Lack of Sleep Plus Extra Screen Time Leads to Impulsivity in Kids

New Canadian research suggests that children and youth who do not sleep enough and who use screens more than recommended are more likely to act impulsively and make poorer decisions.

The findings, published in the journal Pediatrics, come from the globally recognized Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research Group (HALO) in Ottawa.

“Impulsive behavior is associated with numerous mental health and addiction problems, including eating disorders, behavioral addictions and substance abuse,” said Dr. Michelle Guerrero, lead author and postdoctoral fellow at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario and the University of Ottawa.

“This study shows the importance of especially paying attention to sleep and recreational screen time, and reinforces the Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for Children and Youth.”

The 24-Hour Movement recommendations, are the first evidence-based guidelines to address the whole day. Experts discovered kids are inactive and may be losing sleep over it. Moreover, they aren’t moving enough to be tired, and they may also be too tired to move. For optimal health benefits, children and youth should achieve high levels of physical activity, low levels of sedentary behavior, and sufficient sleep each day.

Emerging evidence shows the need for a new movement paradigm that emphasizes the integration of all movement behaviors occurring over a whole day, shifting the focus from the individual components to emphasize the whole. The new guidelines encourage children and youth to “Sweat, Step, Sleep and Sit” the right amounts for a healthy 24 hours.

Now, the new study confirms that when kids follow these recommendations, they are more likely to make better decisions and act less rashly than those who do not meet the guidelines, explains Guerrero.

The Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for Children and Youth recommend:

    • 9-11 hours of sleep a night
    • no more than 2 hours of recreational screen time a day

The new paper, “24-Hour Movement Behaviors and Impulsivity,” analyzed data over a 10-year period for 4,524 children from a large longitudinal population study called the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study. In addition to sleep and screen time, the ABCD Study also captures data related to physical activity.

Physical activity is a third pillar of the Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines, which recommend children and youth receive at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity daily.

The ABCD Study allowed Guerrero and her team to look at the three pillars of the movement guidelines against eight measures of impulsivity.

The criteria include 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.

The study results suggest that meeting all three pillars of the movement guidelines was associated with more favorable outcomes on five of the eight dimensions.

Guerrero and her team say that studies using feedback devices to measure the movement behaviors in future research will help further our understanding of how physical activity, screen time, and sleep relate to children’s impulsivity.

Source: University of Ottawa

High Levels of Internet Use May Alter Brain Function

In a new review, an international team of researchers propose that internet use can produce both acute and prolonged changes in specific areas of cognition, affecting our attentional capacities, memory processes and social interactions.

“The key findings of this report are that high levels of internet use could indeed impact on many functions of the brain,” said study leader Dr. Joseph Firth, Senior Research Fellow at the National Institute of Complementary Medicine (NICM) Health Research Institute, Western Sydney University.

“For example, the limitless stream of prompts and notifications from the internet encourages us towards constantly holding a divided attention — which then in turn may decrease our capacity for maintaining concentration on a single task.”

“Additionally, the online world now presents us with a uniquely large and constantly-accessible resource for facts and information, which is never more than a few taps and swipes away.”

“Given we now have most of the world’s factual information literally at our fingertips, this appears to have the potential to begin changing the ways in which we store, and even value, facts and knowledge in society, and in the brain.”

For the review, the team of researchers from Western Sydney University, Harvard University, Kings College, Oxford University and the University of Manchester investigated the leading hypotheses on how internet use may alter cognitive processes, and further examined the extent to which these hypotheses were supported by recent findings from psychological, psychiatric and neuroimaging research.

The extensive report, published in the journal World Psychiatry, combined the evidence to produce revised models on how the internet could affect the brain’s structure, function and cognitive development.

“The bombardment of stimuli via the internet, and the resultant divided attention commonly experienced, presents a range of concerns,” said Professor Jerome Sarris, Deputy Director and Director of Research at NICM Health Research Institute, Western Sydney University and senior author on the report.

“I believe that this, along with the increasing #Instagramification of society, has the ability to alter both the structure and functioning of the brain, while potentially also altering our social fabric.”

“To minimise the potential adverse effects of high-intensity multi-tasking internet usage, I would suggest mindfulness and focus practice, along with use of ‘internet hygiene’ techniques (e.g., reducing online multitasking, ritualistic ‘checking’ behaviours, and evening online activity, while engaging in more in-person interactions).”

The recent introduction and widespread adoption of online technologies, along with social media, is also of concern to some teachers and parents. The World Health Organization’s 2018 guidelines recommended that young children (aged 2-5) should be exposed to only one hour per day, or less, of screen time.

However, the report also found that the vast majority of research examining the effects of the internet on the brain has been conducted in adults, so more studies are needed to determine the benefits and drawbacks of internet use in young people.

Firth says that avoiding the potential negative effects could be as simple as ensuring that children are not missing out on other crucial developmental activities, such as social interaction and exercise, by spending too much time on digital devices.

“To help with this, there are also now a multitude of apps and software programs available for restricting internet usage and access on smartphones and computers — which parents and carers can use to place some ‘family-friendly’ rules around both the time spent on personal devices, and also the types of content engaged with,” he said.

“Alongside this, speaking to children often about how their online lives affect them is also important — to hopefully identify children at risk of cyberbullying, addictive behaviours, or even exploitation — and so enabling timely intervention to avoid adverse outcomes.”

Source: NICM Health Research Institute, Western Sydney University

UK Study: Smartphone Addiction May Not Be a Problem

New research suggests prior studies on the impact of technology use on psychological well-being rely on flawed measures. UK investigators explain that surveys are often used to understand how people use their smartphone, but these are poorly related to actual smartphone use when measured with an app.

In other words, the researchers believe that existing evidence suggesting that screen time is “addictive” cannot be used to justify any change of policy. The finding is pertinent as the UK Parliament’s Science and Technology Committee recently held an inquiry into social media use, including the effects of screen time on the health of young people.

In the new research, Dr. David Ellis of Lancaster University and Brittany Davidson from The University of Bath believe official policy should not solely rely on existing studies using self-reports. Ellis explains: “Knowing how much someone thinks or worries about their smartphone use leaves many questions unanswered.”

The investigative team examined 10 “addiction” surveys for measuring people’s technology use, such as the Smartphone Addiction Scale and the Mobile Phone Problem Use Scale, which generate scores that determine use.

They then compared these self-reports with data from Apple Screen Time, which provides an objective measurement of:

    • How many minutes people used their phones
    • How often they picked it up
    • How many notifications they received

The researchers discovered weak relationships between how much people think they use their smartphones and how much they actually do.

Davidson added, “Our results suggest that the majority of these self-report smartphone assessments perform poorly when attempting to predict real-world behavior. We need to revisit and improve these measurements moving forward.”

High smartphone usage has been previously linked to anxiety and depression, but Ellis said there is insufficient evidence to support these conclusions.

“Scales that focus on the notion of technology ‘addiction’ performed very poorly and were unable to classify people into different groups (e.g., high vs low use) based on their behavior.”

Source: Lancaster University/EurekAlert

Photo: High smartphone usage has been previously linked to anxiety and depression but Dr Ellis said there is insufficient evidence to support these conclusions. Credit: Lancaster University.