07 Feb How to Get Your Best Sleep: Sleep and Gaming Performance, Part 3
Welcome to the last piece in a 3-part series on sleep and gaming performance! In this article, we’ll be going over how to improve your sleep habits for better health and better performance.
Let’s start off with a quick recap of the previous articles in this series, where we introduced the basics of sleep physiology and how sleep affects performance:
- Your Circadian rhythm is the approximately 24 hour cycle of awake/asleep, and a full sleep cycle takes about 90-120 minutes
- Light, caffeine, alcohol, time zone changes, and exercise can all alter your Circadian rhythm
- There are 4 phases of sleep, all of which correspond with different types of brainwaves and different types of benefits to your physical and cognitive function.
- Lack of sleep decreases your ability to regulate cortisol, leading to increased stress, and decreases your ability to filter information and encode it in long-term memory
- Adequate sleep results in improved memory and attention, improved stress regulation, and increased reaction time and speed.
So how can you best set yourself up to get all these benefits of sleep and avoid the pitfalls of a lack of it? Let’s start with some routines you can implement at night and in the morning.
1HP Sleep Tip #1: Turn off your screens 30-90 minutes before you go to bed.
In the first article in this series, we mentioned melatonin and its role in sleep. Normally, melatonin levels are lowest during the day, increase as exposure to light decreases, peak in the middle of the night, and begin to decrease in the hours leading up to waking.
Normally, that cycle depends on exposure to natural light–sunlight. But other, artificial light sources can also affect melatonin cycle timing. If you’re staring at a bright screen until right before you close your eyes, you’ve been inhibiting your melatonin production. Low melatonin levels lead to increased time to fall asleep and decreased sleep duration. Every time you hop back on your phone because you’re having trouble falling asleep, you’re prolonging that interval until melatonin can be produced. You’ll get longer, easier, better-quality sleep if you turn screens–phones, TVs, computers–off at least 30 minutes and preferably 90 minutes before you go to sleep.
1HP Sleep Tip #2: Make a Routine
Light isn’t the only external cue that tells our bodies “it’s time to sleep” or “it’s time to wake up”. Routines, patterns, and habits can also be used to wake up or wind down.
There isn’t one single right way to do an evening or a morning routine. The most important component is consistency. When possible, you should aim to fall asleep and wake up at roughly the same time. (Of course, that’s not always possible in esports, but we’ll get into how to have consistency when your day varies significantly a little further down in this piece.)
A morning routine like Apple CEO Tim Cook’s probably isn’t sustainable for most people: wake at 4 AM, spend an hour reading user comments and answering emails, then exercise for an hour before heading into work. (And honestly, spending the first hour of your day on your phone or computer doing work really isn’t the best way to start your day relaxed and ready.)
Your morning routine should absolutely involve these three things, and everything else is optional:
- Get sunlight (or, if you’re awake before the sun is, use a sun lamp like this or this)
- Get moving
- Get water
Sunlight ties back into that melatonin cycle we just talked about and helps set your circadian rhythm. Exercise plays a similar role in wakefulness and energy-boosting. Your exercise doesn’t have to be an hour of running; it can be something as simple as a 10 minute walk or 5 minutes of stretching.
Research shows that as little as 10 minutes of aerobic exercise during the day significantly improves sleep quality. Just don’t do it too close to bedtime, or it can have the opposite effect.
Some additional things you might consider for your morning routine, depending on your goals and interests:
- Meditation, either on your own or with an app like Headspace
- Reading, either a book or a newspaper
- Listening to music/podcasts
Your evening routine can be similarly simple. The three essentials for your evening routine should be:
- Get your space ready
- Relax your mind
- Relax your body
These three essentials are part of “sleep hygiene”, which is a term you’ve probably seen floating around on 1HP. Sleep hygiene refers to both your internal and external environment in the period of time leading up to sleep. Research shows that a cooler room temperature (60-67 degrees F, or 15.5-19.5 C), decreased light exposure close to bedtime, and a consistent, calming routine contribute to improved sleep duration and quality.
Some potential components of an evening routine include:
- A warm shower
You might have similar items in your morning routine and evening routine, but with different goals. For example, I journal when I wake up and when I go to bed. My morning journal is 3 bullet points of things that I’m thankful for or looking forward to, while my evening journal consists of a reflection on the day, processing things that happened, and letting my emotions out.
Again, the most important part is that you’re consistent. This should be a routine that you can do whether you’re at home or traveling. It doesn’t need fancy gadgets or tracking tools. It should be simple, easy, and specific to you and your goals.
1HP Sleep Tip #3: Get Consistent Exercise
There are plenty of reasons to get consistent exercise: better immune function, increased focus/attention/alertness, improved learning and memory, long-term protection against degenerative conditions like dementia, better strength and endurance, etc. “Better sleep” also belongs on that list.
Not only can regular exercise increase sleep quantity, it also affects sleep quality. Physical activity increases time spent in deep sleep, those NREM phases where memory encoding, tissue repair, and immune recovery occur. Regular exercise also reduces stress and anxiety, both psychologically and physiologically. Stress plays a significant role in sleep disruption, but regular exercise–whether aerobic or resistance training–has consistently been shown to improve sleep quality and act as a buffer against the negative health effects of stress. Aerobic exercise in particular may, over time, help reduce insomnia symptoms.
It’s important to be clear that exercise at any time of the day–except close to bedtime–will help with sleep. However, depending on your overall health and performance goals, your ideal timing for exercise will vary.
- Morning exercise is shown to be the most effective at improving deep sleep
- Afternoon/early evening exercise will occur during the periods of best coordination, fastest reaction time, and greatest cardiovascular efficiency/muscle strength in a standard circadian rhythm
- If you want to improve flexibility, you should exercise when your body temperature is highest (about 3 hours after waking)
Regardless of optimal timing, regular, consistent exercise will improve sleep duration and quality. Find something that you enjoy enough to continue doing. Beyond your standard running, walking, and weightlifting, some other options include:
- Rock climbing
- Fitness classes–spin, barre, BodyPump, etc.
You can also break up your exercise into smaller segments, rather than doing one big chunk. 3 10-minute exercise sessions, spread throughout the day, can be as effective as one 30-minute session for improved sleep and overall health.
1HP Sleep Tip #3: Pay attention to your nutrition and hydration.
In general, you want to eat a healthy, well-rounded diet. But particularly when it comes to sleep, foods that are rich in B vitamins like fish, poultry, eggs, dairy, and meat should be on your menu. B vitamins help to regulate melatonin production.
There are oral (pill) forms of melatonin supplementation available over-the-counter. For some people, melatonin supplements can help with sleep quality and duration the same way the melatonin you produce naturally does. In the words of Ina Garten (although in a very different context): “If you can’t make your own, store-bought is fine.”
If you’re going to use melatonin supplements, make sure you have a solid 7-8 hours available to sleep. Otherwise, you’re likely to wake up feeling groggy.
The quality and quantity of both your sleep and hydration affect your gameplay as well as your health–especially your risk of dealing with headaches. Many of the beverages we reach for in a given day contain caffeine, which can actually help with headaches–and performance–in appropriate doses. However, too much caffeine can act as a diuretic, causing you to become dehydrated, and can also impair your sleep quality.
Recently, we shared our hydration tier list. While caffeinated drinks can be part of healthy, balanced hydration, your last caffeinated beverage should be 4-6 hours before your bedtime. Otherwise, it can delay your ability to fall asleep and result in decreased sleep quality.
That being said, caffeine can obviously be helpful when you’re trying to be awake. Depending on coffee or tea to wake you up in the morning isn’t a great idea, but there’s nothing wrong with caffeine as part of your morning or daily routine. Just make sure you balance it out with other, non-caffeinated beverages as well.
1HP Sleep Tip #4: Put it all together for travel
There’s a lot you can’t control when you travel, especially in esports. Flight delays, visa issues, time zone changes, and tournament schedules are all well out of your control. It’s important to control the controllables–your habits and routines.
Those routines can help you adjust to new time zones. If you land at 9 PM local time, but your body thinks it’s 5 PM, doing your evening wind-down routine can help you fall asleep more easily in at a time that fits your new time zone and schedule. It’s not an instantaneous fix, but using that consistent evening routine will improve how quickly you fall asleep and the quality of your sleep. Pair that with your morning routine to help you wake up, and you’re well on your way to matching your circadian rhythm to your new time zone.
Don’t forget that you can use food as well as light/darkness to help reset your schedule. If you usually eat lunch at noon, eat lunch at noon in your new time zone.
With the additional stress that travel causes, it can be harder to stick to routines. Consistency over time makes it easier to remain consistent with your routines, both when you’re at home and when you’re travelling.
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