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Children's use of electronic devices don't affect sleep much, study says

"The findings suggest that the relationship between sleep and screen use in children is extremely modest," said study author Andrew Przybylski.

By Allen Cone
A study found children's use of electronic devices doesn't significantly impact the quality of their sleep. Photo by StartupStockPhotos/Pixabay
A study found children's use of electronic devices doesn't significantly impact the quality of their sleep. Photo by StartupStockPhotos/Pixabay

Nov. 5 (UPI) -- Children's use of electronic devices doesn't significantly impact the quality of their sleep, according to research.

Despite the increased amount of screen time over the screens, researchers at Oxford University found it doesn't have a practical effect on their sleeping quality. The findings were published this month in the Journal of Pediatrics.

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The researchers analyzed data collected from the United States' 2016 National Survey of Children's Health, in which parents completed self-report surveys on themselves, their children and their households. The 50,212 participants ranged from 6 months to 17 years, and were made up of 25,733 males and 24,479 females.

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

The links between digital screen time and pediatric sleep outcomes accounted for less than 1.9 percent of observed variability in sleep outcomes, according to the researchers.

The average sleep time of a tech-abstaining teenager was 8 hours, 51 minutes, which is 30 minutes more than those who devoted eight hours a day to using screens.

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A previous study showed that between 50 percent and 90 percent of school-age children might not be getting enough quality sleep, but researchers say their new findings suggest screen time is not the only culprit affecting sleep time.

"This suggests we need to look at other variables when it comes to children and their sleep," Przybylski said. "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 researchers said they want to give parents and practitioners a realistic way of looking at the effects of screen us versus the impact of other interventions on sleep.

"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."

The researchers say that future work will focus on the specifics of screen usage that may affect sleep, as well as what role screens actually have on sleep time and quality.

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"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," he said.

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