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Before the start of the 2018-2019 hockey season, the Vancouver Canucks knew they needed to make some changes. After a second straight year ranking among the worst teams in the NHL, the rebuilding franchise and their roster full of young players agreed to curb a disruptive behaviour.
Curfews and other self-disciplinary measures are nothing new in professional sports. But this restriction made headlines across the country.
Their decision: to ban Fortnite.
If you aren’t one of the over 125 million people already playing the popular online game, chances are you know people who do. The multi-platform game is now a worldwide phenomenon. With colourful landscapes, interactive abilities, and whimsical characters, a few minutes of Fortnite can quickly escalate into a big time sink.
Fortnite: A Brief Overview
Fortnite is an online multiplayer franchise created by Epic Games in 2017. It can be played on most modern gaming systems and computers, as a single player or in cooperative mode with friends. Though the game itself is free, players can pay to unlock additional characters, outfits, or abilities.
In Fortnite: Battle Royale, the most popular version of the growing franchise, each round drops 100 players onto an island setting and pits them against each other in winner-takes-all melees. Characters race around the map to find weapons and traps to take out their opponents. The last player or team left standing is the winner. Rounds typically last up to 20 minutes.
There is a healthy and ongoing debate regarding the impact that gaming can have on our lives and sleep habits. The news is not all doom and gloom. Some studies have shown that the games may help us develop executive, literary, logic, and even social skills. Evidence continues to mount in this regard, especially about the cognitive benefits of such games.
However, the impact of gaming on sleep paints a more troubling picture.
How much sleep do I need?
Different age groups require different amounts of sleep, with adults needing between seven to nine hours a night on average. Anything less may lead to one or many adverse symptoms.
Short-term sleep deprivation increases the likelihood of a number of undesirable conditions, including:
- Drowsiness or fatigue
- Difficulty forming memories
- Decreased performance in cognitive tasks
- Mood disorders such as increased irritability, depression, or anxiety
If not getting enough sleep becomes a long-term habit, the results can become much more serious. Chronic sleep deprivation is linked with increases in the following conditions:
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
For seniors, this nightly recommended sleep total drops slightly. But children, teenagers, and adolescents all need more sleep on average than adults.
The National Sleep Foundation summarizes how much sleep people across different age groups need to function properly:
Table 1: Recommended Amount of Sleep by Age Group
|Age Group||Recommended Amount of Sleep per Night|
|Source: National Sleep Foundation (2015)|
Video Games & Sleep: What does the research tell us?
Video games aren’t the only thing that can disturb sleep patterns. But they involve some of the most common offenders. (Related: 5 Causes for Losing Sleep & What to Do About Them)
Two of the more commonly cited ways gaming hampers sleep are by increasing light exposure close to bedtime, and also by boosting emotional and physiological stimulation just as the body should be settling down for the night.
Although several highly cited studies have recognized an association between sleep disturbances and the use of electronic devices, there has been less research conducted with the express purpose of quantifying the impact of gaming on ensuing sleep.
Nevertheless, one recent study found that gamers will routinely sacrifice or delay sleep in order to continue gaming. On its own, this news is unlikely to surprise most gamers. The statistics themselves, however, should cause greater concern. Results indicate that gamers typically postponed going to bed on roughly one out of every three evenings in which they played video games. For context, the average frequency of video game playing was 4.6 nights per week. But how much of a delay are we talking about here? The median delay in bedtime on the nights spent gaming was around 101 minutes.
Put simply, the typical gamer was delaying bedtime by nearly two hours at least once per week.
The above-mentioned study was led by Brandy M. Roane, Ph.D. She is an assistant professor at the University of North Texas Health Science Center and director of the UNTHSC Sleep Research Lab.
The study comprised online surveys from exactly 963 gamers. The subjects all resided in the United States (average age: 28.7 years) and had played video games at least on time during the previous week.
It should also be noted that playing video games late at night may also disrupt the nighttime rise in melatonin, a hormone that is crucial to regulation sleep and wakefulness. The brightness of computer, smartphone, and television screens can keep melatonin suppressed by producing the same reaction in the brain as early morning sunlight.
What is Melatonin?
Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone that your brain secretes to regulate sleep and wakefulness. It enables you to maintain your sleep-wake cycle, sometimes referred to as your circadian rhythm. The sleep-wake cycle occurs in all humans, though its intervals vary between age groups. Typically, this consists of an average of eight hours of nighttime sleep and 16 hours of daytime wakefulness. You can also purchase melatonin as a dietary supplement over the counter without a prescription in Canada and the U.S.
- Related: The Science of Our Circadian Rhythm
The melatonin that our bodies produce naturally is called endogenous melatonin. Its levels increase each day in response to darkness, peaking between 11 p.m. and 3 a.m. During the night, melatonin levels are around 10 times higher than they are in the daytime. Levels will drop sharply before daylight and are scarcely detectable during the day. The rise and fall in endogenous melatonin levels signal wake and sleep times, known as our circadian rhythm.
Reduced periods of melatonin production tend to occur around the summer solstice when early mornings and late sunsets are the norm. The longer periods of darkness in the winter have the opposite effect. Exposure to light at night (like from televisions or smartphones) prevents the production of melatonin and can cause major sleep disturbances. Melatonin production also decreases gradually with age, which can exacerbate the impact of insomnia and early awakening common in seniors and older adults.
Do violent video games like Fortnite make matters worse?
Though Fortnite’s violence is far less graphic than most other games in its category, there is research about how exposure to such forms of media affects the sleep patterns of minors.
Violent movies, television shows, and video games appear to contribute to sleep problems, regardless of whether the gaming is done during the day or at night. Around 37 percent of children under the age of 18 who were exposed to over an hour of violent media per day had some degree of difficulty sleeping, compared to just 19 percent of those who watched under an hour or none at all.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents strictly limit their children’s pre-bedtime use of electronic devices and video games, and refrain from putting televisions or computers in children’s rooms. This information is based on a study they performed that demonstrated sleep problems were especially noticeable among kids with TVs in their bedroom, who regularly watched about 15 minutes more per evening TV than their peers.