The importance of sleep for esports players
Hundreds of millions of players worldwide are engaged in casual and competitive gaming daily. Player earnings from sponsorships are on the rise and the attention that esports has received in recent months has increased. With the current Covid-19 pandemic where mainstream sports decreased, we have seen an increase in the engagement of esports that allows for socialisation and social distancing.
It is reported that esports players may dedicate as much as 14 hours per day to practices and matches. This has led to the integration of wellness programmes to prolong player performance and career longevity – and an essential element in this wellness mix is sleep. Dr Janesh Ganda, a sports doctor, sheds light on the importance of sleep for esports players.
Sleep is an essential bodily function that frequently does not get sufficient attention. Some authors consider the three pillars of health to be: diet, exercise/ training and sleep. Olympic athletes typically get less than the traditional 8-hour recommendation of sleep per night, and are reported to sleep between 6.5 – 6.8 hours per night.
Traditional sports typically involve a combination of physical and cognitive abilities. Esports, however, is more reliant on cognitive abilities.
South African Multi Gaming Organisation (MGO), Goliath Gaming, who is home to some of South Africa’s top esports players, places great importance on the physical and mental wellbeing of their players. The team has a mental coach and a yoga instructor, and notes that when players take care of their physical and mental wellbeing, there is a direct impact on their cognitive abilities.
Negative impact of sleep restriction
Esports players are required to have intact visuo-motor and information processing speeds. Players are required to make quick motor movements in response to rapidly changing information from multiple human players and the environment. They are required to process visual information and respond with fine motor movements of their on screen avatar, which then requires precise movement of the small muscles of their hands.
Sleep restriction has been well documented to decrease reaction times, processing speeds and slower processing of visual information. This leads to impaired visuo-motor performance and effectively “slows down” the esports athlete, putting them at a competitive disadvantage.
Two additional key cognitive processes are attention and working memory. Attention is required for sustained periods, as competitive games could go for upwards of 40 minutes. Selective attention is required to remain focused on the in-game elements and to reduce the impact of out-of-game distractions (spectator noise in an arena, as one example). Working memory is then required to manage goals both in the short-term and the long-term (e.g. sticking to a predefined battle plan). Sleep restriction has been shown to reduce performance decrements in selective and sustained information, as well as working memory.
The resultant errors due to sleep restriction on reduced reaction times and decreased processing speeds; brief attentional lapses and impaired tactical awareness can be the difference between success and failure in esports, particularly at the professional gaming level.
Positive effects of sleep extension
Sleep extension refers to increasing sleep duration, and can be achieved by supplementing a night of sleep with a nap, or prolonging the nights’ sleep. In studies done on traditional athletes, it was noted that sleep extension improves sprint times, tennis serve accuracy, swim sprint and basketball shooting accuracy.
Cognitive performance also improved, ranging from reaction times, psychomotor vigilance tasks, alertness, vigor and mood. Rikus ‘ZipZip’ Klue, Counter Strike player for Goliath Gaming, affirms that a good night sleep makes a positive difference on in-game performance. This is due to the reduction of errors resulting from a lapse of attention and reduced processing times.
Top tips for esports players to get better sleep
- Healthy sleep hygiene refers to healthy sleep practices that can be trained to improve sleep, and incorporating this into your daily routine and practice regime can make the world of difference.
- As far as you can, try and stick to a regular bedtime routine to help you relax and prepare your body for bed
- Prepare your sleeping environment to ensure it is optimised to provide the best possible sleep. Making sure your bedroom is quiet, as dark as possible, and a little on the cooler side, rather than warm, will make a big difference
- Avoid alcohol right before bed
- Avoid high intensity exercise right before bed to avoid cortisol spikes which impairs sleep.