The Importance of Sleep for Dancers

Dancers have no problem cramming in more rehearsals, scheduling their days minute to minute, squeezing in a 30-minute private lesson here and there. They have no problem viewing videos on YouTube of their favorite dancers until the wee hours of the morning. The problem is: You are missing out on one of the most important factors involved in becoming the best dancer you can be.

Sleep!

DutchNationalBallet
Photo: Dutch National Ballet

Research shows that sleep is the most important behavioral experience we have. Here is why you need sleep in order to be the best version of your dancing self.

As an average person, 36% of your life will be spent asleep. Most people do not like to sleep because we don't get much done while we're sleeping. We believe that more time should be dedicated to studio time, practice or cross training.

But we need to understand why sleep is critical to our bodies.

"Enjoy the honey, heavy dew of slumber..." - Shakespeare, Julius Caesar.

Fact One: When You Sleep, Your Brain Does Not Shut Down

Some areas of the brain are more active while you're sleeping than when you are awake. Many different interactions are occurring while you are sleeping. These interactions are healthy and help us later when we are awake.

Fact Two: Sleep Brings Restoration

Everything we are learning during the day gets restored and rebuilt while we are sleeping. If you are sleep deprived, you will have an extremely difficult time recalling choreography or a new intricate tap combination or ballet variation. Sleep brings about memory consolidation, putting all of the new information into a precious place where you can recall it later.

Sleep also helps us solve problems. This is where the saying, "Sleep on it" comes from. Neuroscience research shows that sleep helps us come up with creative solutions to our problems.

Also, when you sleep, your brain is also saving calories. You save about 110 calories a night for energy later.

"Sleep is the golden chain that ties health and our bodies together."
- Thomas Dekker

Fact Three: If You Don't Sleep, Your Body Craves Unhealthy Things

Research shows that humans are sleeping about 2 hours less a night than the suggested 8 hours a night. When your body does not get sleep it falls into unhealthy behavior, like micro-sleeps. Micro-sleeps can be dangerous, especially if you are driving. In America, 100,000 accidents occur a year due to micro-sleeps behind the wheel.

A sleep deprived brain also craves stimulants, like caffeine and Nicotine. Stimulants wire your brain and it can have benefits (alertness, focus), but then it confuses your brain when later at night it's supposed to be signaling to you that you should be asleep. Your brain struggles to turn off the stimulants and quiet your body down.

DID YOU KNOW?
Teenagers need 9 hours of sleep a night in order to perform at their full capacity. Their bodies naturally want to sleep late at night and wake up late.

Fact Four: Sleep Deprivation Can Lead to Weight Gain

Sleeping 5 hours or less every night means you have a 50% likelihood of being obese. When you do not sleep, the chemicals in your body are shifted. Ghrelin is the hormone that makes us feel hungry. When you are lacking sleep, ghrelin levels increase and it tells the brain that you are hungry. More specifically, it tells the brain that it needs carbohydrates, or sugars.

SvetlanaZakharovabyNikolayKrusser
Photo: Svetlana Zakharova by Nikolay Krusser

"Are You Sleep Deprived?" Quiz

Are you suffering from poor memory?
Are you experiencing a lull in creativity?
Are you experiencing increased impulsiveness?
Have you noticed yourself having poor judgment?
Do you crave stimulants, like caffeine or Nicotine?
Are you irritable?
Do your friends tell you that you look tired?
Are you grumpy?

Suggestions for Better Sleep

  • Make your room dark and cool.
  • Lower your light exposure 30 minutes before you sleep
  • Do not glance at your cell phone while in bed
  • Do not drink caffeine after lunch

Learn more about neuroscience and sleep with Russell Foster.

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