Pro Gamers and the Importance of Sleep
I know when I was younger, we all dreamed of being rockstars or football players, but never in our wildest dreams did we think that we could one day make a career playing video games. But, becoming an eSports athlete is fast becoming the number one career goal for many young players across the globe, and we’re definitely not jealous that we weren’t born just a few years later.
These professional gamers are living in specialist gaming houses, playing for hours upon hours each day, and earning some serious money in the process. But, while the popularity of the profession may be growing, many are soon discovering that it’s a lot more grueling becoming an eSports player than they ever imagined.
Just like with any specialized career, you need to have the inbuilt talent to make it to the top. It’s not an easy climb, so you need to have that fire to keep pushing on through the long nights, repetitive strain injuries, and losing game after game (after game). You’re also going to need some serious levels of dedication. The top pro gamers do nothing but practice day in, day out. While you might think this sounds like your idea of heaven, even the biggest game addicts among us can burn out over time.
As gamers, we’re not necessarily known for keeping ourselves in tip-top physical health, though. Sitting down all day playing video games doesn’t exactly lend itself to a healthy lifestyle. And, one area we almost always overlook is sleeping – and this could be doing more harm than we realize. Sleep affects our cognitive functions, reaction times, and the ability to process data – all things that make us better gamers. Even pro gamers need their eight hours every night.
A Day in the Life of a Pro Gamer
Being a pro gamer is much harder than most of us will ever understand. They spend hours each day running drills in their teams, practicing every scenario possible, then critiquing every move they make. It’s intense, but necessary if you want to be the best.
For some of the elite pro gamers, joining a team means moving into a gaming house. These houses have been specially designed to help these teams of eSports athletes train to the best of their abilities. They come complete with in-house chefs, personal gaming rigs, private bedrooms, and state of the art tech. But, they also come with their own strict set of rules. Daily practices involve the whole team, and meal times are set in stone. Most houses even have strict curfews and bedtimes to ensure their members are getting enough rest.
For gamers who are given the opportunity to live in a gaming house, the schedules are stricter than ever before. These daily schedules vary from house to house, but is an example of a typical day in the life of a pro gamer:
Typical Pro Gamer Daily Schedule
In the same way that traditional athletes will spend most of their day training in their chosen sport, pro gamers have to do the exact same thing. This means long days sitting in front of their computers, so you can bet they have top of the line gaming chairs, monitors and setups to make it as comfortable and effective as possible.
For those in a gaming house, their schedule is decided for them, and it means strict wake-up and bedtimes, as well as hours of practice and team meals. For example, over in the Cloud 9 Gaming-house, a typical day looks like this:
10:00 – Everyone wakes up and heads downstairs for breakfast. Cloud 9 has an in-house chef so they’re never left to go hungry.
11:00 – Practice begins. They run scrims followed by feedback sessions and will do this again and again until practice ends.
14:00 – The team gets an hour-long lunch break. Again, the in-house chef cooks up a storm, but the players aren’t obligated to eat it. Many of them prefer to order their favorite food instead.
15:00 – Practice resumes; more scrims, more feedback.
19:00 – Practice is officially over, although many of the players will use their free time playing other games, so really, they never get the chance to turn off.
02:00 – Bedtime. Cloud 9 is so determined to make sure their players go to bed on time, they even turn off the wi-fi in the house so that they have nothing to tempt them into staying up later.
This schedule applies every Tuesday – Sunday, so the players don’t get too much time off during the week to relax. This schedule will ramp up even further as they creep closer to big tournaments, making sure their skills are as sharp as possible for the competition.
Usually, pro players that are not living in a gaming house will end up playing for even longer. Without a team sponsorship behind them, they have to find a way to fund their careers, so many of them will stream for hours on Twitch in between their own practice. This means that many players are in front of their screens for 12+ hours each day. In fact, at least one professional gamer claims to have had a single gaming session lasting 80 hours before, which sounds so crazy, it’s probably true.
Having a strict curfew in gaming houses is helping to tackle one of the big problems for many gamers – getting enough sleep. A lack of sleep can lead to, among other things, longer reaction times; not ideal for a pro gamer. But, the stereotype of the gamer surviving off copious amounts of caffeine didn’t materialize out of thin air.
Sleep and eSports – Why is it Important?
As much as some of us might try and convince people otherwise, we simply cannot get by on less than six hours sleep a night. As humans, we have been physically hardwired to fall asleep sometime between 10 pm – 12 am, and wake up around 6 – 8 am; any deviation from this and we are going to suffer some form of repercussion according to Dr. Bornemann. So, those all-night gaming sessions you like to pull? They’ll be doing a lot more harm than good.
But, it’s not just the lack of sleep that’s affecting player’s ability to rack up those kills; disturbing the circadian rhythm of our bodies has also been shown to negatively impact mental and cognitive performance. And, the blue light that emanates from our monitors is going to play havoc with that.
The Power of Reaction Times
One of the most important skills for a pro gamer is insane reaction times. Without those, they have no chance of beating the competition. Getting a good night’s sleep is paramount in maintaining those reaction skills. Not only does sleep deprivation affect your ability to game, but it can also lead to issues such as heart disease, type two diabetes, and dementia.
There have been multiple studies on the impact of sleep deprivation on our reaction times, so you know it’s something you should be sitting up and taking notice of. But, what about those pro gamers we talked about? Surely, with all their practice hours, they’re going to be at least a little bit sleep deprived? Well, this is why so many gaming houses impose strict curfews and bedtimes on their players. Without these, their athletes would probably end up in a neverending gaming cycle without realizing how late it really is. When it comes to pro gamers, while their physical health may be trailing behind what it should be, their mental acuity is astonishing. In fact, their reaction times are comparable with some of the top pilots in the world – an insanely impressive feat.
Young, Developing Brains
It’s also important to remember that the majority of eSports professionals are in their teens or early twenties. At this age, their brains are still developing, which makes them much more susceptible to the harmful effects of lack of sleep. Our brains aren’t fully developed until we hit our mid-twenties, and with many pro-gamers falling under this age, sleep deprivation is a real issue.
It’s true that video games can do wonders to develop our fine motor skills and decision-making ability, but young gamers who are powering through until the early hours of the morning have been shown to exhibit the same kind of health problems as an average 50-year old.
Does Gaming Negatively Impact Sleep?
But what about the other side of the story? We’ve talked a lot about how sleep can impact gaming, but how can gaming impact sleep? There are hundreds of studies out there that disparage gaming as a career, or even as a hobby, because of the negative health implications it brings with it. As gamers, we tend to ignore these, as we all know that playing a few FPS games here and there won’t make us violent, in the same way that playing Stardew Valley won’t turn us all into farmers. But, there is some credit to the things they say.
One of the biggest sleep disruptors comes in the form of blue light. This blue light comes out of our cell phones, TVs, and PC monitors and messes up our circadian rhythm. The kind of light that gamers are exposed to suppresses our levels of melatonin, which confuses our body’s natural sleep pattern. Without taking breaks from the screens, we run the risk of having a terrible night’s sleep.
Of course, buying a monitor that has built-in technology to help reduce the amount of eye strain you suffer from, is one quick and easy way around this. Monitors like the BenQ EW3270U come with Brightness Intelligence + which automatically adjust the brightness of your screen to match your surroundings. It also has both flicker free and eye-care technology to help take some of the strain off your eyes.
Another way that gaming can negatively impact sleep for pro players is their general lack of physical activity and how that can disrupt their sleep patterns. We should all be trying to get at least 30 minutes of physical activity each day, without this we can have problems falling and staying asleep.
How to Combat These Effects
OK, so gaming can have a negative impact on your sleep, but it doesn’t have to. There are ways to get around this which still let you spend multiple hours practicing each day, without impacting your sleep quality.
The first, and most obvious, is to stick to a regular sleep schedule. Look, I know you want to watch just one more episode of [insert the current trending Netflix show here], but getting yourself to bed at the same time each night helps to make sure your sleep is working as hard for you as it possibly can.
Speaking of switching off the TV, getting a break from that blue light we mentioned earlier can be key to helping you fall asleep faster once you’re in bed. Aim for at least an hour of non-screen time right before bed for the best results.
Following on from this, keeping technology and screens out of the bedroom is also a common practice in many gaming houses. Removing the temptation and making the bedroom a sanctuary for sleeping can really make all the difference.
Pro Gamers are Athletes Too
While the rest of the world might be slow to catch up, we all understand just how grueling life as a pro gamer is. They’re athletes through and through. It’s a different sport, but they need exactly the same kind of mindset as professional football players do, and though the most common injuries will differ, the impact they have on the athlete’s careers is the same.
Just like football, colleges across the world are creating and running their own eSports teams now, with some even offering sports scholarships to the students they really want in their corner. With this kind of recognition at the college level, we’re hoping it won’t be long until pro gamers become recognized as the athletes they really are.
In the US, there are currently over 150 schools registered with the NACE (National Association of Collegiate eSports) that offer Varsity eSports teams, with some offering scholarships too. This organization has grown incredibly fast since launching back in 2016.
Common Gamer Injuries
While football players will be suffering from broken bones and hamstring strain, eSports athletes will be battling with eye strain, back and neck pain, and repetitive motion injuries. They’re also at risk of more serious conditions such as DVT (deep vein thrombosis) which can lead to a pulmonary embolism – a life-threatening issue.
Despite this, there are no professional bodies that are dedicated to maintaining the health of these athletes, yet. So, it all comes down to their coaches, and themselves. This means they have to find the easiest and most effective ways to keep these career-ending injuries at bay. And, sleep plays a huge part in that.
Good Mattress, GG
The key to getting a good night’s sleep is something that is so often overlooked – your mattress. It may seem odd that a gaming-focused website is talking about mattresses, but you’d be surprised how much of a difference a good mattress can make.
There are mattresses out there that are specifically designed to help with back pain (great if you’re sitting down all day and end up with aches, pains, and niggles across your back), as well as specialist orthopedic mattresses that can make sure your body has the chance to recover while you sleep. If you don’t have the money to splash out on a brand new mattress though because you used it to create the most powerful gaming PC you could, take a look at what kind of mattress toppers are out there that can help to improve your current sleeping setup in the interim.
As gamers, we’re not always known for being the most physically fit, and without getting out there and doing some kind of exercise each day, we’re putting ourselves at a disadvantage behind the screen as well. This doesn’t mean hours of powerlifting in a sweaty CrossFit box (unless that’s what you enjoy), it can simply mean a 30-minute walk each lunchtime, a game of IRL football here and there, or a few swimming sessions each week. Doing this kind of physical activity helps to keep our brains more alert, according to a study from 2014. It also keeps our brains younger for longer, helping to keep us on top of our game for longer too.
By cheating ourselves of a good night’s sleep, we’re putting a ceiling on how well we can perform while gaming. If the best of the best are being given strict curfews and putting sleep at the forefront of their training, then we should be doing the same.
Who knows, if we actually start getting our recommended eight hours a night, we might find ourselves bringing in millions of dollars as a pro gamer. Or, maybe we’ll just be able to stay alive long enough for a legendary loot drop. Either way, at least we might stop waking up covered in Cheetos and reaching for the Red Bull after another ill-fated all-nighter. I call that a win-win.