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Too much screen time, too little sleep harming kids’ cognition

29 September 2018

The study found that children of 8-11 years old spend an average of 3.6 hours every day in front of the TV, mobile phone, tablet, or computer screen.

"We found that more than two hours of recreational screen time in children was associated with poorer cognitive development", said Dr Jeremy Walsh, of the CHEO Research Institute.

Half of the children got the recommended 9 to 11 hours of sleep, 37 percent met the screen time guideline of less than two hours, and 18 percent got an hour or more of exercise. If you want your kids to do well in life, limit their screen time to less than two hours, encourage them to do physical activities and to have sufficient sleep, suggests new research.

The study assessed the behavior of 4,500 children, ages 8 to 11, by looking at their sleep schedules, how much time they spent on screens, and their amount of exercise, and analyzed how those factors impacted the children's mental abilities.

According to Dr. Shawna Newman, an attending psychiatrist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, the study "clearly demonstrates the specific benefit of exercise for children, in addition to that of good sleep hygiene and the limitation of screen time contributing positively to cognitive development".

Only 5 percent of the children in the study met all three recommendations; 30 percent met none at all.

Unfortunately, very few USA children meet all three of these daily goals, said lead researcher Jeremy Walsh, a postdoctoral fellow with the CHEO Research Institute in Ottawa, Canada.

If you're anxious that too much "screen time" could be sapping your child's intelligence, new research suggests you might be right.

Writing in a linked comment, Dr Eduardo Esteban Bustamante, University of IL, said: "Each minute spent on screens necessarily displaces a minute from sleep or cognitively challenging activities".

"Based on our findings, paediatricians, parents, educators and policymakers should promote limiting recreation screen time and prioritising healthy sleep routines during childhood and adolescence". The study's authors said that more research is needed to probe the links between screen time and cognition, including research differentiates between different types of screen time activities and what effects they have on children.

And of course, the study was an observational one which meant a causal relationship could not be established. Each minute spent on screens necessarily displaces a minute from sleep or cognitively challenging activities. Google has also introduced new features to limit screen time and monitor use on Android devices.

Too much screen time, too little sleep harming kids’ cognition