Study Finds That Screen Time Has Minimal Effect on Children's Sleep

06 November 2018

A new study from New Oxford University Research has found that screen time has little to no effect on the quality of children’s sleep. The study was conducted using data from a 2016 U.S. National Survey of Children’s Health. On this survey, parents filled out surveys on their children, their household and themselves.

"The findings suggest that the relationship between sleep and screen use in children is extremely modest," says Professor Andrew Przybylski, author of the study, "Every hour of screen time was related to 3 to 8 fewer minutes of sleep a night."

The study found that there is a very small correlation between the quality of children’s sleep and the amount of time they spend looking at screens during the day. The average sleep time of teenagers who had minimal screen time during the day was eight hours and 51 minutes. The average sleep time of teenagers who had eight hours or more of screen time during the day was eight hours and 21 minutes. 30 minutes of time is not significant enough for the researchers behind the study to believe that there is a correlation between sleep quality and screens. The found that other factors, like early starts to school, have a larger effect on sleep than screens.

"This suggests we need to look at other variables when it comes to children and their sleep," says Przybylski, "Focusing on bedtime routines and regular patterns of sleep, such as consistent wake-up times, are much more effective strategies for helping young people sleep than thinking screens themselves play a significant role."

The goal of the study was to provide a realistic idea of how screens and other factors are affecting their children’s sleep.

While a relationship between screens and sleep is there, we need to look at research from the lens of what is practically significant," says Przybylski. "Because the effects of screens are so modest, it is possible that many studies with smaller sample sizes could be false positives - results that support an effect that in reality does not exist."

"The next step from here is to research on the precise mechanisms that link digital screens to sleep. Though technologies and tools relating to so-called 'blue light' have been implicated in sleep problems, it is not clear whether play a significant causal role," says Przybylski. "Screens are here to stay, so transparent, reproducible, and robust research is needed to figure out how tech effects us and how we best intervene to limit its negative effects."

The study was published in the Journal of Pediatrics.

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