Point/Counter Point – Recent Oxford Study Shows Child Screen Time Does Not Affect Sleep
As Much As First Thought
In a recent news story first written by several English news agencies, findings from an Oxford University – Internet Institute study showed minimal impact on the sleep of children due to the increase in “screen time,” the usage of tablets, phones, computers, and other electronics. The way the headline was written it would lead the casual viewer, nonreader, to assume that the study was based on research that could be set in stone. However, if you read through the news release you find several noteworthy detractors and holes in the findings that even the authors of the research admit to having.
I wanted to drill down past the news hype of the story and share with you the bullet points on both sides of the issue because Child Sleep Deprivation is a REAL thing. Our children are losing the ability to concentrate, have self-control, and memory due to lack of sleep and more times than not this is not properly diagnosed. Instead, the medical field sees the signs of sleep deprivation as a sign of an attention deficit. Parents must be made aware of this and research all options before placing their child on drugs when the answer could be as simple as setting a bedtime and sticking to it.
The version of the research news release I want to use is from the BBC. I want to use their version because it is the most realistic and did not dilute the facts countering the research findings. The exact release can be found by clicking here. It’s a well-written piece with two sides shown and judgment being left to the reader.
Here are more straightforward bullet points to the findings:
- Digital Screen Time – Amount of time spent in front of an electronic screen, ex: TV, computer, tablet, phone, gaming device, etc.
- Research indicated teens who did not view digital screen slept only 30 minutes longer than that of teens who spend 8 hours on their screens (8 hours 51 minutes vs. 8 hours 21 minutes of sleep).
- The Oxford research sample included 50,000 children throughout the entire US.
- The Oxford research data was compiled from a 2016 survey, in which parents (not the child themselves) responded on child health questions.
Putting this data together you can infer, Oxford research findings based on a 2016 Child Health survey found that child sleep patterns were not affected as much as previously thought to have been. Research indicates only 30 minutes on average is lost due to the increased usage of digital devices throughout a child’s day.
The point made: Child sleep is minutely affected by the use of screens in their lives.
Counterpoints to Oxford Findings
- Even dim light can interfere with a person’s circadian rhythm and melatonin secretion. A mere eight lux—a level of brightness exceeded by most table lamps and about twice that of a night light—has an effect, notes Stephen Lockley, a Harvard sleep researcher. Blue light has a dark side, Harvard Health Publishing, August 13, 2018.
- While light of any kind can suppress the secretion of melatonin, blue light at night does so more powerfully. Harvard researchers and their colleagues conducted an experiment comparing the effects of 6.5 hours of exposure to blue light to exposure to green light of comparable brightness. The blue light suppressed melatonin for about twice as long as the green light and shifted circadian rhythms by twice as much (3 hours vs. 1.5 hours). Blue light has a dark side, Harvard Health Publishing, August 13, 2018.
- The most significant finding in terms of the disruption of sleep was that exposure to blue light drastically disrupts the continuity of sleep….following exposure to weak blue light 6.7 awakenings were recorded, rising to as many as 7.6 awakenings following exposure to strong blue light. Blue light emitted by screens damages our sleep, study suggests, Science Daily, August 22, 2017.
- “Exposure to screens during the day in general, and at night in particular, is an integral part of our technologically advanced world and will only become more intense in the future. However, our study shows that it is not the screens themselves that damage our biological clock, and therefore our sleep, but the short-wave blue light that they emit. Fortunately, various applications are available that filter the problematic blue light on the spectrum and replace it with weak red light, thereby reducing the damage to the suppression of melatonin,” concludes Prof. Haim. Blue light emitted by screens damages our sleep, study suggests, Science Daily, August 22, 2017.
The Oxford study while interesting and based on actual Child Health survey findings do not account for findings from other more researched facts based on the impact of blue light and it’s impact on our body’s melatonin production.
The most recommended solution for parents struggling with this issue is to set a bedtime routine early in your child’s life. Set a routine which includes wind down time without any sort of electronic device. Most researchers would agree that this wind down screenless time should be anywhere from 1 to 2 hours before sleep, allowing the child’s body time to react to less blue light impact and begin/continue its natural production of melatonin and start its shutdown procedures.
Please be aware of the impact of blue light on your child’s sleep. Be aware of child sleep deprivation and it’s affects. It is my belief (opinion only) that if more parents were aware of the importance of sleep for their child we would see less attention deficit symptoms and higher scholastic achievement.
Please feel free to comment below. We always welcome your input!
Javier is the owner of Sleep Well, professionally trained sleep stores, specializing in specific mattresses for specific needs. He lives to give. He is an active member of his community and church. His hard work and efforts pay off for him when he can help others, and give to efforts for the betterment of others.
His spare time is spent with his beautiful wife, Gretchen. They are craft beer hobbyists who enjoy making their own beers, visiting small breweries, and making new friends. Their lives revolve around church, family, exercising, four great dogs, and keeping up with their home in Alamogordo NM.