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Touchscreen use linked to sleep problems in infants

Kids lose 15 minutes of sleep for every hour of tablet use, says a new study. The effect on adults probably isn't great, either.

Screen time and sleep don't mix.
Josh Miller

Today's infants are among the first to grow up surrounded by touchscreen devices from birth. And if you're wondering what the long-term effect of that exposure might be, especially on sleep (a sensitive subject for any new parent), the answer is: not good.

According to a new study published on April 13 by the journal Nature:

"Traditional screen time (e.g. TV and videogaming) has been linked to sleep problems and poorer developmental outcomes in children. With the advent of portable touchscreen devices, this association may be extending down in age to disrupt the sleep of infants and toddlers, an age when sleep is essential for cognitive development."

The study, conducted by researchers at the Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development at the University of London, surveyed children between 6-36 months old, and came to a not-unexpected conclusion:

"Data from 715 UK infants and toddlers aged 6-36 months indicated a significant association between the frequency of touchscreen use and sleep quantity (reduced total duration, with reduced duration of nighttime and increased daytime sleep), and longer sleep onset (time taken to fall asleep)...Every additional hour of tablet use was associated with 15.6 minutes less total sleep."

The full report can be found here.

Lack of sleep has become pretty common these days, and plenty of studies link at least some of the issues to our digital obsessions. More than 1 in 3 American adults don't get enough sleep, according to the latest study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Consistent sleeplessness is flat-out bad for our health -- upping the risks of developing obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke.

We can lay some of the blame on the phones and tablets we can't seem to get enough of. Just the physical act of responding to an email can make your body tense, sending it into "fight or flight" mode. And the bright blue light coming off the displays mimics daylight. That's like a shot of espresso for the brain because blue-spectrum sunlight determines when and how much melatonin (sometimes called "the sleep hormone") our bodies produce at night.