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Get Plenty of Sleep Before Imitating Rock Gods

• August 20, 2010 • 5:00 AM

Paper reveals that players of a popular video game increase their performance when they’ve had a full night of rest.

Well, the 24th annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies has come and gone, and we’re assuming San Antonio proved an ideal choice to host. But it wasn’t all napping and rapid-eye movement. One of the papers presented at the conference took a close look at how getting enough sleep improves your abilities at — wait for it — “Guitar Hero.”

One of the top-five best-selling video game franchises of all time — more than 38 million copies have been sold since the original was released in 2005 — “Guitar Hero” challenges gamers to play along to classic hits using instrument-themed controllers. The game makes for an ideal research subject because jamming along to Boston or drumming along with Rush measures players’ complex motor-learning abilities.

The study confirmed that players did better after a night’s rest versus a day of wakefulness. After studying 15 college students with a mean age of 20 years, the researchers found that players improved their accuracy at hitting notes by as much as 7 percentage points when getting enough sleep.

“Consistent with previous studies, these results demonstrate a significant link between sleep and motor learning,” said principal investigator Kevin Peters, associate professor at Trent University in Ontario, Canada. “This is important as these results indicate that sleep can help consolidate the skills that people encounter in their daily lives.”

The lesson is clear: Kids, if you want to grow up to pretend to be a famous guitar player in a fictional rock band in a video game, don’t do what Led Zeppelin did. Get your zzz’s instead.

The Cocktail Napkin appears at the back page of each issue of Miller-McCune magazine, highlighting current research that merits a raised eyebrow or a painful grin.

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Matt Palmquist
A graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism, Matt Palmquist, a former Miller-McCune staff writer, began his career at daily newspapers such as The Oregonian and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. In 2001, he became a staff writer at the SF Weekly in San Francisco, where he won several local and national awards. He also wrote a humorous current affairs column called "The Apologist," which he continued upon leaving the Weekly and beginning a freelance career.

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