Sunday 23 April 2017

This is how your iPad could be hurting your baby's brain

Baby with touchscreen tablet
Baby with touchscreen tablet
Researchers at Birkbeck, University of London and King’s College London questioned 715 parents about their child’s daily touch-screen use and sleep patterns. Stock image

Laura Donnelly

Babies' sleep and subsequent brain development may be being harmed by the use of iPads and other touch-screen devices, research suggests.

A study found that every hour infants spent on such devices was linked to 16 minutes' less sleep.

The research on more than 700 families is the first to look at the link between touch-screen devices and sleep in babies and toddlers.

It found that some toddlers aged 12 to 18 months were spending as much as five hours a day on touch-screen devices. Even babies less than a year old were found to be spending as much as two-and-a-half hours on such gadgets.

Average screen time was far lower, at less than nine minutes for babies aged six to 11 months, rising to 44 minutes for those aged between 26 and 36 months.

Researchers at Birkbeck, University of London and King's College London questioned 715 parents about their child's daily touch-screen use and sleep patterns.

They found that babies and toddlers who spent more time using a touchs-creen slept less at night and, despite sleeping more during the day, slept for less time overall and also took longer to fall asleep.

For every additional hour of touch-screen use during the day, children were sleeping for nearly 16 minutes less in each 24-hour period, according to the study, which was published in the journal 'Scientific Reports'.

Sleep is important for the development of the brain, especially during the first few years of life, when "neural plasticity" is at its greatest.

The study could not prove a causal link between use of the devices and shortened sleep, as it relied on parents' records.

But researchers said there were four potential mechanisms that could be taking effect. These include the impact of blue light, which can affect the body clock, disrupting circadian rhythms and the stimulation caused by the content of the games or programmes, elevating psychological and physiological arousal.

Infants and toddlers might also be spending less time sleeping simply because they were staying up later on devices, especially if they were left in their bedrooms.

Fourthly, the type of children who sought out longer time on such gadgets might be more likely to suffer from other conditions such as hyperactivity.

Researchers urged caution in the use of touch-screen devices among babies and young children.

But they said it was too early to say conclusively whether they were causing harm.

Previous research by the same team found babies who used iPads had superior motor skills to those who did not. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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