Trading Sleep for Game Time? Prepare To Roll With Disadvantage

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This month’s Take This Org article comes from Lida Turner, MD; a graduate of the University of Washington Medical School who practices general psychiatry in the Seattle-area.  To find more articles like this and learn more about the organization, head over to Take This Org.

Do you ever find yourself staying up later than you wanted to sneak in a few more rounds of a game or keep a tabletop session running longer? Lately for me, it’s been one more shrine and one more Korok. If those extra rounds (or Koroks) are coming out of the hours you should be sleeping, they might cost more than you realize.  Studies show that getting adequate sleep in both quality and quantity is imperative for overall health, both physically and mentally, as well as learning and consolidating memories. What does sleep deprivation do to us? And what happens when we use caffeine, supplements, or drugs to keep us alert and awake?

Before we can talk about sleep deprivation, let’s look at what’s healthy when it comes to sleep. Throughout our lives, the amount of recommended sleep we need changes. For example, babies and kids need 10-18 hours of sleep a day. As a teen, 9-10 hours is usual, and adults about 7-8 hours a night is recommended. These hours also depend on quality of sleep. You may get enough hours, but if the quality is poor, you won’t feel rested. There are a variety of reasons why sleep quality might be low, like being sick, dealing with obstructive sleep apnea (not breathing when sleeping), or waking up to take care of a baby or a pet. This might increase the amount of sleep you need overall in order to feel rested.

Not getting good sleep for a night here and there isn’t the end of the world, but consistently not sleeping well can cause problems. Studies have shown that getting even 2 hours less than recommended leads to worse thought processing, worse mood, worse memory, and worse functioning overall. Imagine what those deficits could be doing to your game performance or creativity, never mind the rest of your life. Even after recovery sleep (like when we sleep in on the weekends), these issues may still be a problem. Oddly enough, many people don’t realize they are sleep deficient, or they know they didn’t get enough sleep but feel they can operate as normal even in that state. This has been shown not to be so, and there are serious health risks. Chronic sleep deprivation increases your risk of obesity, developing diabetes, and heart problems to name a few.

What happens when we add caffeine to the mix to help us stay up? Caffeine at low to moderate dosing – like a cup of coffee or tea, or one serving of energy drink – is an excellent natural supplement for short term improvement in alertness, vigilance, and reaction time, however, there is less consistent improvement in memory and things like decision making. In other words, it will keep you in the game, but good luck if you need to strategize or make snap decisions. Caffeine can make you feel more alert for a short period, but you’re still suffering from all the consequences of sleep deprivation.

The source of caffeine is also an important factor to think about. Drinking multiple energy drinks or soda (vs black coffee or tea) also increases your sugar and calorie intake. This increases likelihood of weight gain and obesity, which in turn increases risk of things like diabetes, heart problems – just like sleep deprivation. Double whammy. As with most substances that affect your brain, caffeine can cause tolerance (needing more and more for the same effect) and withdrawal problems. Caffeine withdrawal can include headaches, marked fatigue or drowsiness, dysphoric mood, depressed mood, irritability, difficulty concentrating, and even flu-like symptoms. To avoid tolerance and withdrawal, it’s important to take breaks from caffeine, and not overdo it on any given day.

What’s the moral of the story? Get the recommended amount of sleep, and go easy on the caffeine. For better health, work on your sleep habits. If you’re a gamer or work with screens, one particularly important sleep hygiene step is decreasing screen time prior to bed. Our brains can’t always tell that we’re tired until we unplug. The blue light from screens, even cell phones, can trick your brain to think it is daytime when it should be getting the signal to fall asleep. Another step is cutting off caffeine and alcohol earlier before bed. Again, some people have no problem falling asleep when they drink a cup of coffee right before bed, but for most of us, it will impact our sleep. Alcohol isn’t any better. It may be a downer, but when it wears off it can wake you right back up.

Most of us cheat the clock from time to time, but there’s always a cost. If a few extra hours at your desk or in a game mean sacrificing performance, mood and health, are they worth it? I’ve had to take a few steps for myself, like setting a time to unplug (literally using an alarm on my phone), leave the Switch in its dock, and cut off the caffeine until morning. Maybe for you, sleeping well means giving tabletop night a strict cut-off. Your body and mind will thank you in the morning, and who knows? The rest of your gaming group might see the benefits, too.

For more in-depth and helpful information about sleep deprivation: check out this link.

For more information on sleep hygiene: check out this link.

Lida Turner, MD is a psychiatry contributor to Take This Project. She is a graduate of the University of Washington Medical School and practices general psychiatry in the Seattle-area. In her spare time, she is an avid hiker, ruthless Settlers of Catan player, and admits to being “obsessed” with Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts.

Take This is an informational organization. The resources we provide are for informational purposes only, and should not be used to replace the specialized training and professional judgment of a health care or mental health care professional. For more information about these resources, please visit our website.

Feature Image Credit: Pixelbay


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