Nietzsche once wrote, “Blessed are the sleepy ones: for they shall soon nod off.”
Sleeping can be the best. When I was a teen - and to this day, though less frequent - I would have the most vivid, bizarre dreams. The clarity was insane - I can remember some of them even now - and it took a couple of friends to be freaking out about something called “lucid dreaming” for me to realize that the dreaming I was doing could be considered out of the ordinary.
Sometimes, my dreams would get scary. Terrifying, even. I would wake up sweating and anxious, confused as to whether or not what I had dreamed had happened or not. If I was still dreaming. I became torn about sleep: on the one hand, I wanted it because I knew I needed it and when I had good dreams they were the best; on the other, I began to have difficulty separating what was and wasn’t real and when the dreams turned into nightmares it was helpless in a lucid world that felt real until it wasn’t.
I started gaming more and more around this time, and the more reluctant I became to sleep the more I played until the latest hours I could, going so far as to say good night to my family and go through the ritual of preparing for bed only to “sneak” some more game time in - “some” often being a couple of hours.
Later I’d learn that my gaming was probably responsible, at least in part, for the vividness of my dreaming. I was getting entangled in a vicious cycle of gaming more to sleep less because dreaming was such a crap shoot.
My school was in a neighboring town for awhile, a little more than 20 miles away, and was a, uh, hassle to bike to. I had to get up pretty early to carpool with an elementary teacher that our family was acquaintances with. I would blame my early commute on why I wanted to fall asleep in the middle of my classes - I had to come up with a strategy to hide my snoozing when my physics teacher jumped onto a table to startle an unfortunately overworked and similarly slumbering peer - but the truth was that my gaming habits were the most to blame for my chronic fatigue.
Unrelated to my dreaming, I had a psych appointment with a counselor. “Shook” isn’t the right word, but I was definitely curious when I had my first appointment and one of the first questions on the intake sheet was about the quality of my sleep. How did they know?!
It shouldn’t be a surprise that we at D20 are concerned about the intersection of gaming and sleep. But the more I mine through my memories, the more I unveil about the role that sleep quality had throughout my life - the more I understand the most probable source of my zombified waltz through youth.
Later, when I went back to college after some time off, I joked that I finally felt awake - like the previous two decades had just been a string of naps interrupted by necessary consciousness. And, I did - for a while. Unfortunately, late nights of studying that many of you know all too well encouraged me to pump myself full of stimulants to stay up late in the library, and sometimes even after finishing my assignments I would be too awake to sleep and figure Hey, let’s play some matches like a nitwit and make things worse for myself.
I didn’t know any better. I didn’t realize. It took some serious habit change to get my butt to bed at a healthy hour, for a healthy length. I had to say “No!” to a lot of things I wanted to say “Yes!” to, but I was better for it.
The truth is, if you don’t remedy your sleep pattern it can devastate your health and quality of life. If you are a heavy gamer, you might relate to some of the vividness I was talking about and could do well to look into some literature about it, just for kicks, but in my opinion it shouldn’t have much to do with your sleep habits unless you get an unhealthy relationship with your urge to dream or the dreams themselves. I did. It became destructive. You might not. Everyone’s experience is their own, but what is constant is the necessity for good sleep patterns.
I had to learn how to sleep again. When I talked to my counselor, we came up with a little plan on how to do it. It involved a lot of lame goal and intention setting, but I was convinced that if I didn’t set myself up for success that I was going to be in for a world of hurt and medication. I don’t much like medication - pills just don’t do it for me - so I shut my trap and said Okay, what we doin’ Doc?
This was the beginning of my relationship with my personal sleep hygiene. My first step was to remove my computer from my bedroom, because they said it was a terrible idea and turned my bedroom into a convoluted space the was going to confuse my brain: Is this room for sleeping or for gaming? I started drinking less caffeine, setting timers to stop gaming at X hour and get to bed consistently.
It didn’t all stick. I was trying to change too much at once, and I was a teenager that wanted to sneak out more and do fun shit. So I did, and seven years later had to revisit the exercises more seriously because it was still affecting my health, and then, like a decade after the first date, I’m stuck as an adult working with some folks I love to bring awareness of the problem to a community I care about most - and to bring a solution, too. Or, at the very least, a band-aid.
Sleep is probably the most important nexus of your health and well being, and no one seems to be talking about it or giving it the necessary due. I know I didn’t - not for many years - and even as an adult often fall off my bandwagon. But I’ve picked up a good pamphlet of tips and knowledge.
Throughout this week I’ll share some more of those tricks and tips that I’ve picked up through my journey of learning how to sleep again, and shed some light on the science that’s going on at the intersection of gaming and sleeping - why our screens are so uniquely damaging to our eyes, and disruptive to our sleep cycle.