Limiting kids’ recreational screen time to less than two hours a day, along with sufficient sleep and physical activity, is associated with improved cognition – according to a new study.
Children aged eight to 11 who used screens for fun for less than two hours a day performed better in tests of mental ability, a study found, published in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health.
Combining this with nine to 11 hours of sleep a night was found to be best for performance. Researchers said more work was now needed to better understand the effects of different types of screen use.
However, they acknowledge that their observational study shows only an association between screen time and cognition and cannot prove a causal link.
The study included about 4,500 US children ages 8 to 11 and measured their habits against the Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for Children and Youth. It found that 51% of the children got the recommended nine to 11 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night, 37% met the recreational screen time limit of two hours or less per day, while 18% met the physical activity recommendation of at least 60 minutes of accumulated physical activity a day.
The latest research is part of a wider effort to understand how our daily habits impact the way we think, particularly at a critical stage of development.
“We know these behaviours have independent effects on health. But they also have effects on each other, and there is an integration of how the whole day matters,” says Jeremy Walsh, the lead author of the study and post-doctoral fellow at the University of British Columbia, Okanagan.
Walsh believes that having good screen habits could help encourage usage within recommended durations and the benefits that come with it.
“I think that the overarching goal here is that parents should consider the whole 24-hour day of their children,” he said, “and put realistic rules or limits in place for how long they are on their screens for, having bed time rules, and making sure to encourage physical activity.”