Sleep Hygiene for Gamers

By Haylesh Patel, Esports Exercise Physiologist - UCI Esports

What is sleep hygiene?

Sleep hygiene is basically setting yourself up for success with sleep by establishing a safe and comfortable sleeping environment and also crafting your own specific bedtime/nighttime routine to help you get the best sleep possible.

Why is sleep hygiene important?

Feeling well resting and recharged in the morning sets us up for success throughout the day. Impaired sleep has a wide range of negative effects upon the body.

The Sleep foundation has a great intro article on sleep hygiene. Link to website: https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/sleep-hygiene

What happens when I don’t sleep well?

We talked about this in a previous post but here is quick recap of some key effects of sleep deprivation:

  • Decreased reaction time and alertness
  • Impaired memory and learning
  • Lack of concentration
  • Weakened immune function
  • Higher motor vehicle crash rate
  • Higher risk of depression and anxiety
  • Impaired glucose control
  • Weight gain
  • Increased grumpiness

Poor sleep impairs our thought process, how we think, how we feel and how we execute complex physical and cognitive tasks (such as gaming).

Why do I feel sleepy at the end of the day?

To answer this question, we need to get a bit nerdy:

Sleep and sleepiness are dictated mainly by two mechanisms, our bodies circadian rhythm and the buildup of specific molecules in our body throughout the day.

Our body requires energy to perform any activities throughout the day.  This energy is provided primarily by glucose, which is then broken down into adenosine triphosphate (ATP) during molecular activities.  Cells in the body use ATP as fuel during its normal functions and convert ATP to adenosine diphosphate (ADP).  Adenosine accumulates as a byproduct of this process and accumulates throughout the day.  This process also happens in all cells in the body, including the brain.  As we use our brain for complex tasks/problems and activities (like gaming) throughout the day it consumes more and more energy and accumulates more and more adenosine, which makes us feel sleepy.

Secondarily, our body's natural internal clock (circadian rhythm) also regulates our sleep wake cycle through its effect upon the secretion of various hormones which includes melatonin.  Sunlight exposure inhibits the release of melatonin within our body and conversely, when the sun goes down, melatonin secretion increases.  These two processes combined make us feel sleepy toward the evening.

Here is a tl;dr

  • When you wake up in the morning you are feeling refreshed (hopefully)
  • Toxins build up in brain throughout the day
  • Adenosine accumulates throughout the day, causing us to feel sleepy
  • Onset of sleepiness is also triggered by your body’s biological clock (circadian rhythm)
  • Melatonin increases towards evening (peaks around 9pm)
  • During sleep, both levels of adenosine and melatonin are reduced in the body
  • Then we wake up in the morning again feeling refreshed and ready for the day

Creating a sleep action plan

Athletes who sleep better, perform better. We all know the feeling when we have not had enough sleep and are struggling the next day. We feel slow, not motivated, it is harder to get things done, we generally just feel VERY AVERAGE.

Where should I start?

When do you want/need to wake up? Work back from there to determine your bedtime BUT also, importantly, allocate time to fall asleep.  The National Sleep Foundation says that 73% of people take around 30 minutes to actually fall asleep once they are in bed.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends the following of sleep durations for different age ranges:

  • 6 to 12 years old: 9 - 12 hours per 24 hours
  • 13 to 18 years old: 8 - 10 hours per 24 hours
  • Adults: 7 - 9 hours’ sleep per 24 hours

Good sleep starts with a good bed-time routine. A good bed-time routine should include most of following points:

  • Performing the same winding down activities every night
  • Creating a successful sleeping environment (cool, dark, and comfortable)
  • Going to bed at the same time EVERY night (including weekends)
  • Reducing/eliminating blue light exposure at night from phones, tablets, computer screens, indoor lights (30-60 minutes before bed)

Monitoring your sleep is also a good way to learn more about your own sleeping habits and see where you have opportunities for improvement.  There are many smartphone apps available online, also a range of smart devices that record sleep, or you could just write it down on a piece of paper. Whatever the methods of measurement, it is all about being consistent and recording your sleeping trends over a period of time.  Personally, I like to compare my own sleep between weeks then over months to see overall habits and trends.

Winding down activities

It is best to experiment with different evening activities to find ones that you enjoy and will help you get into the mood for sleeping. These activities can be anything and everything that does not involve using electronic devices (we want to avoid blue light exposure). Make sure the activity is not too simulating, as we are trying to wind down and prepare our mind and body for sleep. Example activities include brushing teeth, stretching, meditation, breathing exercises, writing in a journal, reading a book, listening to calming music, cleaning up, getting clothes/gear ready for the next day. Pick one, two or a few things to do and commit to doing them every night before bed.

In my example sleep action plan, once 10pm rolls the winding down routine begins. Dim the lights in the house, set the alarm for the next day and plug the phone in to charge. Then head off to brush teeth, followed by some light reading of an enjoyable book and then some breathing/meditation exercises before getting into bed for the night.

What about naps?  

There is potential for naps to be very useful in helping us recover or catch up from sleep debt or sleep disturbances.  Naps have been shown to improve components of our memory.  Naps should only be 30 minutes in total duration, otherwise they can influence our sleep inertia, making it harder for us to fall asleep later towards the evening when we should be.

In summary, when it comes down to it, consistency is the key to successful sleep.  Have a regular, consistent sleep/walk time throughout the week. Set up a cozy and comfortable sleeping environment. Make a plan that you enjoy and look forward to performing every night. Your body and mind will thank you for it.

Additional resources and reading:

  1. 10 tips for a better night’s sleep [National Sleep Foundation] https://www.thensf.org/sleep-tips/

  2. Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep

https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Understanding-sleep#:~:text=Sleep%20is%20important%20to%20a,up%20while%20you%20are%20awake.

  1. Research article: Sleep-Wake Sensitive Mechanisms of Adenosine Release in the Basal Forebrain of Rodents: An In Vitro Study

https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0053814#:~:text=As%20adenosine%20release%20is%20activity,9%5D%2C%20%5B70%5D.

  1. The brain from top to bottom

https://thebrain.mcgill.ca/flash/a/a_11/a_11_m/a_11_m_cyc/a_11_m_cyc.html