Screen-time does not disrupt children’s sleep, study

Screen-time has little impact on children’s sleep, according to new Oxford University research.

Screen-time has little impact on children’s sleep, according to new Oxford University research
Screen-time has little impact on children’s sleep, according to new Oxford University research. Image credit: Shutterstock

Sleep is an essential part of our development and well-being. It is important for learning and memory, emotions and behaviors, and our health more generally. But the relationship between screen time and sleep is more complex than that. Screen time could be negatively influencing sleep in many ways.

Many types of research have indicated that between 50% to 90% of school-age children might not be getting enough sleep has prompted calls that technology use may be to blame. But a new study by the University of Oxford suggests that screen time has a very little practical effect on children’s sleep.

The study was conducted using data from the United States’ 2016 National Survey of Children’s Health. Parents from across the country completed self-report surveys on themselves, their children and household.

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

While the correlation between screen time and sleep in children exists, it might be too small to make a significant difference in a child’s sleep. For example, when you compare the average nightly sleep of a tech-abstaining teenager (at 8 hours, 51 minutes) with a teenager who devotes 8 hours a day to screens (at 8 hours, 21 minutes), the difference is overall inconsequential.

Przybylski said, “This suggests we need to look at other variables when it comes to children and their sleep. An 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.”

“The aim of this study was to provide parents and practitioners with a realistic foundation for looking at screen 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. 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. 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.”

The study published in the Journal of Pediatrics.