Because reaction time is so easy to measure, it is often a metric that esports athletes and gamers want to improve. Lucky for you, I have 8 scientifically-backed tips that you can implement immediately into your gaming routine to improve your reaction time for gaming.
Table of Contents
- Get Adequate Sleep
- Keep Your Hands Warm
- More Accurate Decision Making
- Ignore Online Reaction Time Tests
- Take Regular Breaks
- Perform Exercise To Reduce Injury Risk
- Train Your Grip
- Upgrade Your Equipment
- Play More
- Summary Box
Get Adequate Sleep
You’ve probably been told once or twice you should be getting more sleep to help with your recovery and performance. Maybe you think you sleep enough already.
If you’re a professional esports player, you likely get less sleep than the average gamer due to strict training schedules and other commitments as a professional athlete .
But from a scientific standpoint, what does lack of sleep actually do to your reaction time?
When taken to the extreme, missing a single night’s sleep increases reaction time by 20% in a 2-hour continuous task . The same effect has been observed in collegiate student-athletes where reaction time increased by 14% .
When sleep loss is not so extreme, for example, 5 hours a night, tennis serve accuracy was shown to decrease compared to a normal night’s sleep . Caffeine did not improve performance.
Alarmingly, one study found heavily disturbed sleep from disordered breathing to reduce reaction time lower than healthy, non-sleepy subjects with a blood alcohol level over the legal driving limit .
As an esports athlete or gamer, you may be more susceptible to sleep issues due to gaming. One research paper has shown that the number of hours you play video games, the greater fatigue, insomnia, and the later bedtime and earlier rise times you will have .
Gaming volume is also able to predict sleep quality where every additional hour of gaming equates to a 31% greater risk of poor sleep quality. Additionally, gaming before sleep increases the time it takes to fall asleep .
One way to improve sleep onset is to block blue light from your monitor by using blue light glasses. These glasses filter blue light emitted from your screen. Doing so has been shown to advance the production of melatonin (sleep hormone) so you start to feel sleepy earlier and fall asleep faster .
Dimming and changing your room lights is another way to improve your sleep. Himalayan salt lamps, and solid-state, white lights (which have multicolored LEDs) so you can provide dim light that is orange or yellow instead of bright and blue which doesn’t disrupt your circadian rhythm .
How much is enough sleep? 7-9 hours a night is usually the benchmark. Esports athletes may need more due to an intense training regime .
Keep Your Hands Warm
For those of you who live in a cooler climate, cold hands are a gamer’s worst nightmare. You feel like you can’t move as quickly and react how you want to. And your feelings would be right.
The local reaction to cold hands is a decrease in blood flow to the hands, which therefore allows less heat to be lost through the skin .
The minimum skin temperate that your hands can be before losing dexterity, and therefore reaction time, is 20°C . When skin temperature drops to 15°C or lower, that is when losses in dexterity become major.
Decreasing hand skin temperate from 24°C to 7°C can reduce the performance of simple tasks filling boxes with cubes or putting rings around pins by 11-38% . The more finger intensive, the greater the loss in performance.
This means esports athletes and gamers that need fast finger speed will find their performance declining in the cold.
Regarding core temperature, it seems to be of minor importance regarding hand dexterity and reaction time. As long as the hands are warm, you can maintain your performance.
Keeping your hands warm for gaming can be as simple as wearing gloves which have been shown to reduce the rate of cooling .
I would recommend gaming gloves like these as they don’t just cover the hands, they also keep the fingers warm.
If you’re after something more efficient, these USB heated gaming gloves can be used at the beginning of your gaming session to warm you up quickly.
More Accurate Decision Making
Pure reaction time isn’t everything when it comes to gaming and esports performance. Not even in the physical sporting world is reaction time a meaningful metric that is ever tested, tracked, or even cared about.
Within the gaming and esports world, reaction time is seen as one of the pillars of performance where the best players in the world seem to have world record reaction times.
But what if the reaction time is not what it is cracked up to be?
I can have the fastest reaction time in the world, but if I don’t know the map I’m playing, where my opponent is likely to appear, or what usually happens in certain situations, then I’m likely to react quickly while making the wrong decision.
Being able to make the right decision quickly with high accuracy is the goal. Not a fast reaction time.
To do this, we can take the cognitive determinants of agility that have been found in team sports .
Reaction time, or our new definition of decision-making speed and accuracy, are broken down into visual scanning, anticipation, pattern recognition, and knowledge of the situation.
All of these cognitive factors are trained through playing the game, watching other professionals play, and doing video analysis.
Over time, you will develop the ability to anticipate what is going to happen next based on your knowledge of the situation and the patterns you recognize during gameplay which you realize through visual cues on your screen.
Ignore Online Reaction Time Tests
Reaction times are popular likely because they are so easy to measure. If you Google reaction time, you will find a bunch of sites with their own reaction time calculators.
As described in the previous section, reaction time may not be as important as it is made out to be. Further, reaction time will be specific to the task. For example, reacting to a player shooting at you during an FPS is far different than clicking your mouse when the color changes on your screen.
One requires processing a single input, the color change. The other requires juggling multiple sensory inputs while performing sound technical skills.
Take Regular Breaks
It’s almost cliché advice to be told to take regular breaks while gaming. Usually, breaks are used to break the monotony of sitting which can lead to various aches and pains. However, taking regular breaks can also be advantageous for improving reaction time.
Research in reaction time in drivers has shown second biggest predictor of reduced reaction time was the duration of the drive .
The third predictor of poor reaction times was the total duration of rest stops or breaks. Taking this into an esports and gaming context, the longer you play without taking a break, the greater potential for your reaction times to decrease.
Taking regular breaks throughout your gameplay will allow you to keep your reaction times quick and not fade off near the end of your sessions.
Perform Exercise To Reduce Injury Risk
As esports has evolved quickly into a major professional sport, esports and gaming-related injuries have followed suit. Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common injury due to repetitive stress.
Many different nerve glide exercises can be performed to reduce the chance of developing carpal tunnel which can keep you side-lined from gaming.
The pain alone from carpal tunnel is enough to drop your reaction times while gaming.
Lateral epicondylitis (aka tennis elbow) occurs on the outside of the elbow. It develops from the repetitive stress of the tendon which can be quite prevalent in esports athletes and gamers due to gripping the house with small, fast movements for long durations.
One study found that those suffering from tennis elbow have a reduction in the rate of force development (how quickly you can produce force) and an electromechanical delay (the time between the signal being sent to move a muscle and the beginning of force development) .
Both of these factors influence reaction time to a large degree. One exercise every gamer and esports athlete should be doing is finger extensions with IronMind Expand Your Hands Bands.
These are a lifesaver for those who use their hands intensively. Hands and fingers are always performing gripping-based movements in gaming whether that’s holding a mouse or a controller. This can lead to the repetitive stress injuries mentioned.
By performing finger extensions, you are performing the opposite movement providing some balance to your lower arms which may relieve any pain.
Train Your Grip
While overall physical strength may not be so important for esports performance, grip strength may play a role in improving reaction times.
One study found that maximal grip strength in the dominant hand was associated with improved visual and auditory reaction time .
This potentially means that directly training your grip may enhance your ability to react while gaming. Grip training can be as simple as hanging from a pull-up bar, to using Fat Gripz for a make-shift fat bar, or a simple high-quality gripper that you can use right at your desk.
Upgrade Your Equipment
There is nothing worse than playing on laggy equipment. It doesn’t matter how good you are, or how accurately and quickly you can react, if your peripherals aren’t built for speed, you won’t have it.
For example, your monitor should be at least 120 Hz. The high refresh rate means the image is refreshed more often within each second.
Many gaming mice and keyboards are set up to send signals to your computer at a faster rate than your typical keyboard and mouse. If you are playing on standard PC equipment, then it is time to invest in a gaming mouse and keyboard.
Regarding consoles, controllers are generally standard with the console so the monitor is where you want to make sure you have the fastest equipment.
Did you know gaming itself has been shown to improve reaction time?  It seems that action video games (FPS) play the largest role in improving reaction time through improving vision and visual attention (focusing on relevant visual information) compared to non-action games .
Action video games also develop the ability to juggle multiple tasks such as having to sustain attention over several objects . For example, this could be guarding the bomb in Counterstrike while watching the round time and monitoring all the various entrance points an opponent could sneak through.
As mentioned previously, reaction time may not be everything when it comes to esports. One study found that while action games improved reaction time, they decreased the accuracy of the decision. Puzzle games on the other hand resulted in slower reaction times, but more accurate decisions .
It seems that just playing more often may enhance your own reaction time and cognitive skills. Based on the research available, it may be a good decision to also play games from different genres outside of your main esport.
For example, if you are an FPS player, play a couple of hours a week of puzzle-type games or RTS to emphasize other cognitive areas. Perhaps these skills may crossover to your main game.
- Sleep well, stay warm and learn all of the intricacies of the game you are playing so you understand the situations you may be placed in.
- Improving your reaction time test isn’t going to translate into better esports performance, better pattern recognition, and therefore anticipation will get you there with greater accuracy.
- Take regular breaks and exercise. Reducing the risk of injury and pain will make sure you stay sharp.
- Be sure your equipment is up to scratch. Don’t be held back by old technology.
- Play as often as you can. Especially FPS is reaction time is your main goal.
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