You’ve no doubt heard that checking stressful emails on your smartphone at night or reading on your tablet will keep you from getting a good night’s sleep, but new research says that adults aren’t the only ones whose sleep suffers from using screens. Babies and toddlers, who are increasingly watching videos and using apps on touchscreen devices, are sleeping less for it.
A study published in Scientific Reports found that the more infants and toddlers used touchscreens, the less they slept at night. Using screens was also associated with sleeping more during the day and taking longer to fall asleep. In fact, for every hour a day that children ages six months to three years spent using a touchscreen, they lost about 16 minutes of slumber.
The U.K.-based researchers behind the study used an online survey to collect sleep and media-consumption information from parents of 715 infants and toddlers. They found that, overall, the children used touchscreens for an average of 24.5 minutes each day. Seventy-five percent of the kids studied used them every day. Generally, the older toddlers got, the more time they spent with touchscreens. Of course, many kids also spent additional time with non-interactive screens, like TV.
Researchers have a few ideas as to why kids might get less shut-eye when they use touchscreens. One theory is that they might be overstimulated by the content. Another suggests that the blue light that’s emitted from the smartphones and tablets might disrupt their internal clock. It’s still uncertain exactly how devices impact babies’ sleep.
The consequences of missing out on sleep are pretty significant. For one thing, when your kid isn’t sleeping as much as they should, you’ll walk around like a zombie the next day. Your little one will also miss out on the benefits of restorative slumber. The authors of the study note that, while many apps for kids claim to have developmental benefits, impaired sleep could counteract those effects, because reduced sleep in the first two years of life can have long-term developmental consequences.
Most parents turn to technology to entertain their kids once in a while. But there’s good reason to limit your toddler’s use of devices. When you unplug, both you and your little one are likely to get a better night’s sleep—and, for a sleep-deprived new parent, even an extra 16 minutes can be precious.