Practical Ways to Improve Your Sleep as an Esports Athlete
In my last blog we discussed three reasons why sleep is important for your esports performance. If you haven’t read that yet I’d definitely recommend giving it a read at some point to help you understand why sleep is important. (Click here)
In this blog however, we’re going to be concentrating on practical tips to improve your sleep. Sleep is incredibly important for your esports performance, and if you want to get an upper hand on your opponents then sleep is one of the easiest ways to do that.
But the real question is, has anyone ever taught you how to get better sleep?
Sleep is such a natural part of our lives that we assume we just fall asleep and that’s it, however this isn’t quite true. There are ways to improve your sleep that really do make a difference to the quality of sleep you’re experiencing. As esports is a predominantly cognitive-based sport1 and sleep is critical for optimal cognitive functioning2 then you’re going to be wanting to get the best quality sleep you can.
Risk Factors in Esports
A few common risk factors have been identified within esports that are associated with poor quality sleep that we should mention first. These factors decrease your quality and/or length of sleep and a quick understanding of them is essential to the overall picture:
- Caffeine use3: Energy drinks and coffee are rife within esports culture, and their use raises many different issues that need to be addressed. The effect of increased caffeine levels has been correlated with taking longer to get to sleep and decreased sleep efficiency4.
- Delayed sleep phases5: Due to late night training with some individual and team training sessions lasting well past midnight, this delayed sleep increases depressive symptoms and decreases cognitive performance6.
- Excessive blue light exposure7: We can’t escape the fact that esports are played on blue light-emitting screens, but we can’t hide that under the table and ignore it. Excessive and late night blue light exposure blocks melatonin release, which is one of the most important hormones involved in sleep onset8.
How Much Sleep is Enough?
I can imagine most blogs on sleep that you have read will say get between 7-9 hours sleep a night, and I’m not going to disagree with them. This is a standard and well-known piece of advice which has good scientific evidence backing it9.
However, I’ve noticed that not a lot of people know why you need that much or how to actually get that much sleep. And remember, it’s not just the length of sleep you get, but the quality of sleep as well.
So firstly, why should you get that much sleep? Well as discussed in the previous blog there are multiple cognitive performance benefits associated with sleep, and these benefits have a direct impact on your ability to perform in esports. With my background in professional sport, I’d recommend that as an esports athlete you should start to think like a professional athlete. And for a professional athlete sleep is one of the cornerstones of performance. There is a plethora of research surrounding sleep in professional sport and how it can impact performance, stress, mental health, mood, and injury10 and now it is time that esports athletes and teams also view sleep and rest with as much importance as their traditional sport counterparts. Specifically in esports, it has been found that lack of sleep increases depressive symptoms7 which is a major issue with professional, semi-pro and amateur gamers16.
Now that we’ve explored the why, let’s look into the how and at some practical tips to improve the quality of your sleep.
Practical Ways to Improve Your Sleep
Adding these practical tips will help you as an esports athlete get better sleep. It is important to note that everyone is different and that what may work for you might not work for someone else. It is good practice to have a sleep journal to record when you have had a good or bad night’s sleep, with this you can start to build a picture of what works for you. So, without further ado, here are 5 practical ways to improve your sleep as an esports athlete.
Morning Light Exposure
You may find it strange that we’ll start improving your sleep with waking up and light exposure, but this is a hugely important part of your circadian rhythm. Getting direct sunlight (even if it is cloudy) within the first hour of waking up for 10-30 minutes is essential for improved quality of sleep11. This is best done outside and not through a window. Melatonin, the hormone that regulates sleep, is suppressed with morning sun exposure12 and it helps to reset your body clock11 meaning that when you go to bed later in the day your body is working in its natural circadian rhythm.
If during the winter months you live in an area that doesn’t have sunlight in the morning then a high-quality SAD lamp can be used (at least a 10,000 lux lamp), but this shouldn’t substitute direct sunlight. Another good tip around this area is to have your desk facing a window, this allows you to be directly facing sunlight throughout the day.
What is Your Sleep Routine?
A sleep routine is a personal and bespoke routine you do before you fall asleep. It is mentioned a lot that you should have a consistent sleep time, say 11pm, however, with the nature of esports this can be sometimes unrealistic. A more practical approach you can use is a consistent sleep routine; what is it that you can do 30 minutes before sleep that can get you into a relaxed and sleep ready state.
These routines are bespoke to you and it would be good to test different elements to find what works best. Once you have it nailed you should practice it religiously before you go to bed to enhance the quality of your sleep. What is in your routine can also be flexible, but you should be engaging in relaxing, pleasant, non-productive activities (e.g., reading, taking a bath, stretching, etc). Sleep routines have been found to increase sleep quality13, 14.
Here’s an example of a 30-minute sleep routine:
30 minutes – say bye to whoever you just absolutely melted in-game and log-off, it would be best to also turn your phone on to not disturb.
25 minutes – brush teeth, go to the toilet, etc.
20 minutes – get into bed and journal for 10 minutes.
10 minutes – turn the lights off, practice a muscle relaxation technique.
0 minutes – relax, and let your body and mind sleep.
Anchor Your Wake-Up Time
As we noted in the sleep routines, and contrary to popular belief, the most effective way to stabilise your circadian rhythm is by anchoring your wake time rather than your bedtime14. The realities of esports means that you may not always be able to have a scheduled bedtime due to competitions, but having an anchored wake-up time maintains the balance of having a regular schedule.
Even if you have a bad night sleep it is important to regulate your wake-up time and more importantly not to press that snooze button! Get up, get that sunlight exposure we talked about in the first point and wait at least 60 minutes before you have any caffeine. Anchor that time and you’ll be reaping the benefits of improved quality sleep. If you’re struggling to get out of bed, a good tip is to count down from 3 in your head, and jump out of bed at 1.
Your Personal Sleeping Environment
Your personal sleeping environment has a large impact on your sleep. Too much noise or light and too high or low the temperature of your bedroom can have an impact on the quality of your sleep15.
Noise during the night increases your arousal levels, and even if you get used to the noise and it doesn’t wake you up it still increases brain activity15 which impacts your quality of sleep. Two interventions that you can use to reduce noise distractions and increase your quality of sleep are using sound-reducing (i.e., earplugs) and sound-masking (i.e., white noise machines)15 devices while you sleep.
Sleeping with a light on or having background light in the bedroom also increases arousal levels, as well as increasing stage 1 sleep and decreased slow-wave sleep both contributing to poorer sleep17. To address this issue you could consider installing blackout blinds (especially if you wake up later in the day when the sun has already risen, or if you live in a place with lots of light pollution) and making sure all lights are off in the bedroom.
The temperature, or thermal environment, of your bedroom, is one of the primary causes of sleep disturbance18. As sunlight impacts your circadian rhythm, so does your core body temperature and this is what we want to try and influence with our bedroom temperature. There have been multiple studies that contradict each other on the matter of air temperature in the bedroom due to different climates, however, a general rule of thumb within the UK is to keep the bedroom temperature 26 degrees or lower. With this it is also important to keep in mind air quality in the room, if you can leave a window open that doesn’t let in too much noise or outside pollution, then you can improve the air quality you sleep in, which has been found to increase sleep quality and performance the next day19.
Blue Light Glasses
Our final practical tip is one you may already do, and that is to wear blue light blocking glasses. Exposure to blue light before sleep delayed circadian timing and also decreases alertness the following day20. If you are training well into the evening then a pair of high-quality blue light blocking glasses can improve your sleep. When wearing glasses that were amber tinted and rated at blocking wavelengths <550nm there was a significant increase in sleep quality and mood compared to a group wearing glasses that were yellow-tinted and only blocked ultraviolet light21, so the type of glasses you choose is important. Again, wearing amber-tinted blue light blocking glasses has also been found to decrease the time of onset of sleep when there is a delayed sleep phase22, which we know is already asleep issue within gamers.
If you’re a manager of an Esports team there are also a couple of things that you can do to support your athletes. Firstly, running a quality sleep questionnaire for your athletes can help identify any issues that need to be addressed within the team. These can be used to support athletes in understanding their sleep quality and as a team manager you can understand what each person needs to promote their sleep.
Secondly, sleep hygiene education has been found to promote sleep quality in traditional sport athletes and esports athletes. Poor sleep knowledge can act as a perpetuating factor in sleep problems and educating your team on sleep is a fundamental way to increase wellbeing and performance.
So, there you have it folks, practical ways to increase the quality of your sleep that you can actually do! To recap:
- Get Morning Light Exposure
- Create a Sleep Routine
- Anchor Your Wake-Up Time
- Sort Out Your Personal Sleeping Environment
- Wear Blue Light Glasses
Some of these pointers may take more time to implement than others and remember that your sleep is personal to you, so use a sleep journal to start to build a better awareness of how you sleep. Sleep health is an important part of your overall wellbeing and performance for esports and hopefully, these tips will give you a better quality sleep, which will be advantageous for when you’re in the heat of playing! To learn why sleep is important for esports performance click here.
Written by Rob Davies
Rob is an Elite Athlete and eSports Wellbeing Coach with multiple years of experience coaching professional athletes around the world in strength and conditioning. He is now a qualified athlete wellbeing coach and training as a sports psychologist, he supports athletes holistically to manage the stressors of sport. Within eSports he uses his strength and conditioning, wellbeing, and sport psychology background to support eSports athletes on all physical and mental aspects to help them reach their performance goals and have a healthier lifestyle as they do it.
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