Video games and sleep loss

2nd December 2012 by Simon Kyle

Sleepio Research Bulletin

Video games affect sleep

Photo credit: Rebecca Pollard

It is well-known that video-gaming has increased markedly in recent years, particularly among children and teenagers. Playing video-games may disrupt sleep through a variety of routes – from increasing emotional and physiological arousal due to stimulating content, through to increased light exposure close to bedtime. Although several studies have established an association between disturbed sleep and electronic media use, there has been little work using controlled experimental designs to quantify the impact of video-game play on subsequent sleep, using objective and subjective measures.

To address this gap, Daniel King and colleagues from Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia, recruited 17 adolescents (average age=16 yrs) to sleep for two nights in the sleep laboratory. On one night, they played a violent video-game (on a PlayStation 3) for 50 minutes before retiring to bed and, on the other night, one week apart, they played the same video-game for 2.5 hrs prior to falling asleep. The order of video-game exposure (50 mins versus 2.5 hrs) was randomised so that some of the group experienced the 50 minute condition in the first week, whereas others experienced the 2.5hrs condition in the first week. Heart rate was recorded during both video-game play and sleep, to index physiological arousal. Ten minutes after completing the video-game, participants slept overnight in the sleep laboratory where polysomonography was conducted. On awakening, participants also completed a sleep diary to assess subjective perceptions of sleep quality.

The main results, published in the Journal of Sleep Research, showed that when participants were exposed to 2.5 hrs of video-game play prior to bed, subsequent objective sleep was shorter (by 27 minutes) and less efficient (more wake-time during the entire time-in-bed) compared to when they only played the video-game for 50 minutes.

Although objective measures did not suggest any differences with respect to time taken to fall asleep, participants reported taking longer to fall asleep and tended to rate sleep as poorer quality after prolonged video-game exposure. No differences were observed for heart rate between video-game exposure lengths.

The authors report that the reduction in sleep efficiency, by an average of 7%, is significant because it reflects impairment in sleep to a level considered clinically relevant, which may have implications for daytime functioning and possibly academic performance:

“Prolonged video-gaming before normal bedtime caused a clinically significant reduction in adolescent sleep time. It may be extrapolated that long-term or repeated prolonged video-gaming may produce cognitive deficits associated with chronic sleep reduction”

Do you play video games? Do you feel like they have an impact on your sleep?

Original study:
King, D. L., Gradisar, M., Drummond, A., Lovato, N., Wessel, J., Micic, G., Douglas, P. and Delfabbro, P. (2012), The impact of prolonged violent video-gaming on adolescent sleep: an experimental study. Journal of Sleep Research. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2869.2012.01060.x


  1. cod says:

    i cant sleep properly since black ops 2 came out…

  2. Anonymous reader says:

    Although I can see how this can happen, I don’t think it’s actually just related to video games. The same effect can be found in watching TV or reading a book. Even work has the same reaction.
    It’s common sense that if you do activities before going to sleep, your mind will remain active and you will have more trouble falling asleep.

    Also, “they played a violent video-game” makes this study a bit unclear. I’ve had several experiences with gaming, including not sleeping at all, having trouble to fall asleep, but I’ve also had experiences where the game would make me fall asleep(In an RPG). The effects of gaming can vary tremendously and although I know a lot of people play ‘violent’ video games(I’m assuming some shooter or fighter genre game), there’s enough players who play real time strategy games like Starcraft.

    So, although the study seems correct, there’s still room for more varied research and more details on the experiences the participants had.

  3. Jumangi Bookmore says:

    This is pure poppycock. All they proved was you can slant any questionairre quite easily. Method of measurement was bogus. They should have tested the participants with some kind of performance based testing. Just asking them some subjective question is always bogus research.

  4. grey says:

    look, The conlusion here is ridiculous.
    When playing a violent video game, you will see a rise in adrenaline. I’d be willing to bet that if you participate in any adrenaline-heightened activity for 2.5 hours and then go right to bed, you’ll see sleep loss.

    “Video games and sleep loss” what a crock.

  5. wh says:

    All excess non-physical activity will result with low quality sleep. It’s known for years.
    Solving crosswords for 2.5h prior to falling asleep will result in similar quality sleep.

  6. Martin says:

    In the height of my counter-strike days I used to fall asleep pretty quickly, but then I would have dreams about counter-strike, so that probably wasn’t healthy either. :P

  7. thomas says:

    There’s no theory of what’s going on here. It’s explanationless science.

    Also noteworthy is the phrase ‘violent videogame’. Videogames aren’t violent, any more than are stage plays. Some games *depict* violence, which isn’t the same thing. It’s probably less impactful psychologically than watching Shakespeare’s King Lear (in which somebody’s eye is pulled out). I can imagine that causing nightmares. Whereas in playing a computer game the mind is focussed on solving problems.

    There’s nothing unusual about tossing and turning in sleep after a period of thinking and problem solving. An important part of the learning process occurs during sleep.

  8. Menachen Began says:

    As suggested by another commenter, they should have tested cognitive performance and fine motor skills. For example, after a week of all-nighters playing Black Ops 2, have the trial subjects take on a control group of well rested subjects that never play video games and get plenty of sleep. The test regime for the comparison would be yet more Black Ops 2 – to see who’s better at it.

  9. Benjamin Kuch says:

    I’ve never experienced videogame (or other digital stimulation) related sleep problems until a few years ago.

    First of all, it very much depends on how late you go to bed and whether you have to get up next morning for school / work. So for myself, I’ve noticed if I keep playing until 1am or even later, there is a much higher chance of sleeping problems than if I stop before midnight. This does not apply to weekends, because the problems almost never occur when you know you can sleep in next morning.

    So as I said, I’ve only experienced it recently, although I have been a dedicated gamer for several decades; I’m speculating that problems are more likely to occur if you’re over 30.
    And when I say problems, I mean not just the prolonged amount of time it takes to fall asleep, I’m talking about a complete inability to fall asleep all night.

    Here’s my list of games to stay away from after hours:
    - Civilization / Starcraft and other strategy games, due to the multitasking / complexity / addictiveness (“just one more turn!”) and also on PC if you’re constantly scrolling around a map with a choppy framerate – it’s not helping either.
    - Call of Duty and other FPS; I had severe problems sleeping when playing through the earlier CoDs on Veteran difficulty. It’s not only the challenge, but also the fact you’re dying every 10 seconds (and I’m not a ‘noob’).
    - All sorts of Racing games; they require an extreme amount of attention and many times there is no room for error and it involves restarting the race a lot etc. which can be frustrating.

    Games that are OK for at night:
    - Skyrim, Fallout and similar RPG – they allow you to play at your own pace and have very relaxing music, as a matter of fact, half of the time you’re staring at loading screens with peaceful music :)
    - Assassin’s Creed, Grand Theft Auto and other sandbox games – the shortness of missions help with switching off the game at any time; for the majority of times these games involve unchallenging menial tasks / side quests / collectibles which surely won’t raise your adrenaline level much. Batman Arkham City / Asylum is great too, due to the fact that it is always night in those games! :)

  10. Glade Maer says:

    Yes, all gadgets with electro magnetic force must be turned off when
    going to sleep, as it will surely hamper or at least ruin someone’s
    sleep because of the magnetic force it emits.

  11. I’m 13 and I’ve been kicked out of school so I’m currently staying at home playing my xbox 360 constantly with little exercise because my parents are at work so ill just play some CoD. I’m in an awful situation at the moment, I sleep during day and I’m awake at night. I am currently writing this message at 5:44 uk time. Can someone just please give me some advice on what to do. I’ve tried having no sleep at night and staying up all day, and then going to bed at 7pm but its just not working I always fall asleep. It’s unbearable.

    • HelenaPi says:

      Hi Arthur, thanks for your comment – I’m afraid that advice contained in the Sleepio course might not be suitable for children under 16 years old, however the good news is that there is a great charity here in the UK that is solely focused on helping the young sleep better and they sometimes take questions via email too! I’ll link to their website below:
      I hope this helps!

  12. Raymond says:

    Really interesting – thanks for another informative post!

  13. Alex says:

    I recently had a problem when playing last of us on ps4. I played for two days until 1 am and 12:30 am respectively. The first night I could not fall asleep until 4 am properly, it was like being in state helf asleep half awake. I could see images from game, would wake up every half hour. And I needed to wake up 7 am to work. Was not good night or day, u know. Next day I played again because it’s very good game. But same thing happened. So I made conclusion that the game if played until you go to bed, body would still be In reactive state and wouldn’t allow you to sleep. Although it did happen with other games like skyrim and indie games . Though they were not so realistic and scary. I’m 23.

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