With so much advice out there on how to get a good night’s sleep, it’s hard to know what will truly work in the battle against insomnia. But one game most people have played can, in fact, help improve sleep quality, and there’s even been studies to prove it.
As one of the most addictive games ever created, Tetris is a simple game that allows players to rotate and drop four-block shapes into place to create orderly rows. It was an instant success back when it was created in 1984, but the game comes with a surprising side effect found in popular psychology known as “The Tetris Effect”, which studies have also shown to help improve sleep quality.
The Tetris effect occurs when something that we focus on for extended periods of time starts appearing in our thoughts, perceptions, and dreams. Journalist Jeffrey Goldsmith first used the phrase in his 1994 article in Wired magazine.
After focusing on Tetris for longer periods, players start seeing forms that can be flipped and arranged, just like in the game, in everyday objects such as cereal boxes or buildings, as their minds seem to continue playing even after they have finished the game. When we play Tetris for hours on end, our brain starts creating new neural pathways that allow us to recognise patterns with less effort and get better at the activity.
90 minutes before bed, play Tetris
To avoid the impact of blue light tricking the brain into thinking its daytime and impacting your sleep, it’s advised to play Tetris at least 90 minutes before you plan to go to bed, unless, of course, you have a gaming bed, in which case make use of it.
Courtney Beatey from psychology advice website PracticalPie.com, explains: “The Tetris effect occurs whenever we spend a lot of time on an activity that involves repetitive images, thoughts, or movements. In many cases, this effect can be used to our advantage. It can help change habits by choosing what we want our brains to focus on.
“A study by Dr. Jane McGonigal suggests that sleep quality can be improved with the help of the Tetris effect. The key is to train our minds to concentrate on relaxing thoughts and images associated with sleep. Once the brain has become accustomed to focusing on these images repeatedly, we are less likely to become distracted by anxious thoughts. Repetitive actions like meditating or even visualising Tetris blocks falling into place will instruct our brain to recognise these moments as prerequisites for sleeping.
Courtney continues: “We naturally remember negative experiences better than pleasant ones, and this tendency is known as negativity bias. The Tetris effect, which in itself is a form of habit, can be used to help us pay more attention to positive things. It can function as the brain’s defence against negativity bias. For example, by regularly practising gratitude, we can train our brains to remember the positive sides of events and get rid of a negative mindset.”
Playing more Tetris can improve your brain
Richard Haier, an American psychologist, conducted one of the earliest studies on the Tetris effect in 1992 at the University of California. He discovered the brain consumes less energy as players’ game skills improve. Haier showed that regularly playing Tetris results in increasing the thickness of the cerebral cortex, which makes the brain more efficient.
Haier also demonstrated that Tetris affects the brain’s plasticity, that is, the ability to change and adapt due to experience. It turns out that this captivating game can promote cognitive development, enhance memory capacity, and generally contribute to keeping our brains healthy. If you stop playing the game for a few days, you’ll notice that the Tetris effect has decreased.
Be mindful to combine playing a game like Tetris with other relaxing hobbies before bed across the week, such as reading or journaling, to ensure you have the best chance of a restful night’s sleep.
Tetris is free to download on the Apple App Store.