DR. MITCH: Smartphones: maybe not so smart after all!

A recent study in the Journal, Scientific Reports, has people wondering whether we might be affecting the brain development of our kids because of the time they are spending playing on a smartphone or tablet.

In a survey of 715 parents of toddlers up to the age of 3, researchers from the University of London asked them how often their children played with these devices and how much sleep the kids got. They found that on average for each hour spent playing on the touchscreen the child slept a total of 15 minutes less. The pattern of sleep was also shifted. They slept less at night and more during the day.

Here’s where the authors took a huge leap. They conjectured that since sleep in childhood is key to brain development, the loss of sleep would affect the development of the children but they had not shown that in this study nor could they prove that it was the use of the devices that had caused the loss of sleep.

We’ve discussed in the past how observational studies like this can only show an association but cannot prove cause and effect. Who knows whether there is some other factor at work. For example, perhaps the kids who use the touchscreens the most are already hyperactive and that’s why they sleep less. Also this study only showed a decrease in the amount of sleep. It showed no effect (yet) on the childrens’ development.

So for now I think that the best advice is to follow the same that we have already received about video’s, TV watching and video games. Limit the amount of time that your child stays seated in front of any device; give them ample opportunities to interact with outer living things; and, get them outside  and running about. Seem like reasonable advice even now!