen devices and sleep.

Most babies and toddlers were spending far less than an hour a day on devices, he stressed.

But the research suggested “point by point” increases - meaning that a quarter of hour on a gadget might be reflected in four minutes’ less sleep.

The study was also unable to estabish any safe “cut off” for touchscreen use - a certain amount that has no impact.

“We also know from our previous study that there could be benefits associated with touch screen use - developing motor skills earlier so toddlers were able to stack building blocks earlier,” Dr Smith said.

The previous study suggested that “active” touchscreen use - scrolling and performing interactive tasks - might boost motor activity, in a way that passively watching material could not.

Dr Smith said it was difficult to give clear advice to parents about the pros and cons of using devices, becaues the science was so immature.

But he said it was sensible to allow almost no screen use for those below the age of 18 months, apart from “video chat” such as Skype.

“After 18 months choose for educational content, dont let them scroll though YouTube, try to go for things like

‘Sesame Street’ or CBeebies - progammes designed for educational content,” he said.

The researcher said parents also needed to be careful about when children used devices, avoiding use before bed time.

However, he said there was a need to show “balance” about use of such devices, given children would grow up in a world where technology is important.

Dr Anna Joyce, research associate in Cognitive Developmental Psychology, Coventry University, said: “In light of these findings and what we know from previous research it may be worth parents limiting touchscreen, other media use and blue light in the hours before bedtime.

“Until we know more about how touchscreens affect sleep, they shouldn’t be banned completely, as there may also be cognitive benefits associated with their use, for example, as the authors showed in their previous work, for the development of fine motor skills.”

Other scientists questioned the robustness of the new study, saying findings should be interpreted with “extreme caution”.

Dr Andrew Przybylski, Experimental Psychologist and Research Fellow at the Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford, said the fact parents were told in advance about the purpose of the research could have skewed the results, and meant higher rates of participation among parents with concerns about screen use.

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