Ner Ner: Screens Might Not Ruin Children's Sleep After All

By Holly Brockwell on at

Kids and teenagers across the country are no doubt sassing their parents today with the news that the effects of screens on sleep have been vastly overstated, according to a new study.

The University of Oxford's Internet Institute, enjoyably abbreviated to OII, used data from an American study of children's screen and sleep time to evaluate the effects of one on the other. The survey data compared the amount of time parents said their kids spent using devices with displays, and how much time each child slept for.

It's a decently large survey – 50,000 kids from every US state – and the difference in sleep caused by screens was found to be "extremely modest." The BBC reports that teens who hadn't had any screen time got 8 hours, 51 minutes of sleep, while ones who'd spent eight entire hours looking at TV, videogames, phones and the like managed 8 hours, 21 minutes. There's an apparent effect, yes, but it's not the catastrophically deleterious one we've been sold up to now.

There are, as ever, lots of caveats to consider. For starters, correlation is not causality – just because higher screen time coincides with lower sleep, it doesn't necessarily follow that screen time is causing the deficit. It could be that kids using screens are using their brains more and therefore find it harder to switch off, or maybe they're downing caffeinated drinks while they play games, or any number of other factors that could affect their sleep time.

Also, we're relying on their parents' reports, which could be inaccurate in any number of ways: some parents might not want to admit how much time their kids spend on their phones, for instance, and therefore report a lower number.

It could also be the case that while the difference in sleep isn't as big as expected, there might have been a difference in quality of sleep: the kids who didn't use screens might have had deeper, more refreshing snoozes than the square-eyed ones.

Finally, and most disappointingly, there's no indication of whether this data also holds true for adults, so we don't get to join in with all the smugness for the time being.

In short, there are lots of things this study doesn't tell us, but no doubt little Timmy will nonetheless be citing it when he wants to play Fortnite in bed tonight. You do you, Timmy.

Photo by Ludovic Toinel on Unsplash