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31 August 2017

Are IPads Turning Babies into Insomniacs? How Touch Screens Are Costing Infants Sleep

Parents should never allow their babies to play with touch screens!
Are iPads turning babies into insomniacs? How touch screens are costing infants sleep 
By Karen D'Souza | kdsouza@bayareanewsgroup.com | Bay Area News Group,
11 August 2017

(Photo):  A baby plays with an iPad. Recent studies show that touch screens can interfere with a baby or toddler’s sleep. (ThinkStock)

Whoever coined the phrase “sleeping like a baby” certainly didn’t live in the high-tech age. Indeed, new studies show that babies are losing sleep and touch screens are to blame.

Now, it’s long been known that too much staring at the screen isn’t good for any of us, but when it comes to babies, toddlers and small children in general, the lack of sleep at a crucial stage of growth may actually impair cognitive development, as Salon recently reported. And yet everywhere you go, you see toddlers clutching iPads in their strollers and babies gawking at iPhones while mom waits in a supermarket line. Our devices have come to impact so many of our daily activities that our children are growing up bathed in a digital glow.

And that’s the rub. A Scientific Reports study published last year revealed that there is a significant link between the use of touch screens and sleep problems in infants and toddlers. Traditional screen time, such as television and video games, also affects sleep, but it’s a less omnipresent force in our lives. On the other hand, touch screen devices (phones, tablets, cameras) are everywhere at all times, and that means the correlation between use of media and loss of shuteye is more dire than ever. For babies in particular, the lack of sleep in those early months and years can impair brain development.

Using data from 715 parents, the researchers explored the relationship between media use and sleep patterns (sleep duration, frequencies of night waking, ease of getting to sleep). They found that 75 percent of toddlers between 6 months and three years use a touch screen on a daily basis. Fifty-one percent of babies between 6 and 11 months use a screen. And virtually all of those babies, a staggering 90 percent, are still engaging in the same level of media use when they are 25 to 36 months of age. The trouble is that every additional hour of tablet use by these is associated with 15.6 minutes less total sleep per night, which adds up to 95 hours of less sleep a year.

While the facts are sobering and pediatricians have long warned about thew need to curb screen time, it can still be hard to pull off in the real world, especially at a time when kindergartners attend computer labs and many kids are expected to do school assignments on a computer.

“Technology — and specifically computer, cell phone and tablet use — is having a negative impact on children of all ages,” says Dr. Keith Fabisiak, assistant chief of pediatrics at Kaiser Permanente’s Campbell Medical Center. “Decreased sleep in children exposed to these devices is one of the biggest concerns, as adequate sleep each night is necessary for proper brain development as a child grows.”

The culprit seems to be the light these devices emit: “We have found the that the type of light given off by these devices can disrupt the body’s natural circadian rhythm by suppressing production of the hormone melatonin, which helps to regulate the sleep-wake cycle.”

For the record, the American Academy of Pediatrics has set firm guidelines for media use. For children younger than 18 months, it recommends avoiding all screens, except video-chatting. It adds that parents of children 18 to 24 months of age, who want to introduce digital media, should choose high-quality programming and watch it with their children. Ages 2 to 5 years should be limited to 1 hour per day. For all children, it advises holding the line on media-free zones, such as the dinner table and the bedroom, and making sure that the screens are not keeping kids from sleeping, eating and playing.

Sadly, although tech moguls, such as Steve Jobs, famously limited his own children’s access to technology, the rest of us often fall under the thrall of the screen.

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