Researchers: Playing video games before bedtime doesn't keep you up all night

I remember when I was a kid playing the NES and I’d always play until about nine or ten at night and then go to bed and read until 2AM or so. While you could feasibly correlate the fact that playing games kept me up – my grandma always did and she said I’d always get too “excited” when I played SMB or something else equally thrilling – apparently there is no causation between the two.

According to a Flinders University study, gaming did not cause sleeplessness or sleep impairment. The study focused on teens with a mean age of 16, however, and the researchers found that younger teens may be more impaired by thrilling games. They played CoD 4: Modern Warfare, incidentally, so it doesn’t get more thrilling than that.

The study was conducted at the Flinders University Sleep Laboratory, where participants sat in bed beneath the covers with electrodes attached and lights dimmed for both testing conditions. During the 50-minute experimental session the teens played the Sony PlayStation 3 video game “Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare,” which was the top-selling game of 2007. During the control condition on a separate night they spent an equal amount of time watching “March of the Penguins,” which won the 2006 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. The two visits to the sleep lab were separated by exactly one week.

“We purposefully chose a very tranquil movie to contrast against the very stimulating effect of playing a violent video game in the hope of producing the greatest effect on sleep.” noted Gradisar.

Sleep-onset latency and sleep architecture were measured by electroencephalography (EEG), electromyography (EMG) and electro-oculography (EOG). Cognitive alertness also was measured by EEG, with a higher maximum alpha-power reading indicating reduced cognitive alertness. Participants wore an oximeter probe on their right index finger to measure heart rate, the most common index of physiologic arousal. Subjective sleepiness was assessed using the Stanford Sleepiness Scale.

Eleven adolescents took longer to fall asleep after playing the video game than after watching the documentary, while two of them fell asleep faster. Seven teens reported that they felt less sleepy after playing the video game than after watching the DVD, four indicated the same level of sleepiness and two felt less sleepy after watching the movie. No significant differences were found between conditions in the percentage of total sleep time comprised of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep or slow-wave sleep.

Again, anecdotally I remember getting really wound up after playing games all night but I never really remember it impairing my sleep. I know my son, age four, can watch movies before going to bed with no problem but we haven’t yet made him run through the Russian murder scene in CoD 6. Maybe when he’s in kindergarten.