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No Call of Duty before bed! Study finds that video games disrupt sleep

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For those Madden NFL and Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 players sinking hours into their consoles this fall, the best time to play is in the evening. Whether it’s down time post school or at the end of the work day, it’s the scant hours before bed that are ideal for gaming with other people. Unfortunately, according to one medical study, that’s the absolute worst time for you to be playing video games.

A report at MedicalXpress (via MCV) detailed a study that found “prolonged video gaming immediately before bed caused significant sleep disruptions in a group of teenage boys, even when they fell asleep at their usual bedtime.”

Australia’s Flinders University Sleep Lab used a test group of 17 people who played a “newly released, fast-paced, violent video game” for between 1 and 2.5 hours over two nights. Those that only played for 1 hour didn’t see their sleep disrupted significantly, but those that played for up to 2.5 hours lost about 27 minutes of sleep, and a 39 minute delay in actually falling asleep. The worst impact is the loss of quality REM sleep, though.

“While they went to bed at their regular bedtime, the adolescents’ still experienced significant sleep disruptions caused by frequent awakenings throughout the night,” said Sleep Lab’s Dr. Michael Gradisar, “Sleep is made up of many different stages and the REM sleep, also known as the dreaming sleep, was reduced by 12 minutes among the teens who played for over two hours. This may not seem like a significant reduction but REM plays an important part in helping us remember content we learnt that day so for adolescents in their final years of school who are revising for exams, winding down at night with a video game might not be the best idea.”

Any parents reading this shouldn’t rush off to tell their kids that Xbox rules are about to change, though. It’s difficult to say whether it’s the games or the actual screen technology that’s causing the problems reported in the Flinders study. A National Sleep Foundation survey conducted in 2011 found that there is a significant correlation between sleep disruption and using any electronic device with a backlit screen—including gaming machines, smartphones, televisions, and computers—before bed. Those findings weren’t new either. A study conducted at Osaka University in 2007 found that “media use before sleep can trigger (self-perceived) insufficient sleep.”

Maybe the solution is to take the classic old codger advice before bed: Read a book. A paper one.