Most people training for a competition or a performance will focus on working out, stretching, practicing moves and perhaps monitoring their diet and nutrition. But how many of you make a deliberate effort to get the right amount of sleep?
Athletic performance is drastically affected by sleep. Tired people are accident prone, fatigued, stressed, less able to concentrate and physically weaker.
A runner named Mark Remy, said of himself and his colleagues:
“We runners obsess over speed work, long runs, tempo runs, hill runs, lactate threshold, resting heart rate, carbs, protein, recovery drinks, stretching, massage, ice baths, shoes, technical fabrics, gels, and about a hundred other variables.
But most of us, I bet, don’t give sleep a second thought. It’s crazy, if you think about it. How can we expect to run well if we can’t stop yawning?”
– Mark Remy, Runner’s World
Now, switch the word ‘run’ to ‘pole dance’ in the last sentence.
Can you honestly expect to pole dance well if you aren’t getting enough sleep?
The answer is no, and in this article I’m going to explain why, as well as give a few tips to help you get the right amount (and right type) of sleep for YOUR body.
Why is Sleep Important For Pole Dancers?
You don’t build muscle when you’re working out.
Let me say that again: You don’t build muscle when you’re working out.
In actual fact you exhaust and tear your muscle during a workout. It’s later, when you are resting, that your muscles repair and rebuild themselves. In other words, bed time is the most productive muscle building period of your day!
Obviously, improving strength goes hand in hand with improving your pole dancing ability, so it’s very important that you don’t waste all your hard work and training by skimping on sleep.
Your body produces the greatest amount of growth hormones about one hour into deep sleep. This is also the time that blood flow is directed away from your brain and towards your muscles, to help restore physical energy. Deep sleep is the third or fourth stage of sleep, in which you are difficult to wake up and when you are likely to feel groggy and disoriented if you are woken up.
For more information on muscle building and recovery time see: Strength Training for Pole Dancers – FAQ
Sleep is also important for brain function. If you struggle to remember choreography, or where your leg goes for that new move (and which hand comes off first, again?), you might need more sleep.
“If your brain is too tired it can’t take information in as well. After you have learnt something, the brain still has to do a lot of work [to do] with that memory to get it into a form where it’s going to be stable and useful to you.” – Women’s Health and Fitness, Australia
But How Tired is ‘Too Tired’?
‘Sleep debt’ is the concept that the effects of sleep deprivation accumulate over time. Each night that you miss out on sleep you are accruing sleep debt.
Essentially, sleep dept = how much sleep you should have - how much sleep you did have.
One study on the effects of sleep deprivation suggested that even six hours of sleep a night wasn’t enough. When tested to measured their ability to concentrate and react to stimulus, people who slept six hours a night for ten days had similar results to those who were completely sleep deprived for one day.
How Sleep Debt Affects You
Fatigue, irritability, a tired appearance and the need for caffeine or stimulants to get through the day are all obvious signs of sleep deprivation. But they are just the tip of the iceberg.
Lack of sleep has a whole host of other side effects, which are very important to anyone intending to put their body through something as physically demanding as a pole dance performance (or even just a lesson!).
- Feelings of lethargy and fatigue
- Loss of motivation
- Increased likelihood of making mistakes
- Reduced awareness of the environment and situation
- Impaired immune system, increased susceptibility to disease and viral infection
- Stress, anxiety, and loss of coping skills
- Decreased reaction times
Other signs of sleep debt include, but are not limited to:
- Poor memory/Forgetfulness
- Mood shifts, including depression, increased irritability, and loss of sense of humour
- Getting drowsy in meetings, lectures, warm rooms, after heavy meals or in front of the TV
- Impaired ability to concentrate and shortened attention span
- Poor decision-making skills
- Feelings of paranoia
- Slurred speech
- Reduced productivity and work efficiency
- Difficulty getting out of bed, or a reliance the ‘snooze’ button
- Increased appetite and weight gain
The scary thing is that you might not even realise how sleep deprived you are.
A 2003 study published in the journal Sleep found that the more tired we get, the less tired we feel. (Weird, huh?) Furthermore, if you’ve made a habit of skimping on sleep, you might not even remember what it feels like to be fully rested and wide-awake. This is often misinterpreted as your body ‘adjusting to cope with less sleep’, but that’s simply not the case.
For many of us, we consider it normal to feel sleepy when we’re in a boring meeting or lecture, and we don’t think twice when we struggle to make it through the afternoon and end up dozing on the sofa after dinner. But the truth is – that is only ‘normal’ if you are sleep deprived.
So, what can we do about it?
How to Pay Back Your Sleep Debt
Current research suggests your maximum sleep debt is about 20 hours, and that you don’t have to pay it back hour for hour. “It is not a straight balance,” explains a SleepDex.org writer. “Even after serious sleep deprivation, most people usually need only two or three good nights’ sleep to get back to normal.”
Allowing yourself an extra hour or two of sleep each night is the best way to catch up. Trying to snooze all day on Sunday just won’t do the trick, as James Maas of Power Sleep, explains:
“You cannot make up for large sleep losses during the week by sleeping in on weekends any more than you can make up for lack of regular exercise and overeating during the week by working out and dieting only on the weekends.”
– J. Maas, Power Sleep
Lawrence Epstein, medical director of the Harvard-affiliated Sleep HealthCenters, suggests the following method to wipe out sleep debt:
- Go to bed when you are tired, and allow your body to wake you naturally in the morning (no alarm clock allowed).
- If you have to wake up for work, school or some other appointment, make sure you go to bed nice and early, as you’re likely to be asleep for upwards of ten hours at the beginning of your recovery cycle.
- Continue sleeping for as long as your body demands. As the days pass, you’ll notice the amount of time sleeping will gradually decrease, until it eventually it settles. This is your body’s personal optimal amount of sleep.
If you are chronically sleep deprived it will take a while settle into a natural sleep pattern, especially if the causes of sleep deprivation, such as a stressful lifestyle, are still present. But don’t despair, it will be worth it!
Preventing sleep debt
Once you do figure out how much sleep your body needs, sleep experts suggest making a ritual of going to bed and getting up at the same time, each day of the week to make sure you’re don’t slip back into old ways and accumulate new sleep debt.
Not All Sleep is Created Equal
It’s not just the hours that count. It’s the type of sleep too.
There are five stages of sleep, and it’s not until you reach stages 4 and 5 that your body can heal, repair and grow. If you lead a busy or stress filled life, chances are you often don’t make it past stages 1 or 2.
How to reach deep sleep:
- Practice deep breathing, meditation or other stress relieving activities about half an hour before you go to bed
- Avoid eating foods that act as stimulants, a few hours before bed time. This includes coffee, tea, alcohol, sugar, refined carbohydrates and foods high in additives and preservatives
- Avoid exercise a few hours before bed, as the adrenaline will be keeping you up.
- If you can’t stop mentally running through your ‘to do’ list as you lie in bed, keep a pen and paper beside you. Write down any thoughts that are pestering you, then forget about them and let your mind rest!
The topic of improving your quality of sleep, and learning to be a ‘better sleeper’ is one that really deserves an article of its own. So stay tuned, and I’ll be posting more tips soon!
Sleep is a time of restoration for your body. When you sleep well, and for longer, you allow your brain to spend more time in this rejuvenating period. Your body ‘remembers’ when it has been deprived of sleep, and the affects accumulate over time. If you are interested in gaining and building muscle strength, you should strive to reach deep sleep each and every night.
How much sleep you need differs from person to person, and depends on your age, physical activity levels, general health and many other factors. As a general guide, teenagers need about nine to ten hours and adults roughly eight hours. To find out how much time your body requires, follow the steps under ‘How to Pay Back Your Sleep Debt’ (above).
Often we do not realise we are sleep deprived. Many of us are adept at operating “just fine” on six, seven, or less hours of sleep a night. But there’s a big difference between how much sleep you can get by on, and how much you really need to be productive, strong and healthy.
Above all, remember this:
When you pole dance you are asking a lot of your body. Giving yourself and your muscles time to heal and recover is just as important as eating well and exercising.
After all, how do you expect to pole dance well if you can’t stop yawning?