Renate Engelbrecht
Content producer
4 minute read
29 Nov 2021
2:08 pm

Gaming: How does it really affect your sleep?

Renate Engelbrecht

Gaming often comes at the expense of much-needed sleep. If you’re an avid gamer, you’d know. But what are the effects on your quality of sleep and health?

Gaming and its effects on your sleep. Picture: iStock

According to Stephan Vermaas, team performance coach for Goliath Gaming, you not only get less sleep as you battle between getting into bed and playing that one last game, but your quality of sleep is also affected.

How does gaming affect your sleep?

The lack of physical movement, coupled with being seated for so long restricts good blood flow and circulation, which may lead to bad posture and a range of bodily discomforts like stiff muscles and tight joints. Restlessness and frequently waking up interrupts the restoration experienced by sleep.

Brightly lit screens also have an impact on sleep patterns, as our brains interpret the light given off by screens as being day light.

This affects our circadian rhythm, which is like your biological day-night clock, controlling how sleepy or awake you are. As the sun gives off  large amounts of blue light during the day, your brain mistakes blue light signals from gaming screens as still being daytime, which clashes with the sense your brain has of how long you’ve been awake.

This, ultimately, delays the release of neurochemicals that makes you sleepy.

With gaming being something that requires a high degree of focus and attention, the alert state blocks the signals indicating that it’s time for bed. This may cause you to take longer to fall asleep.

What if you don’t get the sleep you need?

Research has shown that even when you get six to seven hours of sleep, performance decreases on tests of reaction time, memory, hand-eye coordination and problem solving.

These abilities start to decline just from being awake for seventeen hours and the effects can be compared to having two to four alcoholic beverages. Mid- to long sleep problems are often associated with the increased risk of physical illness like contracting viruses, heart attacks, strokes, cancers and diabetes.

It may also be associated with certain mental conditions like depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder.

Self-improvement can be as easy as merely getting more sleep.

Nighttime gaming
Nighttime gaming. Picture: iStock

ALSO READ: How to break your child’s screen addiction

What can gamers do to improve sleep?

According to the European Academy for Cognitive-Behavioural Treatment of Insomnia (CBT-I), these are the gold standard and first-line treatment options for Insomnia:

Routine is key

Routine has always been said to be an important thing in life. Getting to sleep and waking up at the same time can improve your sleep considerably.

It gives your body a reliable routine to which your circadian rhythms can respond and that will help your body to feel tired closer to bedtime and fall asleep a little easier. It will also help you to feel fresh and focused during your active hours.

So, stick to that morning alarm (whether it’s 5am or 8am) and avoid long naps during the day.

Keep it cool

It is recommended that your room be kept at a cool temperature (18.3°C) to help you fall asleep. When you sleep, your body temperature naturally drops, so sleeping in a cool room will promote this response, helping you to fall asleep faster.

The cool temperature also counters the restlessness and discomfort you often experience when sleeping in a hot room.

Time your meals carefully

The current recommendation is that big meals should not be eaten too close to bedtime, but rather three to four hours prior.

Many studies have found that eating shortly before going to bed is linked to increased weight gain and less healthy biomarkers (cholesterol, sugar levels and more), which could be due to the slower metabolic and digestive reactions while you sleep.

There are, however nutritionists that say eating lighter, healthier foods close to bedtime won’t have a detrimental effect and that it might even be beneficial in boosting your metabolism. It may also assist those who experience uncomfortable morning hunger.

Get a move on

The value of exercise can never be overstated and the positive effect that exercise has on sleeping patterns are as strong as psychotherapy for the treatment of insomnia. Timing is very important, though as exercising in the evening might have the opposite effect.

Exercising earlier in the day has the added benefit of improving focus and your mood for the day ahead. In addition to this, exercise also brings cardiovascular health and an improved metabolism.

Vermaas says the most important themes when considering good sleep as a gamer, are consistency or routine and having a clear contrast between day and night. Giving your body the sleep it needs will reward you with physical and mental health, as well as longevity.