Sleep is fundamental to all aspects of our health. Both our physical and mental health relies on adequate sleep. Sleep becomes even more important for athletes competing in sports as performance and recovery can be closely related to the amount of, or lack of, quality sleep. So, how does gaming affect your sleep?
Although the research is limited, it does appear to be the case that gaming before bed can disrupt REM sleep, but this isn’t limited to just gaming.
Gamers get slack for all types of stuff. Sitting too much, not exercising, eating bad food and, of course, staying up too late gaming. While nothing on that list can be argued as “good”; there’s also nothing on that list that solely applies to gamers.
At Cyber Athletiks I advocate for gamers, especially competitive gamers, to train more like athletes. For more on this, you can check out the Athletiks section and the corresponding Recommended Gear section. I’m also a huge proponent of sleep. Getting both more and better quality sleep can help improve competitive gaming performance and make a gamer more resilient to injuries.
Also, don’t forget to check out my post Health Tips for Gamers – SLEEPING? I discuss in greater detail the benefits of better sleep for competitive gamers and tips on how to achieve better sleep.
Prefer the tl;dr? Check out my video on sleep:
DO VIDEO GAMES INTERFERE WITH SLEEP?
As I stated in the beginning, the research on this is pretty limited. Additionally, the studies that have been done have focused primarily on children and teens as they’re said to be “most likely” to game before bed. Not sure if the researchers or academics realize how popular gaming and competitive gaming is, but I’d wager that more adults than children are gaming before bed.
In 2010, Flinder’s University of Australia conducted this study which concluded that;
“direct effect of pre-sleep video-game playing on adolescent sleep may be more modest than previously thought, suggesting that surveys linking stimulating pre-sleep activities to poor sleep need substantiating with empirical evidence.”
Granted, this study only included 13 male participants (n=13) which is really not a large enough same to apply to the general population. But you know the media; if it’s a study it’s the truth. Basically, the study concluded that gaming before bed did not have any negative effects on sleep for the participants.
But wait, Flinder’s University of Australia performed another similar study two years later in 2012. This time, they had 17 participants play “violent” video games before going to sleep. What did they find? That gaming before bed for over two hours can almost double the delay it takes to fall asleep and can interrupt the natural sleep cycle.
While the research may not be compelling, it shouldn’t be entirely dismissed. After all, gaming isn’t the same as watching TV. Gaming is extremely interactive and requires a lot of concentration. Doing something like gaming before going to bed isn’t exactly the best way to “quiet the mind”.
HOW GAMING DISRUPTS YOUR SLEEP
As the research suggested gaming can make it more difficult to fall asleep and can disrupt sleep throughout the night.
Gaming requires some sort of screen and screens can affect our physiology. They do this by limiting our bodies ability to produce melatonin (responsible for going to sleep) as the bright lights signal to our bodies and brains that it’s still daylight.
Gaming is also very stimulating, as I pointed out. If sleep is your main objective, stimulating both the mind and body before bed is generally a bad idea. The body and brain want the opposite of this before bed.
SHOULD GAMERS AVOID GAMING BEFORE BED?
If sleep is your absolute top priority then, yes, gaming should be avoided before bed.
But let’s look at the reality of the situation. Competitive gamers often don’t have a choice in the matter. If they’re competing in leagues and small online tournaments, they may be required to play late into the night (and even into the early morning).
This is the nature of competitive gaming as teams compete with each other all over the globe. Yes, leagues often have some sort of geographical basis (NA, EU, AS, OC etc.), but practice between these teams may require a compromise on time.
There’s also the reality that climbing ladders and ranks in games requires gamers to play at different times. If you live in NA, you may find that playing at 2:00 am is the fastest and most efficient way to rank up. Are you going to neglect this opportunity just because it’s best to be sleeping then? Probably not if going pro is your goal (if going pro is your goal, check out my post on How to Become a Pro Gamer where I discuss the often neglected aspects of what’s needed outside of gaming itself).
So, while it’s a good idea to avoid gaming before bed, it’s not always an option for competitive gamers.
BENEFITS OF SLEEP FOR COMPETITIVE GAMERS
Surely the latest brain supplement or improved energy drink is more important than sleep, right? Wrong. Quality sleep will help protect and improve your mental and physical health (for more tips on improving mental health in gamers, check out this post). Have you ever had a loss of attention, like a blank stare or forgetting why you entered a room?
It happened to me a lot while commuting for grad school. I remember catching myself putting milk in the cupboard and cereal boxes in the fridge. Well, this is referred to as a “micro-sleep”. Micro-sleeps can occur when you lose as little as 1-2 hours of sleep for a few days.
Imagine if “Fleta” from Seoul Dynasty had a micro-sleep during a clutch in overtime? Oh, I forgot to mention, you don’t get to control when micro-sleep happens, so let’s hope it’s not during a B rush on dust2.
HOW LONG BEFORE BED SHOULD I STOP SCREEN TIME?
In the research discussed above, it was recommended to stop any sort of gaming an hour before bed. So even if you are a competitive gamer who’s required to stay up late, develop a better sleep hygiene ritual to get in a better place for sleeping. For more tips on this, check out my sleeping post here.
HOW SLEEPING CAN HELP YOU LOSE WEIGHT
A lot of competitive gamers I talk to regarding health and fitness are interested in either losing weight or gaining weight (mainly muscle).
Getting adequate sleep can play a huge role in how hungry you feel. When you’re sleep deprived, your body and hormones are all out of whack. Leptin is a hormone that responds to sleep cues and when there’s less sleep, there’s less leptin, which causes your stomach to feel empty even after a big meal.
It’s not the end of the world to have a few crappy sleeps here and there (we all encounter stress in our lives) but prolonged sleep deprivation can be wreak havoc on the body.
Even after just four days of not getting enough sleep, your body’s insulin sensitivity can drop by 30%. This means your body has less insulin to lower blood glucose levels, which can expose you to all sorts of risks like type II Diabetes.
When you don’t sleep enough your cortisol levels start to rise. Cortisol is a stress hormone. When there’s more cortisol, there’s less regulation in the reward centres of the brain that make you want to eat more food. Also, cortisol can mess with the breakdown of fats for energy and increase the breakdown of muscle tissue, which brings me to the next point.
HOW SLEEPING CAN HELP YOU GAIN MUSCLE
Basically, it does the opposite of when you lack sleep. Not getting enough sleep inhibits your muscle growth.
When you get adequate sleep, like 7-9 hours of deep restful sleep, you’ll be getting an optimal dose of growth hormone and testosterone. If you’re natural (i.e., you don’t take steroids) and you’re not getting the optimal natural range of these hormones, your muscle growth will suffer.
HOW SLEEPING RECHARGES THE BRAIN
This is perhaps the most important benefit for competitive gamers.
While sleeping, adenosine (a neurotransmitter) levels decline, which helps the brain recharge. Adenosine is responsible for our more heightened senses like mental alertness and reaction. Additionally, the brain is constantly processing complex information during sleeping, information which is then used when awake.
Gaming requires learning, a lot of learning, and competitive gaming requires even more as strategies and tactics have to be constantly invented and learned. Getting adequate sleep will help cement all these learned skills for when you awake and gaming.
Is your team struggling to create a new tournament winning tactics? Can’t quite figure out how to fully utilize a new map? Well getting better quality sleep (and more of it) can help improve creative connections in the brain. According to this study, people waking from restful sleep are 33% more likely to make connections between ideas that would have seemed completely unrelated.
If you can’t sleep after gaming then you probably need to go read my Health Tips for Gamers – SLEEPING? where I discuss in greater detail the benefits of better sleep for competitive gamers and tips on how to achieve better sleep.
If you’re a competitive gamer, you may not have the option to go to bed at an “optimal” time. You can still use some tips from that sleep post to create better sleep hygiene and optimize the sleep that you do get.