Touchscreen use and sleep in infants and toddlers

Research Summary
Hayley Roper
Research Assistant

Newborns (0-3 months) should sleep 14 to 17 hours a day, including naps. Infants (4-11 months) should sleep 12 to 15 hours a day, and for toddlers, 11 to 14 hours a day. But a study published in Nature suggests that touchscreens may be getting in the way. Researchers asked parents of 715 infants and toddlers, ages 6 months to 3 years about their child’s daily touchscreen use. Parents also reported the average amount of time their child sleeps during the night (7pm to 7am) and during the day (7am to 7pm), how long it takes their child to fall asleep, and the number of night wakings each night.

Seventy-five percent of the children in this study use a touchscreen daily. Of the children ages 6 to 11 months, 50% use touchscreens for an average of 9 minutes each day. Touchscreen use was much higher for children 2 to 3 years; 92% of these children use touchscreen devices, and they do so for 45 minutes on average each day.

For the children in this study, more time spent on a touchscreen was associated with shorter night-time sleep duration, more sleep during the day, and longer time to fall asleep at night. Even though children who spent more time on touchscreens slept more during the day, overall sleep in a 24-hour period decreased as touchscreen use increased. Night wakings did not appear to be affected by touchscreen use.

This is one of the first studies to examine touchscreen use and sleep in children this age. But the findings are correlational. This means that while there is an association between touchscreen use and less sleep, researchers still do not know if touchscreen use causes poor sleep in infants and toddlers. It could be the other way around, that touchscreen use is higher in some children because they sleep less. If touchscreens do cause poor sleep, then the ways in which touchscreen use impacts children’s sleep are not clear from these findings. Possibilities include arousing content before bedtime or the blue light emitted from the screen. Other variables that need further study include time of day, the type of content (FaceTiming relatives, playing games), and location of touchscreen use.

Sleep is crucial for infant and toddler development.

Used responsibly and thoughtfully, media can enrich our lives. But it can get out of control. Try using the American Academy of Pediatrics’ family media plan. This plan helps families create a balance of media use with other daily activities (like sleep!).