Sleep and performance

Esports is a cognitive activity, and to play and perform at the highest level you need your cognition to work the best possible way. Many conditions affect how cognitive functions work and sleep is a big one of them.

Sleep is an essential component of healthy cognitive functioning. When you don’t get the sleep you need, your cognitive performance becomes impaired. The impairment happens to the cognitive functions you use when playing competitive esport such as Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO).

In this post, we dive into the science of what happens when you don’t get the sleep you need and how it influences the same cognitive functions that you rely on as a gamer.

What does science say?

Researchers have investigated how reduced sleep impacts cognitive functioning. What they found was a reduction in overall cognitive function, especially sustained attention, executive functioning, working memory, long-term memory, and processing speed were impaired.When you reduce your sleep for several days, it is well documented that, your cognitive performance progressively declines. This means that your performance declines more and more for each day that you don’t get enough sleep.

What’s interesting is that participants in some studies who slept more than what is considered normal and with higher quality were able to achieve better cognitive performance.

Now, let’s go through the cognitive functions and talk about what impact they have when playing CS:GO.

Sustained attention

Sustained attention is the ability to maintain focus on a specific task for a longer period of time. When playing CS:GO you need to have high levels of sustained attention if you want to stay focused throughout a series of games.

The level of attention has an important role in how your other cognitive functions work. For example, your ability to sustain attention is directly related to how fast you can react, and it’s clear to say, that if you get distracted your reaction time gets slower.

Researchers often use a reaction time test to examine sustained attention. In one study they found that after reducing sleep to 5 h participants’ reaction time became significantly slower.

Sustained attention is not the only type of attention: Read more about the different types of attention and how they relate to playing CS:GO

Working memory

Working memory holds information for a short period and with a limited capacity.

Despite the limited capacity, working memory is an important cognitive function when playing CS:GO. This is because you need to be able to recall information about what happened in the current game such as what did the enemy do, what did you do and use this information to take new decisions.

How often can you remember what happened 2, 3, or 4 rounds ago and how many details can you recall?

As mentioned, attention plays an important role in other cognitive functions. This also applies to working memory. Without attention, there is nothing to remember so you need to put your attention on what you want to remember.

A few examples of information that could be useful to recall from your working memory are:

  • How did the enemy use their utility?
  • What weapons did they have?
  • How was their playstyle?

Long-term memory

The skill to recall information from your long-term memory is what makes you a complete player. Information about utility lineups, strategies, pre aiming angles, common mistakes, and other gamesense related information makes you able to navigate through the game while taking the best possible decisions.

Pattern recognition is an important cognitive function that heavily relies on long-term memory. It’s much more efficient to make decisions in scenarios similar to ones you have experienced before. Therefore, pattern recognition is especially important for CS:GO pro players who need to remember and recall information about other pro players and teams to make decisions to their advantage.

Results from 12 studies indicate that long-term memory is significantly impaired during periods with reduced sleep.

Executive functions

Executive functions are a set of cognitive skills that makes you able to make complex decisions and select and monitor your in-game behavior.

Every moment in CS:GO is unique and can be highly unpredictable. Executive functions are important for the complex decisions you make to control your in-game behavior.

Some of the executive functions you use to make decisions and control your in-game behavior are:

  • Emotional and impulse control
  • Flexible and adaptable thinking
  • Planning and prioritizing
  • Metacognition

Findings in the scientific literature suggest that executive functions are especially sensitive to reduced sleep.

Processing speed

Processing speed can be defined as the time it takes to understand and react to the information you receive. In CS:GO you receive both visual and auditory information which comes from various aspects of the game.

Before you can react to something that happens in-game, whether that be an enemy spotted or more complex strategical decisions, your brain needs to process the information.

The speed at which your brain process the information is super fast and often you won’t even notice that you make the decision but just intuitively react to what happens.

If you reduce the amount of sleep your ability to process information is significantly impaired. This will harm your ability to take fast decisions, which often is highly needed when playing CS:GO.

What to remember from this article?

You, as a gamer heavily rely on your cognitive functions to have optimal in-game performance. If you don’t get enough quality sleep the following cognitive functions will be impaired:

  • Sustained attention
  • Executive functioning
  • Working memory
  • Long-term memory
  • Processing speed


The neurocognitive consequences of sleep restriction: A meta-analytic review

Effects of sleep manipulation on cognitive functioning of adolescents: A systematic review