Alaska Sleep Education Center

Prolonged Video Gaming and Impact on Sleep Patterns in Adults

Posted by Daniel Witman on Aug 27, 2020 2:57:00 AM

Portrait of a smiling man playing video games in his living room

When video games first appeared on the scene, the concept of being a gamer was mainly associated with being ‘nerdy’. There used to be a lot of stigma against gamers with the primary target audience for the video games market being tech-savvy yet slightly socially awkward teens. Today, however, everything has changed.

Long gone are the days of video games being a leisure activity for geeky teens only. Nowadays, gaming is enjoyed by people of all social groups regardless of their background or age. You do not necessarily have to be a school kid to spend hours playing at the computer or console. In fact, there is data to suggest that the most devoted fans of video gaming who constitute the most significant portion of Xbox and PlayStation customers are adults aged from 25 to 34 years old. What is even more exciting is that women account for roughly 40% of the video games audience. So, the video games market is genuinely vast and incredibly inclusive. 

However, with such high exposure to video gaming, a whole array of questions arises. Is it safe to be spending all that time in front of a screen? Does it have any adverse effects? What kind of impact does it have on the mental and physical health of gamers? These and many other questions of this kind have been circulating around the internet and other channels of communication for a while now.

It is not surprising to see all this public concern since, really, there is some scientific evidence to suggest that excessive video gaming could have negative consequences on both mental and physical well-being of the avid gamers. However, it does not mean that you need to straightaway blacklist video gaming as an activity. Alongside the facts banish prolonged gaming; there is also research that claims the benefits of dosed gaming. The secret is, everything is right in moderation! 

One of the most controversial parts of the effects of video gaming on humans discussion is how prolonged sessions of video gaming affect sleep patterns in adults. Some argue that excessive video gaming can result in sleep deprivations and lead to a significant decrease in general health. In contrast, others do not draw any parallels between gaming and sleep habits. As usual, the truth is somewhere at the mid-point! 

Does Prolonged Video Gaming Have Adverse Effects on Sleep Patterns in Adults?

Most of the currently available research on the topic of prolonged video gaming and sleep patterns is aimed at children and teenagers. The reason for that is because those are the age group most likely to be playing video games in an excessive manner. However, it turns out it is not entirely true. Adults are equally as likely to be staying up all night to play video games as teens. In fact, they are more prone to be affected by pulling all-nighters to finish a session of CS:GO or Dota since there is not a mum to come turn the lights off for them. 

First of all, it is important to understand the difference between video gaming and other forms of media entertainment available to us in the 21st century. While watching TV or films is a very passive form of leisure that does not require much action (nor, realistically speaking, mental involvement), video gaming is closer to looking through social media. Tapping the screen, scrolling down the feed and writing comments - all of it requires continuous engagement from your side, and, subsequently, keeps your brains stimulated. Even more so, with video games. If you are particularly fond of active video games, you leave your mind tensed. This can lead to some negative consequences when it comes to sleep patterns.  

Research suggests that gamers are likely to have trouble falling asleep. In the course of an experiment, it was established that those who played video games for 150 minutes or more at night experienced a delay in falling asleep of 39 minutes. On top of that, there was also a loss of 27 minutes in total sleep loss during the night with a drop on the amount of time spent in the REM (rapid eye movement) stage of sleep. While this does not sound like a lot, when we project these findings onto the gamer realities, it becomes apparent that due to the accumulative effect, over time, this drop becomes more and more significant. 

Video Games and Lucid Dreaming

Another question that needs to be settled down in the course of this article is the correlation between video gaming and lucid dreaming. While lucid dreaming is not necessarily considered to be a factor that constitutes sleep patterns but rather just a category adjacent to it, it is still worth mentioning in this article.

But first, what are lucid dreams? Lucid dreams are a type of dreams where the person experiencing those is aware of the fact that they are dreaming. In other words, people who have lucid dreams understand that they are currently in hibernation, and may even take some control over the plot, the narrative or other compartments of the dream. 

What do gamers have to do with those? It turns out, avid video gamers are more likely to experience lucid dreams and overall have better control over the work of their subconscious. Thee is research to suggest that people who regularly play video games before their bedtime tend to experience lucid dreams a couple of times more frequently than those who do not. This can be explained with the fact that video games are a form of an alternate reality in the same way dreams are. According to Jayne Gackenbach, a psychologist at Grant MacEwan University in Canada, "Gamers are used to controlling their game environments, so that can translate into dreams." 

Besides, being a hardcore gamer could also have some seriously positive effects on the contents of your dreams. In fact, Jayne Gackenbach believes that people who indulge in video gaming a lot tend to experience fewer nightmares. While it does not necessarily mean that gamers simply do not have occasional scary scenarios taking place in their dreams, there is a noticeable difference in the attitude to the latter between gamers and non-gamers. A regular person is likely to wake up in cold sweat and experience an unpleasant encounter in their sleep, whilst a gamer would come up with an alternative solution to overcome a frightening situation or fight against a monster just like they would in a video game. This explains a fewer number of cases of nightmare disorder among gamers. 

Overall, there is a theory that suggests people who play video games normally have less aggressive dreams than those who do not. While it might seem a little be counter logical considering a large part of modern video games portray violence or aggression in one way or another, but it is true. One of the best explanations of this phenomena is offered by a Finnish psychologist Antti Revonsuo’s. She suggests that “threat simulation” is one of the fundamental forms of dreaming. This means people use dreams to confront threatening situations from real life in their dreams and resolve the inner conflict that way. However, those individuals who have a different plane for conflict resolutions - video games - are lucky to have the dream space free to be filled up with more delightful and engaging scenarios. 


The Bottom Line

The truth is that prolonged gaming can have both adverse and relatively positive effects on sleep patterns. While it does not do much good to the length of sleep and, therefore, reduces the quality of sleep over time, it helps a lot with the contents of dreams. Gamers are more likely to have nicer, more adventurous and overall pleasant dreams than their peers who do not play video games. 

Hence, it can be concluded that the best approach to the matter is controlling the time you spend gaming and drawing out a healthy gaming schedule that would not harm your sleeping routine. Everything is good in moderation. For instance, you could indulge in Dota 2 betting during the daytime but then choose a more passive activity for the near bedtime period. 

Evidence is mounting that the screen time/sleep deprivation correlation might affect children and teenagers even more than adults. The latest study comes from a high school junior who won the 2013 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair for her research that discovered that adolescents who partook in more than 3.5 hours of screen time a day were more likely to suffer sleep deprivation than those with only two hours of screen time.

So what should you do to reduce the effects of screen time at night to possibly stave off sleep deprivation? Reducing the brightness of your device can help, as well as using amber-colored glasses when watching a screen after the sun goes down. But the obvious answer is to resist watching too much TV or using your smartphone in the hour or two before bedtime. Find some other way to wind down, including reading a book—not on your tablet, but the 20th century way with pages and a bookmark. Not turning on your television or laptop right before bed will give your brain a rest, in more ways than one.

If you think it may be more than too much tv or computer time, contact Alaska Sleep Clinic for a free 10 minute phone consulation.

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