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If Your Toddler Can't Sleep, Science Says To Nix The Touchscreens

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No one likes a cranky toddler. You've tried every trick in the book, but little Logan still isn't settling down quickly or sleeping through most nights. What gives? Researchers have unlocked what might be the secret behind his sleep deprivation: touchscreens. While that tablet may be sharpening Logan's motor skills, they're likely derailing his sleep.

Related: How Screens Can Disrupt Your Sleep

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Lower The Touchscreens

For a 2017 study published in the Nature journal Scientific Reports, researchers at Birkbeck University of London asked 715 parents about their toddlers' daily exposure to both TV screens and touchscreens (including tablets and smartphones). They also asked about their sleeping patterns—the total amount of sleep they get in a day, how long it takes them to fall asleep, and how well they sleep through the night. Their research model controlled for factors like age, gender, and TV exposure. The results? A whopping 75 percent of the toddlers (aged 6–36 months) used touchscreens on a daily basis, and their lack of sleep reflected it.

Related: Why Sleepless Nights Affect Kids More Than Adults

"Every additional hour of tablet use was associated with 15.6 minutes less total sleep," the researchers wrote. On average, that equated to 26 minutes less sleep at night, but 11 more minutes of sleep during the day. But why? The researchers have a few theories: playing on touchscreens might literally displace the time toddlers would otherwise use for sleeping, for one. Another reason could be that the content of a game is exciting that it becomes difficult to fall asleep. The bright blue light—so similar to the blue sky of daylight—could also be suppressing the toddlers' melatonin levels, thus messing with their circadian rhythm.

Related: The 4 Qualities Of A Good Night's Sleep, According To Sleep Experts

Help Them Catch Some Z's

Ok, so Logan likes his touchscreens. Besides making him grumpy, is his lack of sleep that big of a deal? Yep—while the researchers aren't telling you to ban the use of tablets completely, it's important to understand that sleepless nights affect kids more than adults. Logan's neural plasticity, or his ability to develop new neural connections, is at its peak during these precious years. As the study notes, infants and toddlers are at "an age when sleep is essential for cognitive development." Happy, healthy toddlers make for happy, healthy parents, so let's just agree to occasionally hide the screens and pick up some crayons, instead. Deal?

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Watch And Learn: Our Favorite Content About The Importance Of Sleep

Touchscreen-Toddlers Get Less Sleep

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Key Facts In This Video

  1. In a lifetime, a person will spend 24 years asleep. 00:13

  2. After a few nights of sleep deprivation, the body can fully recover with a few nights of good sleep. 01:04

  3. The ideal average length of sleep is seven to eight hours, but it may vary from person to person. 02:31

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