Turns out that screen time might not be as bad before bedtime as originally thought. A new study from Oxford research shows that screen time has little impact on the quality of children’s sleep.
With screens being a constant in most households now and with many children having their own screens, research indicating that 50-90 percent of children might not be getting enough sleep has previously blamed technology. But now finding from Oxford’s Oxford Internet Institute has shown there is very little practical effect on kids’ sleep.
“The findings suggest that the relationship between sleep and screen use in children is extremely modest,” said Professor Andrew Przybylski, the author of the study which was published in the Journal of Pediatrics. “Every hour of screen time was related to 3 to 8 fewer minutes of sleep a night.”
Parents from across the United States completed self-reported surveys asking about themselves, their children and their households.
Based on that, even though a correlation between screen time and sleep in children may exist, the impacts might be too insignificant to make a dramatic difference in a child’s sleep.
Comparing the average nightly sleep of a teen that spends eight hours on screen devices to a teen that doesn’t use tech and/or screens at all found little difference. Teen with more screen time slept for an average of 8 hours and 21 minutes and the teen who was screen-free slept 8 hours and 51 minutes.
“While a relationship between screens and sleep is there, we need to look at research from the lens of what is practically significant,” Przybylski said. “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.”
In fact, the study found that other factors – such as early school schedules – had more of an impact on children’s sleep than screen time.
“This suggests we need to look at other variables when it comes to children and their sleep,” Przybylski said. Analysis in the study indicated that variables within the family and household were significantly associated with both screen use and sleep outcomes. “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.”
Przybylski said that the next step is to look at research on the exact variables that link screens and 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,” Przybylski said. “Screens are here to stay, so transparent, reproducible, and robust research is needed to figure out how tech affects us and how we best intervene to limit its negative effects.”
You can find the full study here.
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