My Complicated Relationship With Sleep As A Gamer

I can tell you exactly when it all started — two years ago, on a December night, at the behest of an online pal who was surprised that I'd never stayed up all night before. That was the night that I ruined whatever semblance of a normal sleeping schedule I had before, instead adopting something that includes a number of power naps.

I don't have a particular set number of hours when it comes to sleeping — sometimes it's a few naps, sometimes a couple, sometimes I do actually manage to sleep like normal people do. Technically, I err toward something called polyphasic sleep, or "the practice of sleeping multiple times in a 24-hour period" according to Wikipedia. Mike Fahey and our own Mark Serrels have had similarly strange sleeping schedules previously.

Judging from my own personal experience — friends, people online at any given hour on social media, and opponents on games — I have a feeling me and Fahey not alone when it comes to a complicated relationship with sleeping. Part of it, as I understand it, comes from how much time I spend in front of a screen, which is to say, having a good relationship with sleep is something that many gamers might have trouble with.

Lifehacker reports that people who stare at backlight screens before bedtime testify to "lower-quality sleep even when they get as much sleep as non-pre-bedtime screenheads." Artificial light before bed can increase alertness and decrease melatonin, which is a hormone that is supposed to promote sleep. And those of us with more sedentary lifestyles — which gaming, office jobs or spending a lot of time at the computer can sometimes promote — sometimes don't get enough exercise to get good sleep either.

Those of us who like to game well into the night or are hooked on our computers may have trouble sleeping, or getting good enough sleep.

This is to say, those of us who like to game well into the night or are hooked on our computers may have trouble sleeping or getting good enough sleep. The amount of sleep you need varies: we often hear eight, but people might do fine with 6.5-7.5 hours. It depends, and it sounds like the best thing to do is to test out whatever feels best for you.

But as a gamer or techie, there's a lot of factors that might influence how much you sleep on any given day. Like, what if you're playing an addictive game? Something that makes you lose track of time? You might find yourself playing well into the night, regardless of what responsibilities you may have the next day. Such is sometimes the case with Kotaku's Tina Amini.

I have an addictive personality when it comes to first-person shooters. I know this, and yet I used to start rounds of L4D at 9pm knowing that the rounds last super long and I'll have to wake up at 7am the next day, but screw it.

And almost every round ends with me thinking, "I can do better." There I go, re-loading a new lobby or joining a new server just to sink into yet another lengthy session of adrenaline-building.

Mixing an addictive game, which makes you lose track of time, with bright screens, which naturally make us stay up longer, may not be such a great idea if you're supposed to be winding down and sleeping. I know that all I have to do is pick up a controller when I'm a little tired and hop into an intense match of, say, Halo and I can feel the adrenaline start to pump.

I don't feel as alert when playing handheld games in bed — like many folks here at Kotaku sometimes do — but they still don't help me get to sleep. They just mentally prime me to stop thinking of my bed as "this is where I sleep," which isn't helped by my laptop, either.

Technically the best thing that can help all of this is to buck up and to try to change habits: to wind down before sleep, to cut out the screen-time, to exercise more, to stop eating high-sugar things before bed (if not eat better, period!) to make sure to sleep well.

But if it were that easy, I'm sure some of us wouldn't have a complicated relationship with sleep in the first place!

Perhaps there are games to help you wind down? Tina has her own take on what games are good:

A game like ilomilo or Journey or Stacking or Portal (or whatever else honestly) would probably be better suited to before-sleeps gaming, but I don't choose what game I play when I get home from work. My heart does. I'll look at a box and immediately know whether I want to play it or not. Like how I let my stomach make my decisions for me when looking at a menu, it's very much the same.

Games that are less "exciting" in the traditional sense of the word go down easier than something that begs every ounce of your energy and attention. Easier than games that speak to your competitive drive. Easier than games that burn the memory of zombies in my brain so much so that I'll dream of killing zombies. Seriously, I used to have so many Left 4 Dead dreams. So many.

Personally, a slower game — like a turn-based game — will make it easier for me to get sleepy. Even so, I'm kind of interested in improving my sleep. Not by taking up better hours or anything. Lord, I've tried, but I keep reverting back to this fucked up sleep schedule and I honestly think I'm more of a night owl anyway.

But there are other ways to improve your sleep. Check it out:

How to Need Less Sleep by Getting Better Sleep Every Night

Many of us struggle to get enough sleep every night, but is the sleep we get any good? While it's important to get enough sleep, better sleep is a greater ally than more hours of sleep. More »

Top 10 Tricks for Getting Better Sleep

For something we spend half our life doing, a lot of us are pretty awful at sleeping. Here are our top 10 tips for falling asleep faster, getting quality rest, and waking up easier in the morning. More »

True to form, I'm the most interested in the technology options. Predictable!

I'm curious though: what is your relationship with sleep like? Does tech or gaming influence it in any way? Are you going to try to improve your sleeping?


    is there a way of deleting your post?

    Last edited 18/01/13 3:17 pm

    No games after 8:30 on a 'school night'. Otherwise I have a massively broken sleep, followed by a crappy day.

    Well, personally I've gotten into the habit of forcing myself to go to bed 8 hours before I need to get up. And not only that, but I save my TV shows for the last hour before that time, so that I at least wind down rather than go to bed directly after gaming.

    I remember back in my World of Warcraft days - Not only was I going to bed late, I'd be completely wired from our raid sessions and it would take another hour or two lying in bed before my mind stopped whirling and I'd be able to fall asleep. I miss raiding to some extent, but I certainly don't miss the side effects.

    As someone who has suffered from insomnia, please please please don't fuck with your sleep patterns. You take it for granted while you have it, bu lying in bed awake until 5am every day for a month is literally a waking nightmare. And sleep deprivation is no joke, your moods will change, your reactions track more closely to a drunk person than a sober one. Seriously guys, get the seven hours minimum a night.

      This is my dilemma. I took last year off so when I slept didn't matter. Uni starts in a month and I'm still only getting to sleep at 5-6am and waking up past midday. It's not a problem now, but it will be soon if I can't get to sleep earlier.

      I've had insomnia for years, seen many doctors, and I still can't get to sleep earlier if I try.

        That's less insomnia and more just a shit sleeping pattern. You're actually getting sleep just not when you want to.

        Pull an all-nighter without caffeine. Pick the time you want to sleep (say 10pm). Under no circumstances think about sleep, sleeping patterns or anything related to it. Stay off your bed and don't watch television on or near it if you happen too. Shower well before bed time and force yourself out of bed at the time you want to. Read a book (dictionary) if you have trouble sleeping or feel 'too tired to sleep'. Exercising before bed will not help you.*

        This broke my similar sleeping issue. But I was tired as hell all the time for weeks afterwards.

        * Not a doctor. Just a guy that's been there. See my reply to OP for sleeping pills that might help. Stuff from supermarkets are worthless IMO. They just made me throw up.

      As another insomniac, I can vouch for the sleeping patterns.

      I did a full week of labour work on one hour of sleep a night (roughly, give or take a half hour). By the end of it, I had seemingly permanent 'brain freeze', only without the sudden shock of onset (gradually coming it's not painful, but it's hard to live when you literally can't think).

      After the initial insomnia had me so worn out I literally passed out, I ended up with broken sleep. Waking every hour or so. Again not cool.

      Doctors tend to prescribe "tam-as-e-pan" (auto-correct can't find it and I lack time to find it, sorry) for it. Which worked but is highly addictive. Another uncool thing.

      Pharmacy gave me 'restavit' which isn't an opiate. I haven't taken it yet, but I've heard nothing but good things.

      Insomnia sucks kids. That last round isn't worth it. Maybe as a teen when you can recover. But mid-twenties is a recipy for disaster.

    5 hours of sleep a night (give or take) and I play games to whatever hour I goddamn please ;) Of course, I do live on a careful balance of protein, caffeine and vitamin B...

    Honestly the only game that has ever caused me trouble sleeping was the Sims 3 when i used to have 8 hour sessions, and that was more because it took over my dreams with thoughts of expanding my house...
    I'm generally in front of a monitor of some description for the majority of time between 9 a.m and 11 p.m either course work, work, or gaming, and i usually go to sleep around 1 a.m (4 out of 7 nights).
    Does it effect my sleep not really but that may be because i generally have an hour or two of cool down time before sleep where i either watch tv (depending on whats on) or read a book.

    I linked a friend this article and we were talking about it according to them, If you seriously want to get back to a semi regular sleep pattern, set a time that you will turn everything off and try to go to sleep at that time, eventually it will become a routine.

      "set a time that you will turn everything off and try to go to sleep at that time, eventually it will become a routine" - this is what I do. I set 9.30pm - 10.30pm as my 'switching off' period, where I will pick a convenient save point or whatever and then turn off. I think setting a strict time limit might be more difficult because certain games can be difficult to just switch off at short notice.

    My sleep can be around 9 hours to around 5 each night, usually leaning towards less on weekends or when I get caught up in games (over the past 10+ years) I think I'm fairly used to the fallout of lack of sleep when it happens, so it doesn't bother me to much.

    "I have a feeling me and Fahey not alone" - someone's sleep deprived ;-)

    As a general rule, I try and stop playing at around 11 and then try and avoid mentally or creatively stimulating things after that, usually unsuccessfully. For various reasons I've always been very bad at managing sleep, though games sometimes help exhaust or distract the mental faculties so they aren't keeping me awake at night. The article pretty much summed up all the things doctors have told me, though it doesn't always help.

    Just rub one out.

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now