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Researchers in Canada analyzed data on the sleep, screen-time, and exercise habits of more than 4,500 school-age children. They assessed how well each child met Canadian recommendations for each, which are:
- Nine to 11 hours of sleep each night
- No more than two hours of screen time daily (not including schoolwork)
- At least 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity each day
Then the researchers used questionnaires to measure the children's impulsivity, asking them to rank how much they agreed or disagreed with statements such as "I finish what I start" and "When I am upset, I often act without thinking."
The objective was to find out how much self-control the children exhibited, how good they were at setting goals and managing their emotions, and whether they had a tendency to take risks or act rashly.
What they learned was that children who met all the sleep, screen time, and physical activity recommendations were less likely to act impulsively than kids who didn't meet the guidelines. Getting enough sleep and spending limited time on screens seemed to be particularly effective at reducing children's impulsivity, according to the findings published online in Pediatrics.
More research is needed to figure out exactly what's going on here. Although the study suggests that less screen time and more sleep may reduce impulsivity, chicken-and-egg theory may be at play. For example, kids who are impulsive may naturally be inclined to get less sleep and spend more time checking their phone or playing video games than kids who are naturally more focused and calm.
Researcher Michelle Guerrero said it's likely a bit of both.
Still, there are countless ways getting a good night's sleep and not spending too much time on screens has been shown to affect kids positively. For example, school-age children that comply with the Canadian recommendations also seem to have better brain function, lower odds of obesity, a higher quality of life, and healthier eating habits then kids who don't meet the recommendations, the researchers reported.
Young kids generally need even more sleep and should spend even less time on screens than older kids. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting kids ages 2 to 5 years old to an hour or less a day of high-quality digital media, and no screen time for children younger than 24 months.
Meanwhile, babies and toddlers need between 13 and 17 hours of sleep a day, depending on their age.
Find out more about screen time for kids, parent ideas for limiting screen time at home, and how much sleep your preschooler or big kid needs.
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