Over the last few years, competitive video gaming (or ‘esports’) has seen exceptional growth and interest globally. With over 191 million enthusiasts in 2017, this US$696 million industry is making major headway breaking into the mainstream sporting realm, with esports being set to appear as a demonstration event in the Asian Games in Jakarta later this year. More impressing is that esports is also currently ‘in talks’ to be included as a demonstration title in the 2024 Paris Olympic Games – a major feat for this massive emerging industry.
Despite this popularity, there are growing concerns for the long-term health of competitive gamers alike. Among these concerns are the health consequences associated with excessive and prolonged video gaming behavior, and their effects on sleep.
Sleep is important to restore and rejuvenate the body and mind, grow muscle, repair damaged tissue, regulate our hormones and process our thoughts and memories. Despite this importance, it seems that many people curtail sleep in favor of work, studies or social interests, and gamers are no different. Competitive gamers are often inclined to reduce sleep time to practice or play matches at night to maintain or improve their competitive status. This is usually the case as many gamers also have regular work or academic commitments during the daytime.
Mounting evidence suggests that video gaming may reduce the quantity and quality of sleep by affecting important stages of sleep, or making it harder to fall asleep or remain asleep. Long-term consequences of poor sleep such as increased risk of developing obesity, diabetes and insulin resistance are better understood, however, there is limited research exploring such long-term health effects of sleep in video gaming.
Given the fact that esports is a mental game, with huge load on major executive and elementary brain function, being well-rested could provide some competitive edge. There is notable evidence that individuals who are sleep deprived have worsened mental performance – particularly in processes critical to gaming, such as: attention, alertness, reaction, decision making and mental flexibility. Although research in this area is lacking, managing sleep as a means to preserve (or improve) gaming performance is at least a step in the right direction for those wanting to pursue gaming as a professional career.
Esports has achieved many milestones since its inception in the mid-2010s – including hosting some of the world’s largest (and most lucrative) competitive events, some of which had prize pools as much as $24.7 million. However, if esports is set on achieving global acceptance as a reputable form of competition, competitive gamers and esports athletes should take their sleep more seriously, just like elite athletes in many traditional sports do.
Do you know a gamer who may benefit from optimising their sleep? Then have them book a consultation with one of our expert sleep scientists at firstname.lastname@example.org
By Chadley Kemp, BMedSci(Hons)
SSISA Sleep Scientist