Reasons Why Sleep is Important for Esports Athletes

Posted by Rob Davies January 3, 2022 in Esports

Reasons Why Sleep is Important for Esports Athletes

Introduction

Sleep is always stated to be one of the most important factors in performance and recovery in all aspects of life. Good sleep is well known to be a positive contributor to physical health, mental health, increased wellbeing and overall vitality1. While within professional sport lack of sleep is associated with higher injury rates, lower physical performance, lower neurocognitive function, and poorer physical health2.

These impacts of lack of sleep cross over into the realm of esports, where a culture of grinding late into the night permeates the professional and semi-professional player base. Many esports athletes now have a 24/7 online life that revolves around worldwide online competitions, training matches, building brand awareness, and travelling to LAN tournaments.

However, given that esports is a cognitive-based activity, and that sleep is well known to be critical for optimal cognitive functioning3, it is still shocking that most esports athletes and teams don’t prioritise high-quality sleep to increase performance.

In this blog, we’ll look at a few reasons why sleep is important for esports performance and how lack of sleep can have a negative impact on your performance. From this, we will be writing another blog giving you practical tips on how to create a sleeping environment that increases your sleep quality.

Sleep, Cognitive Functioning, and esports Performance

Esports is a unique sporting event where performance is heavily reliant on cognitive abilities and fine motor skills4. This reliance on cognitive functions means that high-quality sleep is essential and is a key determinant of an esports athlete’s performance, given that cognitive deficits are common following lack of sleep.

Three key areas that are important for the performance of esports athletes are visuomotor performance, attention, and working memory4. These areas are all cognitive-based and are all drastically impacted by poor sleep. Let’s go a little deeper into each key area.

Visuomotor Performance

Simply put, visuomotor performance is when vision and movement work together to produce actions. esports athletes need to make quick fine motor movements involving precise manipulation of the smaller muscles in the hands (on a controller, keyboard, or mouse) in response to rapidly changing visual information on the screen as they play. In other words, you need to be able to process information quickly and efficiently from the screen and then respond appropriately with precise movements of your hands on whichever controller you are using.

So how does poor sleep negatively impact this process and so affect your esports performance?

  1. It decreases your reaction time which is key to responding quickly to events during the game.4
  2. It reduces processing speed, meaning that you will be slower at processing vital information (such as sound cues or in game text cues) during the game and might miss key moments.4
  3. And lack of good sleep also slows down your processing of visual information, meaning that you will be less likely to process quickly and accurately what you are seeing on the screen and how to respond to it.4

All these factors together lead to impaired visuomotor performance meaning that poor quality sleep essentially slows you down, putting you at a competitive disadvantage in the fast-paced world of esports.

Attention

Depending on the type of game you are playing your attention may need to last for a few very focused minutes or over a sustained period of time, with some games lasting longer than 40 minutes. Therefore, effectively sustaining your attention is a key component of esports performance. Within traditional sports, attention or concentration sometimes morphs into the ability to reach the “flow state” where the athlete is in optimal performance and in total absorption in the task at hand5. There hasn’t (currently) been any research on flow states in esports, however, this is a feeling that you may have experienced before.

Attention is also important to reduce distractions during games and being able to recover concentration after a distraction6. There are many different ways to train attention and concentration that can increase esports performance which we will be explore in a future blog.

esports athletes need to be able to maintain focus on important in-game aspects and also be able to employ efficient selective attention strategies. Your selective attention is needed to be able to focus on both relevant in-game elements and to decrease the impact of out-of-game environmental distractions. This need of sustained and selective attention is crucial for esports performance4. And as you’ve probably guessed by now, lack of or poor sleep negatively impacts your ability to use sustained and selective attention, decreasing your performance7.

Working Memory

Working memory is the ability to hold small amounts of information in your mind and then use them for cognitive tasks. In esports, working memory has been found to have a specific positive effect for strategy and FPS games8. esports athletes also need to use their working memory to be able to build mental models of their opponents, then quickly determining and responding to opposition tactics and gameplan. Your working memory is also needed to effectively manage short-term gaming goals (retreat so I don’t die) and long-term gaming strategies (being able to remember the predefined team battle plan).

Poor quality sleep and lack of sleep have been associated with deductions of working memory performance7 while good sleep has been found to accelerate improvements in working memory performance9. If you’re playing with a team and have been getting poor quality sleep, you may be playing with impaired tactical awareness due to a lower functioning working memory. This may mean the difference between winning or losing a close match.

Conclusion

There are many other health related issues that are associated with poor quality of sleep10. A big one currently in esports is mental health, and poor sleep has been associated with higher mental health issues and a decrease in overall wellbeing10.

However, when you look deeper at the impact of poor sleep you can find many areas that are directly affected by it. As esports is a highly cognitive based sport sleep can have an even greater impact on your performance. The three highly important cognitive functions of visuomotor performance, attention, and working memory can be significantly disrupted by poor sleep and so it is essential that as an esports athlete you get good quality sleep and for professional esports Teams to prioritise sleep.

In the next blog I’ll be giving you practical tips on how to improve the quality of your sleep. These won’t just be the typical “get 7-9 hours sleep” and “reduce your caffeine” (though those are very important) but we will be looking at how to you can implement practical and evidence-based techniques to improve the quality of your sleep and so increase the performance of your game.

Written by Rob Davies

Website: https://www.altaperformancepsychology.com/
Twitter: @Robs_Davies92
Instagram: @AltaPerformancePsychology

Rob is an Elite Athlete and esports Wellbeing Coach with multiple years of experience coaching professional athletes around the world in strength and conditioning. He is now a qualified athlete wellbeing coach and training as a sports psychologist, he supports athletes holistically to manage the stressors of sport. Within esports he uses his strength and conditioning, wellbeing, and sport psychology background to support esports athletes on all physical and mental aspects to help them reach their performance goals and have a healthier lifestyle as they do it.

References

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  2. Venter, R. E. (2012). Role of sleep in performance and recovery of athletes: a review article. South African Journal for Research in Sport, Physical Education and Recreation34(1), 167-184.
  3. Fullagar, H. H., Skorski, S., Duffield, R., Hammes, D., Coutts, A. J., & Meyer, T. (2015). Sleep and athletic performance: the effects of sleep loss on exercise performance, and physiological and cognitive responses to exercise. Sports medicine45(2), 161-186.
  4. Bonnar, D., Castine, B., Kakoschke, N., & Sharp, G. (2019). Sleep and performance in Eathletes: for the win!. Sleep health5(6), 647-650.
  5. Harmison, R. J. (2006). Peak performance in sport: Identifying ideal performance states and developing athletes’ psychological skills. Professional psychology: Research and practice37(3), 233.
  6. Moran, A. (2008). Attention in sport. In Advances in applied sport psychology(pp. 205-230). Routledge.
  7. Lowe, C. J., Safati, A., & Hall, P. A. (2017). The neurocognitive consequences of sleep restriction: a meta-analytic review. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews80, 586-604.
  8. Pedraza-Ramirez, I., Musculus, L., Raab, M., & Laborde, S. (2020). Setting the scientific stage for esports psychology: A systematic review. International Review of Sport and Exercise Psychology13(1), 319-352.
  9. Ferrarelli, F., Kaskie, R., Laxminarayan, S., Ramakrishnan, S., Reifman, J., & Germain, A. (2019). An increase in sleep slow waves predicts better working memory performance in healthy individuals. NeuroImage191, 1-9.
  10. Dinges, D. F., Pack, F., Williams, K., Gillen, K. A., Powell, J. W., Ott, G. E., … & Pack, A. I. (1997). Cumulative sleepiness, mood disturbance, and psychomotor vigilance performance decrements during a week of sleep restricted to 4–5 hours per night. Sleep20(4), 267-277.