Why Playing Games Until 4AM Will Ruin Your Sleep And Your Health

“Just one more go,” you say to yourself as the clock nears midnight. You know that this time you won’t make that stupid mistake. You’ve solved the puzzle, you’ve cracked the code. You are in control. Just one more go. The next thing you know, it’s 4am and you have work the next day. Gaming has stolen your night and your precious sleep once again. We’ve all been there — but we need to stop going there if we don’t want to ruin our sleep patterns and our health.

Picture by Aaron

The simple truth is this (and collating Sleep Week content for Lifehacker all week has reinforced this for me): you need sleep. The exact amount that each person needs varies (it’s not the case that eight hours is the absolute minimum, for instance), but sleep scientists do agree on two points.

Firstly, if you don’t get enough sleep, your health will suffer in both blatantly obvious and less visible ways. Secondly, a regular sleep pattern is the best way to get quality sleep. Going to bed at around the same time and getting up at around the same time is the healthiest approach. That might not sound as exciting as completing every platinum achievement on Trials Evolution, but being permanently tired is no picnic either.

Human bodies are remarkably resilient. They can cope with alcohol abuse, eating KFC, watchingBeing Lara Bingle and obsessively collecting Vita games. But just like your controller, if you treat your body with respect it will last much longer. If you sleep regularly, you’ll perform better when you do want to play games.

Don’t kid yourself by saying “I’ll catch up on that sleep over the weekend”. This is delusional for two reasons. Firstly, if you haven’t got the willpower to shut down your gaming on a weeknight, what makes you think you’ll do any better on a weekend? Secondly, sleep doesn’t work like that. It’s part of a daily cycle, not a weekly one. Kotaku editor Mark has already shown that dramatic alterations to that cycle are very difficult to adjust to. But regularly skimping on sleep because you’re gaming is, frankly, an equally stupid approach.

I’m trying not to turn into the fun police here. Like any vice, all-night gaming frenzies shouldn’t do you lasting harm if they’re an occasional event and you otherwise look after your health. But if you’re doing it all the time, something has to give. Better to make that a conscious choice than to find yourself unconscious on the office floor.

If your career/education means you can go to bed at 4am and not get up until 2pm, more power to you. But the same rules apply no matter which part of the day you’re awake in. You need to take breaks.

No Magic Bullet

I wish I could offer some easy solution to how to stop that unexpected two extra hours of gaming, but sadly there is no magic bullet. It comes down to willpower. You have a choice. You need to exercise it. We have some tactics to help you boost your willpower, but you need to make that decision first.

Admittedly, there are extreme tactics you can use. You can set an automatic power timer to turn off your console at midnight, no matter what. But the first time that happens and you’re in the middle of your best race ever, you will swear and curse and then disconnect the timer and sell it on eBay.

If you’ve got your own way of ensuring you stop gaming even when the action is addictive and the clock is way past the midnight hour, we’d love to hear it in the comments. But maybe not at 3am.

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