Video games are a hugely popular global hobby, with an estimated 3 billion people regularly playing games as an active hobby. While video games can be a great way to relax and unwind, they can also interfere with sleep patterns if used at night.
The interactive nature of video games makes them addictive, as the player always seeks the next reward for upskilling and practice. Many people also use video games to socialize online, which makes it easy to lose track of time and stay up far later than planned.
As video games rely on a screen, playing games prolonged blue light exposure. This light delays sleep onset, making it harder to doze off immediately after a late-night gaming session.
Some arguments have been made that video games inspire nightmares, as the frustration of needing to end a session earlier than hoped or vibrant images projected onto the screen can keep the mind active.
If you enjoy video games, it’s best to end any play session at least an hour before attempting to sleep. This provides the body and brain with enough time to relax and recover from what is frequently a high-intensity, interactive experience.
Can Playing Video Games Cause Sleep Problems?
Video games have never been more popular, with the industry now among the most valuable arms of entertainment worldwide. Unfortunately, as per the Journal of Sleep Research, playing video games at night is frequently linked to poor sleep quality.
It’s important to understand why video games are bad for sleep, or you’ll feel your hobby is being stigmatized for no good reason. There are four fundamental reasons why, when staying up late playing video games, consequences inevitably follow:
Playing video games frequently leads to insomnia, whether by accident or design. First, you may not get enough sleep as you are up late.
We all know sleep’s importance, so why do gamers stay up all night?
We need to establish that it’s not just video game enthusiasts that can lose sleep to their hobby. Some people stay up because they’re hooked on a TV show and must watch one more episode or can’t put down a book or other hobby.
The addictive nature of video games has recently entered scientific thinking. According to the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, “gaming disorder” – a compulsion to play video games at the expense of critical life tasks – is now considered a mental disorder.
Perhaps more than any other medium, video games inspire addiction as they reward the player. The further you get into a video game, the more interactive and enjoyable the experience will likely become. This makes it easy to lose track of time.
Video games in the 21st Century are also an increasingly social activity, providing the ability to play alongside friends and strangers worldwide. For some gamers, playing isn’t any different from sitting in a bar or living room talking and trading stories.
As video games are so interactive, they also engage the mind and body. Unlike more passive activities, your brain won’t start to shut down mid-game. Many people fall asleep watching a movie, but few doze off in the middle of a game.
This means that your mind will be active, and your fingers likely itchy for a long while after you have switched off your game. That will play directly into our next concern, that of sleep hygiene.
Poor Sleep Hygiene
Sleep hygiene is the belief that humans sleep best when sticking to a set nocturnal routine, retiring to bed at the same time each night. If you’re playing a video game, this may become challenging.
Another way that video games interfere with sleep hygiene is by releasing blue light from TV screens, monitors, tablets, and cell phones. The Journal of Psychiatric Research confirms that blue light exposure can delay sleep.
Best sleep hygiene practice dictates that you spend at least an hour before bed away from screens, allowing your eyes and brain to relax.
If you lose track of time playing games late at night, this may not be a realistic option.
“Sleep debt,” as explained by Sleep and Biological Rhythms, is the accumulation of days or weeks of lost sleep. This debt will steadily rise if you attempt to function on four hours of sleep per night.
Consequences of sleep debt over time can include:
- Irritability during waking hours.
- Lack of cognitive function, including forgetfulness, inability to absorb information, and “brain fog.”
- Weakened immunity makes you more susceptible to common colds and respiratory infections.
- Increased blood pressure.
- Heightened risk of obesity and associated concerns, including heart disease and diabetes.
Staying up late to finish a video game once isn’t necessarily a concern because you can catch up on that sleep debt over a weekend. Regularly failing to rest has repercussions that become more apparent.
If you manage to doze off after playing video games long into the evening, you may find yourself tossing and turning, your sleep disturbed by bad dreams. Can video games cause nightmares?
We need to understand the cause of nightmares. Some experts claim that nightmares are caused by frustration in waking life. If you went to bed angry about failing to beat a video game, this could play into this theory.
A video game’s content may inspire nightmares because some people have bad dreams after watching scary movies or reading horror novels. If you play frightening video games late at night, scary images or jump scares may be at the front and center of your mind.
These images can carry over to your dreams. This is even likelier with games than movies or books, as the nature of gaming forces you to empathize with the plight of a protagonist rather than passively watching or reading about events on a page or screen.
A counter-argument published by Emotions, Technology, and Digital Games claims that playing scary video games can prevent nightmares. This study claims that horror games help the human mind rehearse frightening or violent scenarios, reducing anxiety.
Only you will know if video gaming causes positive or negative dreams. Consider keeping a dream journal and noting what unfolds in your subconscious at night, and see if you can correlate this with your video game hobby.
How To Sleep After Playing Video Games
There are ways to enjoy a good night of restful sleep after video gaming, including:
Being realistic, the easiest way to sleep well after a night of gaming is to retain the best practice with sleep hygiene. That involves wrapping up your gaming at least an hour before bed and taking the time to unwind in other ways before you attempt to sleep.
This will take discipline and may not come naturally, especially if you play games online. It can be hard to walk away from a play session, most notably a cooperative game where your teammates will suffer if you leave before them. You’ll need to be strong.
Set a schedule for evening gaming, and make it clear to anybody who needs to know that you’ll be leaving at a particular time. Set the alarm to remind yourself that you need to allow 30 minutes.
If you don’t trust yourself to switch off at a set time, place your internet router or gaming system on a timed plug. If you have no power or online connectivity, you’ll have no choice but to walk away.
Choose Your Game Carefully
If playing games is the only way to relax at night, consider the game you play before bed. Prioritize high-intensity games earlier in the evening, and start to wind down with something more sedate.
Instead of a game that relies heavily on hand-eye coordination and detailed plotting, try a light-hearted puzzle game or even an open-world game that allows you to indulge in gentle side quests. Something like Animal Crossing or Minecraft is safer than Call of Duty.
Be aware that moving to your cellphone or tablet is no better than playing games on a TV screen or monitor through a console or PC. Smartphones and tablets still emit blue light, so even if the pace of a mobile game is sedate, your sleep may remain disturbed.
It’s arguably better to continue playing games in a separate room because this will at least afford some opportunity to practice sleep hygiene. If you play mobile games in bed, you’re likelier to keep going until you can no longer keep your eyes open.
Use a Blue Light Blocker
Another way to continue playing games at night with limited sleep disturbance, though not necessarily an approach to recommend, is to get a blue light blocker. This will theoretically reduce the impact of blue light on your ability to sleep.
If you play video games online, you can install a blue light blocker on a computer, smartphone, or tablet. You can purchase blue light-blocking glasses with specialist lenses if you play through a TV set.
Chronobiology International confirms that such lenses can help rectify the impact of using a screen at night and enhance the ability to sleep afterward. Remember that this will not help you maintain effective sleep hygiene, so you’ll still need to make lifestyle changes.
Countless people use video games as a form of escapism to relax at night, and if you take the appropriate precautions, there is nothing wrong with this. Take the time to educate yourself about the risks of gaming late at night, and endeavor to end your session early enough to get an effective night of slumber.