Sleep research: Electronic media use harms children's sleep

Electronic media usage affects children's sleep

The use of electronic media in children is viewed critically for various reasons. According to a recent study, this also includes possible impairments in sleep quality. Using data from the SPATZ health study, scientists have shown that young children sleep much more poorly when they spend a lot of time in front of the television or other electronic media.

It is not uncommon for parents to let small children watch children's series on their smartphones or tablets, and the little sandman on television is a must for many little ones before going to bed. But this can actually have a negative impact on sleep quality. The more three-year-olds watch TV, use the computer or other digital media, the lower their sleep quality, scientists from the University of Ulm report on their current study results. The study was published in the specialist magazine "Sleep Medicine".

Increasing media consumption among children

Already at the age of three there is an increasing electronic media usage and at the same time scientific studies describe negative effects of this consumption on the sleeping time of children, explains the research team led by Professor Dietrich Rothenbacher from the University of Ulm. Based on the SPATZ health study, the epidemiologists from Ulm, together with researchers from Bielefeld and Santiago de Chile, have now for the first time researched the effects of electronic media and books on sleep quality in a homogeneous age group.

Overall, rather moderate media consumption

The Ulm SPATZ health study regularly surveys the health and living conditions of over 1,000 children born in 2012 and 2013. In addition, the participating parents completed questionnaires on media consumption and sleep behavior (children's sleep habits questionnaire) for their offspring for the current study, according to the Ulm University. The analysis of the data showed that the 530-year-olds examined, for whom all the required data were available, largely (58 percent) consumed less than an hour of videos and films on electronic devices. Media consumption thus appears to be rather moderate.

Every seventh child uses electronic media every day for more than an hour

But on closer inspection, the scientists said that every seventh child spends more than one hour a day in front of a screen, which significantly exceeds the recommended limit of 30 minutes at this age. The consequences for children's sleep are extremely worrying. "We document alarming correlations between the use of electronic media and the sleep quality of children aged three years," report Dr. Jon Genuneit and Prof. Rothenbacher from the Ulm Institute for Epidemiology and Medical Biometry. Increased television consumption goes hand in hand with a statistically significant worsening of, for example, sleep-related fears and daytime sleepiness.

In their study, the scientists were able to clearly demonstrate that the consumption of electronic media and poor sleep quality in toddlers are related. According to the scientists, it remains to be clarified later in the course of the birth cohort study whether it plays a role here that children who have previously been poorly sleeping are increasingly being fed into this media use.

Books tend to have a positive effect on sleep

The researchers also looked at how studying books - read or looked at them - affects children's sleep quality. Professor Rothenbacher and colleagues report that there are no negative effects on children's sleep and that book use seems to protect children from waking up at night. However, according to the parents, 39 percent of three-year-olds are not at all concerned with books, according to the Ulm University.

Preventive measures must start early

"The more the children watch TV or use the computer, for example, the lower the quality of their sleep" and "on the other hand, reading or looking at books seems to improve the children's night's sleep," the researchers emphasize. In order to anticipate the chronification of sleep problems, preventive measures with regard to media use are apparently urgently necessary in early childhood, according to the scientists. (fp)

Author and source information

Video: Children and Social Media: What Every Parent Should Know. UCLAMDCHAT Webinars (June 2021).