Like most Americans, I get pretty terrible sleep. A combination of factors add up to this, but my average night of sleep is full of wakefulness, heavy on light sleep, and I always wake up feeling tired. But these days something is different.
On July 24th, I woke up exhausted and ready for a change. I knew some facts about sleep, and put some into practice, but my results weren’t meeting my expectations. If I can only manage an average of 6-7 hours a night, and about 30 minutes in the day, then I’ve got to up my time spent in deep sleep if I want to feel restored. I decided to see if my physical activity in VR made a difference.
Screens are bad before bedtime because of the blue light they emit, which interferes with our sleep schedule and puts our bodies on jet lag. When we lay in bed with our phones, or we watch TV, we tend to do so in darkened rooms that emphasize our exposure to that blue light. VR headsets emit that same blue light, but the way we use them makes a difference.
Here at VR Fitness Insider, we encourage the most active VR experiences to build muscle and living a healthier lifestyle. But almost all VR games involve some physical activity. That separates VR from our other screens, where we tend to consume television or read social media passively.
As you can see, my week started out pretty bad for restfulness. It’s Tuesday, and I’m running on about 40 minutes. Can I find a way to perk up before the weekend?
First, we’ll look at some sleep influencers that determine the quality of our sleep, and then we’ll see some games and hacks I’ve found in my personal life that improved my sleep. I don’t have all the answers to sleep yet, but I’ve stumbled on some ideas that have helped improve the quality of my sleep that I want to share with you.
Let’s look at a few influencers that help determine our quality of sleep. We’ve already looked at the effect lighting has, but other external stimuli can help or hurt our sleep patterns.
Stress and Physical Exertion
Are you getting enough exercise throughout the day? You don’t need to work yourself to the point of exhaustion constantly, but a lack of physical activity can make it difficult to sleep soundly throughout the night.
I noticed that on days where I played VR or met my step goals, I’d wake feeling better rested. My numbers mostly seem to reflect that with a few exceptions for the week. Exercise helps to work out stress and anxiety. If you’ve ever taken a long run, or done a VR session right after work, then you understand that feeling of release. Stress tends to build up, and VR games give us something to actualize and unload on.
VR fitness is all about motivating us to get off the couch with games and activities that don’t feel like work. Recommended exercise for adults is around 150 minutes each week, or 30 minutes each day. In VR, that 30 minutes seems to vanish. Most of us already make time for entertainment, like movies, TV, or other video games. Even time with our friends can be fun with VR.
Physical activity does improve sleep quality, but there’s a limit. One of the first signs we’ve gone too far is insomnia! Our bodies just can’t come down too quickly from high energy activities. Deep sleep is very restorative on both the body and mind, so it’s where you want to focus your efforts. That’s why we want a routine that incorporates a “wind down” phase. (More on that in a moment.
VR has a very gradual progression curve, with a variety of applications that start off easy and ramp up in difficulty and exertion. I love Superhot for this reason. Early levels want me to do simple actions, like punching or grabbing a gun to fire at my target. Later levels ask for more complex activities, teleport me around the arena, and require multiple attempts to progress.
Games also help us progress and accomplish new feats. Achievements, high scores and overcoming significant obstacles are all incredible ego boosters. The physical aspect of pushing our bodies, and finding victory, contribute to a healthier sleep cycle.
Our minds can help or hinder our sleep state depending on where we’re at mentally when we lay down. Anxiety is that feeling that there’s more we could have done, but we want a restful brain that is ready to face the next day.
I play games in VR and with a controller, and on days where I unwind in VR I tend to spend less time in front of a screen directly before bed. My anxiety has been worked out, and I am shielding myself from the blue light that affects my sleep.
VR is already helping medical patients with soothing activities that explore their creativity within a space they can safely maneuver. Like physical therapy, VR games that encourage a more mindful and creative state help wind us down from the stressors and activities of the day. They can also provide a valuable creative outlet for us.
Google’s Blocks, which is free, is a 3D modeling program for building anything from a simple diorama to a complex stage. It’s a fun and intuitive program that compliments their other art program, TiltBrush, quite well. I find Blocks to be easier to work with and conceptualize. In TiltBrush, I love the effects, but I struggle to see what to create. Both are excellent programs that help me unwind and think about something other than work at the end of my day.
Kingspray Graffiti also helps uncloud the mind, giving you focus and direction. The game presents a wall and offers you a host of paint sprays you can use to make the design you want.
Then there are meditative apps, which relax the body and provide soothing locales to explore. Often branded “walking simulators,” these applications sometimes involve light locomotion to augment the feeling that you’re exploring a place of wonderment. That new stimuli, coupled with the relaxing sounds and soothing soundtrack, leave users in a zen-like state perfect for winding down the day.
Diet and Sleep
One of the hidden hindrances to a good night of sleep is our diet. Of course we know to avoid the obvious culprits like coffee or sugary foods before bed, but bedtime snacks can help us sleep better. A quick bowl of nut-heavy cereals full of healthy grains with milk can significantly benefit us before bed. As can cheese or peanut butter on toast. The proteins help us process sleep-inducing chemicals like tryptophan.
VR in the middle of the day, or in the early evening, presents an excellent opportunity for those snacks. A bit of exercise works up an appetite, and a nightcap helps put you down for a long night of deeper sleep.
You can also try a supplement like Melatonin, although the science says they don’t do much. I believe Melatonin has helped my sleep and would encourage you to try the supplement, but it’s a choice I leave to you.
I’ve found that tracking my VR Fitness habits motivated me to follow my sleep. Wearing a FitBit became an around-the-clock affair for me once I realized that activities during my day influenced my deep sleep stats. I don’t log every meal, that takes a lot of discipline and props to those of you out there who do. But even recording the few that I do has put me in better touch with what I eat. I would have never gone down this route had I not encountered VR fitness.
Tips and Thoughts
VR is still a screen, so you should be careful about how you use it directly before you go to bed. Set a rule in the house that VR shuts down at least 30-60 minutes before sleep. As with any fitness routine, consistency is critical. I keep a library of about 15 VR games installed, and rotate them out depending on which night of the week it is or what part of the body I want to work out. I plan for off days, and coordinate meal plans too.
All of this adds up to a solid 60-90 minutes of deep sleep each night. Even if I can’t get a full 8 hours of sleep, my most restorative sleep is high, and much of this has to do with how I exert my body and the improvements I’ve made through VR fitness.
Games I Played
- The Thrill of the Fight
- Virtual Boxing League
For Light Days
- Fruit Ninja
- Arizona Sunshine
- Overkill VR
- Serious Sam
Deep Sleep Experiment
Here’s my experiment that you can try to see if you feel the same effects:
- Five days a week, for 30 minutes, play a VR fitness game (at least two sessions should be heavy on cardio)
- No screen time 30 minutes before bed (minimal is fine, but turn off TVs, phones, VR and other gadgets)
- Coordinate a healthy meal plan with a light dinner and a snack as needed for after VR
- Wear some form of sleep tracking
That’s it! I also supplement with 10 mg of melatonin, and anecdotally I can say it makes a difference. Your results may vary with this supplement.
I want to say my results matched up with my expectations, mostly. I wasn’t able to play VR every day, so this threw off my physical activity in some places. The heat in my area has also made a difference, and I’ve had to invest in some pillow cooling options to try and mitigate that. Through my basic testing, I learned that my approach to sleep, exposure to screen time, physical activity, and environment matter considerably for the quality of my sleep.
I’ve found that VR is an easy way to take care of the physical aspect, and it helps create an appetite for that mighty sleep snack. When combined with a supplement like Melatonin, I experience much deeper sleep even when I can’t find more hours in the day to knock out.