I was recently asked by a gamer if I thought his six hours of sleep a night was enough. Now that I think of it, questions concerning sleep are becoming a regular question I get asked. The problem a lot of amateur athletes face (both traditional and esports) is the marketing from the ‘health and fitness’ industry. If you’ve ever started a gym routine, you’ve probably been suckered into buying expensive preworkouts, protein powders and creatine.
What is the best health tip for gamers? If you could only prioritize one thing as a gamer to improve your health and, more specifically, your recovery, it should be SLEEP. Better quality sleep is probably the best thing you could do outside of your esport to improve inside your esport.
The problem I see with many athletes, whether they’re in esports or sports, is their misguided efforts when trying to improve their recovery and performance. I like to tell people to think of it this way: sleep is the best and most important supplement. If you are taking health supplements while not getting enough sleep, you need to reevaluate your priorities, because you’re walking over $100 bills to pick up nickles.
WHY IS SLEEP IMPORTANT FOR ESPORTS & PRO GAMERS?
So much of success in esports depends on reaction time. Take Super Smash Bros, for instance, Nanosecond differences in reaction time can make or break you. If you’re sleep deprived, your reaction time plummets and you become more prone to making mistakes.
Sleep deprivation is one of the major causes of car accidents and its impairment on our brain can be as bad as alcohol. Would you purposefully have a few alcoholic drinks before a competitive match (let’s say there’s big prize money on the line for argumentative sake). The next time you purposefully lose out on adequate sleep, blame only yourself when your performance suffers.
Now, let’s understand exactly why sleep is important and apply it a little further to esports.
SLEEP FOR ESPORTS AND PRO 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.
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 when 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 “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.
When you sleep, your brain prepares for the next day. It does this by forming new pathways for learning and remembering information. Ever wonder why your teams creative new play fails during a competitive match after practicing it for an entire day? If your team is creating and practicing new tactics for several hours a day but going to bed at 3:00AM and getting up at 9:00AM, your team has not only wasted some of its time, it has wasted a critical opportunity to boost its performance.
Esports are unique in that constant learning needs to occur. The game of football (soccer) never changes, at least not on a level that would require you to change how you play it as an athlete. Esports, on the other hand, can have almost weekly updates requiring professional players to constantly learn and master a new aspect to the game. I’m a CS:GO player and a change as small as the price of a pistol can result in new meta (well, not for me, but let’s pretend I’m pro).
What’s the perfect compliment to learning something new? I hope you know the answer by now, and if you don’t, I need to reevaluate my writing and communication skills.
Quick tip: is your team bickering a lot? Is your team on the verge of parting ways? Maybe the 16 hours of practice and lack of sleep is making everyone irritable and on edge. Well rested athletes are happy athletes, and a successful team needs both.
Sleep also plays a critical role in hormone balance. The less sleep you get, the more your ghrelin goes up (hungry feeling) and the more your leptin goes down (full feeling). If you’re trying to lose weight but waking up at 4:00am to workout…good luck to ya, because you’re walking over $100 bills to pick up nickles.
Speaking of hormones, growth hormone is released when you sleep (well, when you have deep, quality sleep). Growth hormone is essential for tissue and muscle repair, muscle building and bone growth. Still have a nagging repetitive strain injury? Try adding in better sleep to your rehab.
Worried about injuries in esports? I wrote a post about repetitive stress injuries in esports, you can check it out here. If you suspect you have or are getting an injury, sleep may be a remedy. A University of California study found that when youth athletes got less than 6 hours of sleep, their chances of injury increased.
Also, increasing the quantity of quality sleep can extend an athlete’s career. Considering most professional gamers retire before they are 30, a few extra years in esports can potentially yield a wealthier life after retirement.
Just as important as reducing the risk of injury is reducing the likelihood of illness. If you become ill with a cold, flu, or worse, you could be sitting out on a major tournament. A 2009 study exposed participants to a cold virus then split them into groups and found that people who slept less than 7 hours were three times more likely to develop a cold after being exposed.
HOW MUCH SLEEP IS ENOUGH?
There’s no cookie-cutter approach to this. However, if you’re an athlete, aim at the higher end: 8-9 hours. If you’re a young athlete, aim at the higher, higher end: 9-10.
If you’re a competitive gamer or pro gamer in esports, this is something you need to find out for yourself. Ideally, you go to sleep and wake up at the same time every night and morning. Even better, you go to sleep early, like 9:00pm early. However, given the training schedules in esports and the need to scrim with teams in various countries, this may not be realistic. If you can make improvements in the time you fall asleep and the length you sleep for, the better off you’ll be.
BUT I DON’T HAVE ENOUGH TIME FOR SLEEP
If you’re a professional gamer, this is simply not true. And if it feels like it’s true for you given the demands placed on you, then your coaches and management have little to no understanding on how to improve athletic performance (they’re likely stuck in the dogmatic and outdated belief that more is always better when it comes to training).
Hopefully, at this point, you understand that getting an extra hour of sleep is more important than that extra hour of practice. Or, you’re just in it for the short game, and if that’s you, hopefully, you have a plan B after you retire.
SLEEP AND ELITE ATHLETES
If you’re a coach or a manager, paying attention to your athletes’ sleep schedule is critical. If you’re booking travel flights that mess up your team’s sleep, you better have a good reason (i.e., it’s the only one you could afford). When Hafthor (Game of Thrones; World’s Strongest Man) hired Stan Efferding as his coach, a critical change Stan made was in Hafthor’s sleep and travel schedule. He later went on to win a ‘World’s Strongest Man’ title, while simultaneously being a ‘television star’.
It may seem like we’re splitting hairs here. But when we’re talking about esports and elite athletes, getting a 1% advantage over the competition is vital. If you can get that 1% with something that is free except for the time required (and let’s be honest, most people waste at least one hour of their time a day), then you’re foolish to ignore it. Try adding “9 hours of sleep” to the contacts of team players.
HOW TO IMPROVE YOUR SLEEP
It wouldn’t be CyberAthletiks if this wasn’t the first suggestion for, well, anything to do with esports ;).
However, exercise is number 1 for a reason. The stereotypical life of a gamer is one that is primarily sedentary. Gamers typically sit in gaming chairs and play for hours on end, and then in their off time, they watch demo’s or play ‘fun’ games to help unwind. It’s probably safe to say that most gamers aren’t even hitting their ‘10,000’ steps every day (or even close to that).
Currently, esports and gamers have this obsession with ‘more is better’ and equate more time spent playing their game/esport to an improvement in said game/esport. There is some truth to this as, unlike traditional sports, esports games tend to update and change frequently (imagine a basketball court changed in size and dimensions every few weeks). But I also believe esports has a long way to go in its approach to optimal training. How is it that a team practices their esports game for 16 hours a day only to make critical mistakes come tournament day? Is it possible they practice the game as a whole too much and neglect to practice the parts of the game that cause the difficulties on tournament day?
Okay, rant over. Exercise will literally force you to sleep better. I live in Canada, and camping in the deep wilderness is a fairly common activity. I mean deep wilderness, where there are lakes untouched by gasoline boats and where you will not see anyone for the 14 days you’re out there. During these trips, I would be travelling by canoe and portaging (this is where you carry the canoe on land for short or long distances with all of your gear). Travelling would take up most of the day. At night, there’s no artificial stimulus around you. Guess what would happen? I would have some of the best periods of sleep. Even as I got older and had a coffee after dinner, I would fall asleep within 10 minutes, something I could never do at home.
Our bodies are meant to move with whatever capability they have. We are meant to be stressed, endure stress and recover from stress. When we exercise, we accomplish this, and when it comes time to sleep, our bodies recognize the need for it.
I always tell people that before they start looking for the next best supplement or an over-the-counter sleeping aid, they should try an intense workout followed by lots of movement throughout the day (even just quick walks here and there).
Your monitor, cell phone, TV and probably any other screen emits blue light. What is blue light? It’s a colour in the visible light spectrum that our human eyes are able to see. Blue light is a short wavelength, and short wavelength lights produce higher amounts of energy.
Blue light existed before technology as it is emitted from the sun (that’s part of the reasons why the sky appears blue). However, now it exists all around us in an almost inescapable way.
If you’re a serious gamer, and especially if you compete in esports, you’ve probably already heard the buzz around blue lights. You may have heard that blue light:
- disrupts the circadian rhythm
- causes eyestrain
- increases risk of depression
- causes permanent eye damage
In fact, the list goes on. I do want to point out another side to the argument though. The current academic consensus on blue light is that there are no known health effects from day-to-day exposure of blue light. In fact, in the UK, it is illegal for a health practitioner to indicate to a patient that blue light causes negative health effects. This takes me back to my undergrad philosophy days…”is truth attainable?”
The best suggestion I can offer is to find out for yourself. I really like the desktop program “f.lux“. F.lux states that it “makes the color of your computer’s display adapt to the time of day, warm at night and like sunlight during the day”. So, as the sun sets, your computer screen gets a more “yellowy” shade to it and I find it feels much better on my eyes at night time. Also, I don’t find it impairs my gaming in any way as the monitor brightness can still be turned up.
For my phone, I use “Twilight“, but just search the app store for “blue light blocker” and choose something with good reviews. If I were to use a regular phone at night now, I find it hard to look at it as it feels like I’m staring directly at the sun, so it makes a difference for me.
You can also get Blue Light Blocking Glasses (opens amazon affiliate link). Again, you have to see for yourself. If you game and work in an office, I would at least try them out. Obviously, your eyesight is critical for gaming performance, so any edge you can get to potentially protecting them is worth a small investment. But start with the free apps first to see if you notice a difference.
Think of sleep hygiene like a healthy ritual at the end of your day. What are you doing to signal to your body and brain that it’s time to start “shutting down”?
Here are some common sleep hygiene actions:
- limit daytime naps (20-30 min max)
- avoid stimulants
- avoid screens
- avoid disruptive foods
- dark and quiet room
For me, I found that after gaming, I couldn’t immediately just brush my teeth and go to bed. I started developing a stretching routine while listening to a podcast. This helps my body relax and my mind to focus on something completely unrelated to my day-to-day worries. Once I’m done stretching, I put in earplugs and put on a sleep mask, and listen to ‘Weightless’ by Marconi Union. This song has some scientific research behind it and it’s said to promote relaxation and reduce anxiety. I’ve found it great for helping me fall asleep (just make sure you put a timer on your player so you’re phone doesn’t die and you miss your alarm).
And remember, like exercise and physical training, consistency is one of, if not the most important variable. Having several months of good sleep is much better than just a few nights of great sleep. Start simple, start doing 2 or 3 stretches that you hold for over 2 minutes (make sure the room is dark and quiet). After stretching, put on a relaxing song and focus on some deep breathing.
I’m not big on recommending supplements outside of true necessities but I have found some success with them, and if they can improve your sleep, they’re worth the small cost.
You’ve probably heard of melatonin. Your body naturally releases melatonin at night as the sun sets and it becomes dark. Clearly, if you’re a gamer, you’re probably surrounded by light after the sunsets. Melatonin supplements may help your body get the signal that it’s time for bed. Take this sparingly though, it’s not meant to be an every night type of supplement, and some people even report having more vivid dreams. I’ve found it particularly helpful when I want to go to bed early, but have had a few recent late nights.
ZMA stands for Zinc Monomethionine Aspartate, Magnesium Aspartate and Vitamin B6. ZMA is popular with athletes and bodybuilders as a sleep aid. I’ve gotten a few batches before and found that it didn’t necessarily help me fall asleep, but it certainly helped give me deeper and better quality sleep. This one definitely intensified my dreams. ZMA can be a little on the pricier side, but it may be worth having some on hand if you want some assistance with deep quality sleep. I found it most helpful on workout days as I felt less sore and stiff the following morning.
There are many more, but few will do more than the above two. Don’t get these supplements thinking you can skip exercising but still improve your sleep, because, as I’ve said, you’re walking over $100 bills to pick up nickles.
If you only choose to do one thing recommended here at CyberAthletiks, make it be getting more sleep. If you consider yourself an athlete, whether it is in esports or any type of competitive gaming, then start treating your mind and your body like one.
If you’re a coach in esports, then start acting like one by paying attention to your player’s sleep schedules. If your team lives in a gaming house, there’s no excuse to not be making sleep a priority for your team, in fact, it should be part of their contracts.