Screen time, lack of sleep linked to impulsive behaviour in kids, study finds

Children and young people who use screens for more than two hours a day and don’t get nine to 11 hours of sleep per night are more likely to behave impulsively, according to the findings of a new CHEO study.

The peer-reviewed research, published Wednesday in the journal Pediatrics, analyzed the first batch of data collected from 4,524 children between the ages of eight and 11 in the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study, which is following participants for 10 years.

CHEO researchers used the first set of ABCD data to compare sleep, screen time and physical activity against eight measures of impulsivity including “one’s tendency to seek out thrilling experiences, to set desired goals, to respond sensitively to rewarding or unpleasant stimuli, and to act rashly in negative and positive moods,” according to a news release issued Wednesday.

The researchers, led by CHEO Research Institute and University of Ottawa postdoctoral fellow Michelle Guerrero, concluded that children who met sleep and screen time recommendations “consistently reported lower levels of impulsivity” than those who didn’t meet any of the guidelines, the CHEO study states.

As for physical activity, meeting the recommended hour of moderate to vigorous exercise “was associated with reduced impulsivity on most but not all measures.”

The CHEO study had some limitations: Physical activity was measured only with a survey question, and researchers acknowledged results could have been enhanced by having subjects wear monitoring devices; and  questions about screen time didn’t include specifics about screen size, content, frequency or whether multiple screens were used simultaneously.