If you identify as a "night owl," then you're probably all too familiar with the feeling of running late. Maybe you've been trying to get into an early-morning cross-training routine for months, but when the alarm goes off, the struggle becomes all too real. Or you have no trouble performing until late at night, but find yourself sluggish during your morning rehearsals. Perhaps you're constantly scrambling to get to your first class on time, while others cheerfully boast that they've already been up for hours at the start of barre.
Most of the time, people will just tell you that you should be going to bed earlier, and getting more sleep per night. While this is good advice, it may not tell the whole story. A recent study published in the journal Pediatrics found that there really might be differences in the way night owls and early risers are "wired"—and that society tends to cater to the morning people.
We all do our best to get enough sleep, but sometimes it feels like there just aren't enough hours in the day. And dancers have crazy schedules, whether you're in the midst of a busy performance season, touring, or juggling classes and rehearsals. It's easy to convince yourself that if you can just get six hours or so, you'll be functional enough to get through the next day. But a study published in the journal Sleep found that getting six hours of shut-eye may be just as bad as not sleeping at all.
For the study, 48 adults were asked to limit their sleep to four, six or eight hours per night for two weeks—and one group didn't sleep at all for three days. Researchers then kept track of each person's cognitive performance, reaction time and mood.
No matter how many times you think you've heard it all, new information about the importance of sleep is coming out constantly. From how many winks you get to the quality of your shut-eye, sleep has a big impact on helping you dance your best.
- Watch your social media use. One study found that checking your accounts repeatedly throughout the day could be disruptive to sleep.
- Give yourself time to wind down. Calming activities, like reading a book, are suggested to help you relax during the hour or so before bed.
- When you go to bed matters. People who tend to worry may benefit from turning in earlier, one study found. Going to bed later, along with sleeping for shorter periods, has been linked to more negative thoughts during the day.
- Perfect the art of napping. For best results, the length of daytime naps depends on what you're planning on doing when you wake up, whether it’s taking technique class or learning a new work. Plus, one study found that napping could help you better tolerate frustration.
- Make your bedroom a relaxing place. Research shows that making your bed and keeping it clean can help you get a better night's sleep—simply because you'll be more comfortable.
You already know how essential it is to get enough sleep—and how a night spent tossing and turning can affect everything from the amount of energy you'll have at barre the next morning to your anxiety levels and your appetite. The latest information about getting a good night's rest may be related to dialing down your digital habits throughout the day. A new study from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine found that frequent social media use may disrupt sleep.
The study measured sleep disturbances in a group of over 1,700 young adults, ages 19 to 32, and had them fill out questionnaires about their social media use. Researchers looked at how much time each person spent on popular social media sites per day and how often they logged in during the week.
Nearly 30 percent of participants had high levels of sleep disturbance. But the ones who logged into social media most frequently were three times more likely to have trouble sleeping, while those who spent the most total time online were twice as likely to have trouble. This suggests that it's not necessarily about how much time you spend browsing Facebook overall. Checking social media repeatedly seemed more disruptive to participants' sleep.
More research still needs to be done to determine the relationship between sleep and social media use, but it makes sense that constantly checking in could make it harder to wind down at night. Instead of scanning Instagram between every class and rehearsal, try choosing a couple times each day to scroll through messages or post photos. It may also help you stay more engaged with what's most important: dancing.
Amp Up Your Arabesque
You’ve probably heard it time and again throughout your training: Flexibility isn’t all that helpful unless you have the strength to support it. Leigh Heflin Ponniah, MA, MSc, from the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries of New York University’s Langone Medical Center, offers this exercise to build lower-back strength to better support and hold arabesques. Try it two to three times a week as part of your core warm-up before class, and you’ll be on your way to a stronger arabesque balance.
a physio ball
a clear space where the wall meets the floor
1. Position a physio ball under your hips. Lie facedown on top of it with your chest slightly curved over the ball and hands by the ears. Your feet should be against a wall, with the toes on the floor, heels on the wall and legs slightly bent.
2. Use your lower-back extensors, which allow backward bending of the spine, and your gluteus muscles to slowly lift your chest up and away from the ball. The body should pass through a straight diagonal before the chest continues lifting into a slight arch without crunching in the lower back. The core should also be engaged.
3. Curve back down over the ball and do 10 repetitions, increasing up to 20 as you gain strength.
If you don’t have access to a physio ball, you can also do the exercise lying on the floor. However, Heflin says the ball allows for an increased range of motion in the lower back and challenges dancers’ stability.
Catch More Zzzs
If you’ve been sick a lot lately, you may need to reconsider your sleeping habits. They could be a major factor in keeping you away from the studio. A study in the journal Sleep found that women who had five or fewer hours of nightly winks spent more time sick throughout the year (approximately five more days out of work) than those who slept for around seven and a half hours each night. Aside from helping you keep a clean bill of health, sleep is especially tantamount for dancers. The downtime allows muscles to repair and recharge.
There’s an App for That
If you’re looking to breathe new life into your stretching and strengthening routine, check out the new Ballet Elasticity app. The program offers 48 short videos demonstrating exercises that cover everything from improving ankle strength to increasing turnout. With strengthening exercises specifically created for ballet dancers under the supervision of a certified athletic trainer and stretches designed and modified by Slawomir Wozniak (coach to competition stars like Gisele Bethea), you’re sure to be challenged. Available for the iPad and iPhone in the App Store for $1.99.
Beat the Sniffles
If allergy season has you sniffling your way through pirouettes, consider a pre-class cardio workout. Why? Research from Thailand found that running can provide relief from allergy symptoms, and it may be due to the fact that aerobic exercise calms the inflammatory proteins in the nasal passages. Any form of cardio, like jogging or using an elliptical or stair-climber machine, will do. The study found that 30 minutes at a moderate pace decreased sneezing, congestion and an itchy, runny nose by more than 70 percent.
Organized Dance Bag, Organized Mind
When you’re frantically digging in your bag before the start of class for just one more bobby pin (you swear it’s hidden in there, somewhere between yesterday’s dirty leotard and the crumpled-up granola bar wrappers you forgot to throw out), it’s no wonder if you start your pliés feeling frazzled.
In fact, research from the University of California, Los Angeles, found a correlation between the amount of stress female homeowners experience and the clutter in their living spaces. Women’s cortisol, or stress hormone, levels were higher the more disorganized their houses were. Do yourself a favor and sift through the contents of your dance bag once a week. When you’re stocked with easy-to-access essentials, you’re likely to feel more calm and prepared going into class.
Did You Know?
The Achilles tendon, which is integral to jumping and pointework, is the largest tendon in the human body, and it can withstand more than a thousand pounds of force.
Good Eats for Headache Relief
For ballet dancers, no time is a good time for a headache, whether you’re in rehearsal learning a new work or about to step onstage. But you don’t have to be defenseless. If you’re prone to that pounding in the brain, try incorporating these foods into your diet.
Almonds: Because magnesium helps regulate blood pressure, almonds may ease existing headaches and prevent future ones.
Cherries: These fruits are rich in the compound quercetin, a natural anti-inflammatory that aids in pain management.
Dairy: Low amounts of riboflavin, or vitamin B2, are a known trigger of migraines, but riboflavin-rich dairy can help ward off attacks.
Try this supercharged snack: Make a parfait of low-fat yogurt, dried cherries and almonds for a hassle-free nosh to relieve tension.
Some days, it seems like however much I eat, my stomach just won't fill up. One possible culprit? A lack of Zzzs.
A recent study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that four nights of sleep deprivation reduced insulin sensitivity in fat cells by 30 percent—which means the body's producing that much less leptin, a hormone that inhibits our appetite. On top of that, previous research has also shown that getting only four hours of sleep a night slows our metabolism. Double oof.
Every body has different sleep needs, but the average is about eight hours. If you feel a never-ending need to nibble, try hopping into bed a couple hours early tonight and see if it's easier to put down the crackers tomorrow.
Wish your pointe shoes were slightly less painful? Get more sleep! A recent study found that when people stayed in bed for at least 10 hours a night, by the fourth day they experienced a 25 percent decrease in pain sensitivity. Researchers think this happens because we have more pain receptors in our blood system when we're exhausted. How's that for an excuse to sleep in?