Night-time Gaming and Sleep Cycles

I don’t know about you but most of my gaming sessions tend to be later at night, which is when I have solid blocks of time. Also apart from gaming I’m often reading on a mobile device or watching TV of an evening. Which means I am quite intrigued and perplexed by research about the effects of the light from our screens on our sleep cycles.

First a health warning about scientific research… It is not always as conclusive as it sounds. It takes years of follow-up work, people trying to reproduce results, pull apart the findings, etc etc, before it really becomes definitive. Sometimes the reported findings are just random flukes, because positive findings get reported and negative ones don’t. (i.e. Twenty groups of people do various experiments. The one group that by chance got an interesting result publishes, the nineteen who could only say “We did X, but nothing much happened” don’t publish anything.) And even after all that, once something is well-established, eventually things often turn out to be far more nuanced and complex than anyone first thought. Those kind of considerations are understood by scientists but don’t make it into reporting or blogs, so we keep hearing about important findings about this and that, only to be told the very opposite some years later.

So, with those caveats in mind, there is research about the effects our screens have on us, and especially our sleeping patterns.

A good run down is in the following video:

The video goes with this paper, but it’s behind a paywall if don’t have already access to academic journals. The work is by the Sleep and Chronobiology Lab at Univ of Colorado and you can probably find more via Google if you want.

In short, the idea is…

  • Light, especially blue light, tells our bodies it is daytime
  • Modern screens give out a lot of blue light
  • Using screens at evening and night messes with your natural body clock
  • In the experiment they took people camping away from all artificial light, and their body clocks reset after just a week.
  • The differences between night owls and early birds reduced, and they both had their sleep cycles shifted to an earlier time.

Some related articles of interest:

So what to do?

Apart from not using tech at night, which would be very limiting, one option is f.lux. It is free software that adjusts the light given out by your screen depending on the point in the day-night cycle at your location. I downloaded it earlier and am giving it a try.

At first it’s like you just stepped out of your well lit room into the evening, you really notice the difference. But after a while you forget and adjust. Right now the WordPress screen I am typing into is a bit reddish-orangeish tinted, like piece of paper would be outside in the evening light. But I’m not really noticing that any more as I type, it’s just WordPress.

I also fired up LOTRO to see what the game looks like. Well it happens to be dusk in Breeland anyway. And it looks, well, dusky. Possibly more dusky than it usually does, though that might be a trick of the mind. Whether noon looks dusky as well is something I’ll have to find out another time. But I am feeling a bit sleepier now I must say.

I took a couple of screenshots to try to show the difference, but it looks like f.lux does not affect what is captured in screenshots, so you’ll have to take my word for it.

I think I’ll keep this experiment going for a while, and if there is anything worthwhile to say, I will write a follow up post or update this one.

UPDATE

I’ve been using f.lux for some months now. It’s definitely soothing on the eyes, so much so that the times when I turn it off for some reason the screen light seems pretty harsh. However I doubt it’s made any difference to my sleeping habits. I suspect that even if light is a factor in sleepiness, screen light is just so much less powerful than daylight that other things matter much more. Perhaps things like whether what you’re doing late on is highly stimulating.

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