That’s right. Your favorite pastime might be taking a significant toll on the quality of sleep you get. A recent study investigated the relationship between long-term gaming and sleep habits –– 73% of respondents reported that they do experience insomnia after a long gaming session.
“Video games have been shown to increase the time it takes for gamers to fall asleep and decrease the time spent in slow-wave or deep sleep, which is the restorative part of sleep that helps us feel well-rested and refreshed the following day,” says Wendell Bobb, MD and assistant professor of neurology and sleep medicine at the George Washington University School of Medicine.
Here’s What You Need to Know
Doctors recommend that the average adult should get on average seven to nine hours of sleep each night. 81% of respondents fell short of this goal, some significantly. Only 19% of gamers report getting more than seven hours of sleep. Over half of respondents average around five to six hours each night, while 30% average under four hours of sleep.
Studies have shown that people who play video games for extended amounts each day have a more challenging time falling asleep. It only gets worse if you play video games late into the night. Participants reported that the average time they spent playing video games each day increased by an hour or two because of the pandemic.
The video games respondents reported kept them up the longest were Minecraft (21%), Rust (17%) and Fortnite (14%). While the findings were not wholly unexpected, they still illuminate the impacts gaming has on the quality of sleep people get.
All of this is not to say that playing games will lead to inadequate sleep. However, if you find that you are having a hard time getting consistent, quality sleep, here are a few tips on how to improve your sleep habits.
Sleep Tips for Gamers
Set a time to turn off your screen and stick to it
If you’re struggling to fall asleep after a gaming session, one of the first things you should do is set a firm “turn off” time. An hour or two before you go to sleep, turn off your computer, tv, or whatever you play on and start your nighttime routine.
That pesky blue light is likely keeping you up. Screens emit blue light that mimics sunlight and tricks your brain into suppressing melatonin because it thinks it is still daytime. If you can’t cut out your screen entirely from the start, screen-filtering software or amber-tinted blue-blocking lenses can help. However, your best option for good sleep is just turning off your screen and relaxing.
Watch what you eat and drink before bed
As you’re winding down from your day, keep in mind what you’re eating and drinking. They will have an impact on how you sleep. It’s a good idea to stay away from caffeine in the evenings since it blocks the effects of adenosine and will keep you awake.
On the other hand, alcohol has the opposite effect on adenosine. The first few hours after drinking alcohol result in suppressing the excitatory nerve cells in your brain.
“Since by nature the excitatory brain cells are, well, excitatory, they are not happy when something comes in and cramps their style. So they get riled up to oppose the inhibitory effects of the alcohol,” Dr. Bobb explains. “But as the alcohol is metabolized within a couple of hours, these cells remain in that unopposed, hyperactive state for some time which contributes to the rebound wakefulness and inability to fall back asleep.”
Create a nighttime routine
We cannot overstate the importance of a nighttime routine. Our bodies crave routines, and you’ll find you get a better night’s sleep when you stick to one. You should try to sleep and wake up within the same 20-minute window –– including weekends.
After you’ve established what time you want to aim for, decide how you like to wind down. Do you like to read a book? How about taking a bath or stretch? Whatever you choose, having these activities will help your body transition from playing games to getting ready for sleep.
Many people have their set up in their bedrooms. While that is convenient for gameplay, it will not help your body get ready to sleep. If the space is available, you should reserve your bedroom for sleep and sex only.
Should You Even Play Video Games?
Yes! If gaming is your hobby, there is absolutely no reason you need to stop, though setting boundaries is a great way to make sure it doesn’t impact your sleep. Video games do have positive effects –– improved attention, cognition and visuospatial skills.
“Playing shooter games improves a person’s spatial cognition –– the ability to navigate through their environment and to recognize the spatial relationships among different objects. This skill has critical implications in science, engineering, and mathematics,” says Jolene Caufield, Master of Science in Professional Health Studies and Oriental Medicine.
“It also affects a person’s ability to suppress task-irrelevant information, which is vital in a person’s ability to learn. When trying to learn, there are often irrelevant stimuli in the brain that blocks the important information we’re trying to absorb into memory. Shooter games train the brain to differentiate between important and irrelevant tasks to win, which then can be applied when trying to study for school or work,” Caufield adds.
Too Long, Didn’t Read?
Video games are fun. They flood our brains with dopamine, which encourages us to play more. This becomes an issue when video games are played at the expense of other facets of your life. One of the main areas that many gamers go wrong is sleeping –– only 19% average at least seven hours a night. Setting boundaries for yourself will help you balance sleep and your favorite games.