Does Pre-Bed Video Gaming Ruin Your Sleep?

Video gaming is something of a national pastime among teenagers in the United States. One survey found that nearly 75% of teenage boys participate in some form of gaming^1

With so many of our  kids playing video games as a principle form of recreation, and so many of the video games being highly action-oriented and even violent, it’s natural to wonder how this stimulation can impact sleep. 

How Video Gaming Changes Sleep

Multiple studies have considered the impact of video gaming before going to bed. 

One study ^2 published in the journal Pediatrics found that children who played video games spent less time in deep, restorative (slow-wave) sleep. At the same time, their sleep-onset latency (the time it took them to fall asleep) increased. By contrast, just watching TV without interacting didn’t affect sleep patterns. 

A study ^3 from the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine observed the effects of pre-bedtime video game playing versus DVD watching on thirteen teenage boys. The data revealed that sleep-onset latency was greater and self-reported sleepiness was lower after video game playing than after watching a movie (learn more about sleep-onset latency and other sleep study terms here). However, the amount of time the teens spent in deep sleep did not significantly change for the two conditions. Overall, the study included that video game playing slightly reduced sleep quality. 

The amount of time that children spend playing a computer game is also significant. In another study ^4, teenage boys participated in either 50 or 150 minutes of gaming. Prolonged gaming reduced total sleep time by nearly half an hour and increased sleep latency and sleep efficiency.

Together, these studies seem to demonstrate that gaming before bed–especially excessive gaming–can moderately decrease sleep quality by lengthening the time it takes to fall asleep, decreasing time spent asleep, and reducing the amount of deep-stage sleep. However, these studies were short-term and had a small sample size. To really observe the effects of daily gaming on adolescent sleep, a long-term, large scale study would have to compare the sleep patterns of chronic gamers versus non-gamers. 

 

Video games increase the temptation to stay up late

Video games can introduce further sleep problems when teens spend time gaming instead of sleeping, leading to reduced sleep time. During adolescence, teens are biologically programmed to want to stay up late and wake up late; they are natural “night owls” ^5! Thus, excessive video playing in the evening provides an opportunity for teenagers to put off going to bed until late at night.

This is especially important because the second study referenced above found that teenagers are likely to report feeling less sleepy after video game playing. Therefore, nighttime gaming actually compounds the issue of delayed bedtime, keeping teens up until late at night.

 

A double whammy: artificial light

One of the things all these studies had in common was comparing video game playing to another form of electronic use. But using electronics at all can have a negative effect on sleep. The blue light emitted by electronic devices like phones, TVs, and computer screens interferes with sleep. This wavelength suppresses melatonin (the hormone that helps to regulate our circadian rhythm) more vigorously than other wavelengths. Many of the new energy efficient light sources (like those light bulbs you’re supposed to buy) including our favorite electronic devices (smartphones, tablets, TVs), produce high concentrations of this light.

Ideally, electronic consumption should be limited prior to going to bed. Overall, we recommend not playing video games (or using any electronics) for an hour before going to bed and following a regular sleep schedule. Save the video games for waking hours! 

Are you concerned that you or a loved one may have a sleep disorder? Take this daytime sleepiness quiz to find out if you’re at increased risk.

Sleepiness quiz

 

Sources: 

1) Rani A. Desai, PhD, MPH, et al. “Video-Gaming Among High School Students: Health Correlates, Gender Differences, and Problematic Gaming.” Pediatrics.
2) Dworak, Markus et al. “Impact of Singular Excessive Computer Game and Television Exposure on Sleep Patterns and Memory Performance of School-aged Children.” Pediatrics.
3) Weaver, Edward et al. “The Effect of Presleep Video-Game Playing on Adolescent Sleep.” Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.
4) King, Daniel L. et al. “The impact of prolonged violent video-gaming on adolescent sleep: an experimental study.” Journal of Sleep Research.
5) Crowley, Stephanie J. et al. “Sleep, circadian rhythms, and delayed phase in adolescence.” Sleep Medicine.

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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in July 2015 and has been edited and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

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