Picture this: You yell, “I’ll drive” and someone tosses the car keys in your direction.
How fast do you react in time to catch them? That’s reaction time (RT) – a measure of how quickly you respond to an external stimulus. Reaction time is an important part of gaming — delays in responding can mean the difference between winning and losing.
There’s a lot you can do to become faster when in the gaming chair. Read on for some of the best, scientifically-proven ways to improve your reaction time while gaming.
8 Ways to Improve Your Reaction Time While Gaming
Practice… A Lot
The more you play, the faster your reaction time will become. Regular training improves hand-eye coordination — the ability of your eyes to receive information and guide the hands to perform a movement.https://manipal.pure.elsevier.com/en/publications/playing-action-video-games-a-key-to-cognitive-enhancement Speed and accuracy are vital elements of strong hand-eye coordination.
However, it’s possible to practice too much. Gaming is fun and thrilling, and it’s easy to play for hours without taking a break. But mental overload is also very real. Your brain needs regular breaks to recharge and avoid exhaustion, confusion, and a drop in performance. Take a short walk, do a stretch, or grab a snack. Your brain will thank you.
Try Brain Supplements
A category of supplements called nootropics are a powerful way to supercharge your brain and sharpen your reaction time. Here are some to try:
- Ashwagandha: A herb used in Ayurvedic medicine for centuries, ashwagandha is known for its brain-boosting benefits. In one study, 250 mg of ashwagandha taken twice a day significantly improved reaction time during psychometric tests.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24497737/
- Panax ginseng: Studies show that panax ginseng can energize the brain. One study found that 200 mg of panax ginseng decreased mental fatigue and improved cognitive performance during periods of intense concentration.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15982990/
- Theacrine: Found primarily in the leaves of a Chinese tea plant, has a similar chemical structure to caffeine. In one study, 200 – 300 mg of theacrine (brand name Teacrine) taken once a day for 8 weeks increased energy, focus, and concentration. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4711067/ Taking theacrine with caffeine can multiple the effects, increasing alertness and mental energy.https://neuropedia.com/theacrine-benefits-and-effects/
These herbs can be part of supplement blends that are formulated at an appropriate dose alongside ingredients that work together to enhance their effects, like Thesis nootropics.
It might sound deceptively simple, but drinking water could lower your reaction time while gaming. Research suggests that dehydration can lead to significantly slower reaction times, particularly in women. In one study, average reaction time in sports was greater in both men and women when dehydrated; however, women showed significantly slower reaction times compared to men.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4271614/
In another study, drinking water increased the speed of responding in a reaction time test. Participants were given 500 ml of water right before testing. In a second session, they were given no water before the test. Reaction times were faster for the first test, when they had drunk water beforehand. These results were true only when a participant rated themselves as thirsty – those who were thirsty performed more slowly if they didn’t have a drink.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3712897/
How much water you need to stay hydrated depends on a number of factors, including where you live, how active you are, and if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. The U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, a group of independent nonprofits that advise the government, recommend 11.5 cups (2.7 liters) a day for women and 15.5 cups (3.7 liters) a day for men.https://www.nal.usda.gov/sites/default/files/fnic_uploads/water_full_report.pdf
Cut Down on Alcohol
Maybe you’re familiar with the crummy feeling you get after a night of drinking. Your head feels fuzzy, you’re tired, and your focus is shot. Not only does alcohol impair your mental performance in the short term, it can alter the structure of the brain and lower connectivity between different brain areas, even among moderate drinkers (1-2 drinks a day).https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-022-28735-5
Alcohol can also increase reaction time, one of the reasons why driving after drinking is so dangerous. In one study, those who were given a “high dose” of alcohol — to establish a breath alcohol level of 0.1 percent — scored worse on a reaction test than those who were given no alcohol or a moderate amount.https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1530-0277.2010.01332.x
Alcohol also has a dehydrating effect, another factor that can lower reaction times.
Regular exercise that raises your heart rate can lower reaction time when gaming. Exercise increases blood flow and oxygen to the brain, delivering important nutrients necessary for the brain to perform at its best.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18459365/
A 2015 study compared the reaction time of physically active and sedentary male and female medical students.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4456887/ Those who did 30 minutes of moderate exercise 5 or more times a week, or 20 minutes of vigorous exercise 3 times a week, were considered physically active, while those who didn’t were considered sedentary. The physically active students showed significantly faster reaction times than the sedentary students.
Get Enough Sleep
Sleep plays a key role in numerous brain functions, including how well brain cells communicate with each other. When you sleep, you give your brain a chance to reset and flush out toxic waste accumulated during the day.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6143346/ https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4651462/
Research shows that poor sleep can lower alertness and you guessed it — increase reaction time. In one study, researchers found the cognitive effects of sleep deprivation were akin to that of driving while drunk.https://www.nature.com/articles/nm.4433
In a 2012 study, a night of poor sleep in male athletes led to significantly slower reaction times.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3307962/ Another study looked at the mental performance among night watchmen, and found that four or more days of restricted sleep increased both visual and auditory reaction time.https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1984006316300724#bib54
How much sleep you need generally depends on your age. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that healthy young adults get 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night, while older adults need less, and babies and young children need more.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29073412/
Stretch Your Hands
Perhaps you’re used to stretching your legs before going on a run. The same goes for your hands — gaming is a sport, and warming up your fingers, hands, wrists, and forearms can improve your reaction time and increase your flexibility and range of motion while gaming.https://journals.lww.com/acsm-csmr/fulltext/2014/05000/the_effects_of_stretching_on_performance.12.aspx You can find examples of stretches, like prayer position and wrist circles, online. You can also wear handwarmers during a game to keep your hands warm and agile while you compete.
Getting to a state of zen before gaming can make you faster.
Research shows that a regular meditation practice can have a neuroprotective effecthttps://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01551/full, boost concentration https://www.pnas.org/content/108/50/20254.short, and thicken the hippocampus, the part of the brain that regulates learning, memory, and motivation. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3004979/
In a 2017 study of beginner, novice, and seasoned meditators, reaction time after a meditation session decreased each day in all three groups. Experience meditating didn’t lead to greater improvements — all groups saw the same results.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5993445/
Meditating can be as simple as closing your eyes and gently bringing your attention to your breath, observing the rise and fall of your breath. Or you can try a meditation app, like Calm or Headspace, which offer a variety of guided meditations to get you started.