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Lifestyle & Wellbeing
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Image credit: demaerre / iStock

How sleeping is beneficial for performers, including how much sleep you need, how to nap effectively and five ways to get a better night’s sleep

by Ariella Barnett

Sleep is essential for physical and mental recovery and maintenance and, as with most things, it’s important to get the balance right. Too much or too little sleep can have adverse effects so as performers, it’s essential for us to understand the role sleep plays.  

Some people find sleeping easy, but struggling with sleep is very common and can fluctuate throughout our lives and careers.

So, why don’t we actively take measures to improve our sleep?

Here are the top reasons why sleep is so important and how we can use it to optimise our progression and performing careers:

The Benefits of Sleep

Sleep is a natural part of our lives – we’ve all slept since we were born and we’ll continue to do so for the entirety of our lives. Some of the benefits of getting plenty of sleep include:

  • Allowing our adaptive immune system to heal injuries, illness and to help us physically adapt in response to our actor training. 
  • Learning and memory formation, which gives our brains the opportunity to process what we’ve learnt in the day, such as complex choreography, a new monologue, or notes from your director. You’ll find that when learning something new, it will always feel more solidified in your mind and body after a good night’s sleep. 
  • Helping how we function during the day by ensuring we’re clear-headed, fresh and energised come rehearsal or live shows, ready and able to learn and adapt.

How Much Sleep Do I Need?

Sleeping too much or too little can have detrimental effects on both health and performance. 

The Effects of Too Much Sleep

Too much sleep can lead to lethargy, grogginess and increased inflammation, which can affect your body, vocal chords and overall performance ability. It causes brain fog, impairs learning and disrupts your internal clock. 

The Effects of Too Little Sleep

Sleep deprivation can lead to slower reaction times, which increases injury risk, along with the impairment of both learning and memory consolidation. All these together would make learning new work and remembering what you’ve practiced in rehearsal very difficult. 

Not getting enough sleep compromises your immune system, which makes you more susceptible to illness and injury and means that your body won’t be able to adapt and build strength and stamina in response to your training and rehearsals. 

Lack of sleep can also cause poor mood, decreased energy and motivation, irritability and increased stress – which is not helpful during performance or training. 

Ultimately, the effects of too much or too little sleep can impair your career, your progress and your health. 

How Much Sleep Should You Be Getting?

The right amount of sleep varies for each individual, but adults generally need seven to nine hours each night. It’s vital for actors to prioritise uninterrupted, high quality sleep and remember that our bodies are physically challenged to extreme levels.

We are athletes and in order for our bodies to adapt and recover, we often need more sleep than the average adult. This means you might find yourself on the higher end of that spectrum, possibly needing nine or ten hours. I would recommend speaking to an exercise scientist or a sleep specialist if you need extra guidance in this area. 

How Do I Know if I’m Getting Enough Sleep?

Here are four signs that you’re getting high-quality, healthy sleep:

  • You fall asleep quickly and stay asleep throughout the night.
  • You wake feeling refreshed and rejuvenated.
  • You are focused, fresh and have optimal energy throughout the day. 
  • Your sleep pattern is in line with your internal clock and your routines.

This last point refers to circadian rhythms – our internal body clocks. These rhythms are coded in our DNA and run on roughly 24-hour cycles, controlling when we feel awake or tired – along with many other processes in our bodies.

Some people are ‘early birds’ and some people are ‘night owls,’ but most of us fall somewhere in between. 

5 Ways to Optimise Your Sleeping Routine

When we look at our rhythms, optimising our sleep relies on two factors: aligning with your own body clock and with your daily routines. A performer’s routine constantly changes as we transition from rehearsal to production – suddenly we’re required to be active and alert much later at night. 

To make sure that we still get healthy sleep and perform at our optimum, we have to take this into account. Synchronise and adapt your sleep to your rhythms and routines. This can be difficult to do on your own, so feel free to reach out to a sleep specialist if you need help optimising your sleep.

Here are five easy tips to help optimise your sleep:

  1. Stick to a regular sleep-wake schedule, even on weekends and days off.
  2. Avoid screens (yes, all screens!) and light before bedtime.
  3. Allocate at least 30 minutes of ‘wind down’ time before bed every night. Here you could read, listen to a podcast, journal, or do any other relaxing activity that tells your body and mind that it’s time to sleep (and doesn’t involve screens).  
  4. Create a relaxing and comfortable sleep environment for yourself. Make sure your bedroom is quiet and dark for better sleep.
  5. Avoid caffeine, alcohol or heavy meals close to bedtime. This confuses the body and can keep you up.

Magic happens when you align sleep with your circadian rhythms. Give it a try – your mind, body and performance will thank you.

Is Napping Good?

While it’s preferable to get all your rest hours in at night and within a consistent sleep routine, it isn’t always possible. Getting enough sleep is crucial, so if getting those hours at night isn’t possible for you, napping can help ensure that you still get enough hours of sleep. 

When is napping a good idea?

  • When you can’t get your full required sleep hours at night (for example, if you have a show every night and work a part-time job early in the morning). 
  • If you’re sick or injured – getting enough sleep is essential for recovery.
  • If you’re extremely fatigued and perpetually exhausted.

How to Nap Effectively

Here are four tips on how to healthily nap in the above situations:

  1. Take 20 minute power naps to recharge. If you can, try to fit it in during that post-lunch energy dip.
  2. Time your naps wisely so that they provide an energy boost without disrupting that all important night-time sleep. Napping before 3pm should help you avoid this. For night shows, a little pre-show nap in the day can boost your energy without sacrificing sleep later, but make sure you give yourself enough time before the show to fully wake up.
  3. Create a calm, quiet and dark sleep environment. You could try using eye masks or earplugs to optimise your rest, but make sure you don’t sleep through your 20 minute alarm.
  4. Straight after your nap, get up, move your body, have some water, or splash your face to help get yourself going and stay refreshed. 

Healthy sleep is a game changing superpower. Prioritise your sleep quality and quantity and you’ll revolutionise your performance, health and career. Don’t be afraid to reach out if you need guidance and contact a sleep specialist or exercise scientist to get specialised advice tailored to your needs. 

Sweet dreams.

Take a look at our website for more tips and advice about wellbeing.

Ariella Barnett is an exercise scientist, sports physiologist and performing artist. Combining her experience as a professional performing artist with her expertise as an exercise scientist, Ariella guides industry professionals to reach new heights. Specialising in working with performing artists, Ariella optimises overall performance, manages well-being, embraces individuality and prevents injury to ultimately build long, sustainable, successful careers.