How do performers sleep?

Sleep has become a sexy subject over the past couple of years, and it is finally getting the recognition it deserves with regards to health, wellbeing and performance. Long gone are the days where people say “I’ll sleep when I die” or comparing themselves to JFK or Margaret Thatcher both of whom famously lived on a few hours sleep per night. Much to the detriment of their health and associated life habits, which were relatively unreported at the times.

 

Sleep is undoubtably part of the triad of health, which also includes exercise and nutrition. These three pillars are vital to sustain a healthy body and mind to help you achieve what you’d like to achieve and recover effectively. If one pillar falls, then the others fall.

Your quantity and quality of sleep has a profound impact on hormone regulation, food cravings, body composition, aerobic performance, emotional processing, memory consolidation, creativity, learning and many others aspects of day-to-day life. Hopefully outlining the vast variety of systems affected by sleep, highlights just how important it is. If I could offer you a single pill that could positively affect all of these systems, without negative consequences, would you take it? I know I would.

 

In our experience, through data collected over multiple years, performers generally do not get enough sleep. There can be multiple reasons for that, but we’ve noticed some trends that may resonate with you. The reasons for sub-optimal sleep are long sleep latencies (taking a long time to get to sleep) with 36% of respondents struggling every evening, and 12% very frequently.An unsettled mind is also a huge factor, with 24% over performers listing that as their primary hurdle to getting and staying asleep, this may be for many reasons such as going over stresses in your mind or day to day annoyances. Other significant hurdles to sleep were using the bathroom (24%), adrenaline from an evening performance (8%), phone (8%), being too warm or cold (16%) or environmental factors like noise and light in the bedroom.

Figure 1 Unpublished information from Production Physiotherapy's survey in UK based productions in 2019.

Given the athletic demands on the performer, the general 8hours target for sleep is often obsolete, with a greater requirement especially during rehearsal periods and times of high workload. With that in mind we discovered that 29% of respondents slept between 5 and 6 hours, 22% between 6and 7 hours, 20% between 7 and 8 hours and 29% getting more than 8 hours. That makes 71% of those surveyed to be under the 8 hour threshold, which is not enough given the amount of stress your body is under.

 

This aligns with data collected on whether participants feel refreshed upon waking, with only 35% stating that this happens daily. Waking refreshed is a great subjective gauge as to whether you slept well, you can be tricked upon waking in fairness. Tricked by being dehydrated or waking during a deeper stage of sleep which makes you feel more tired than you might be.

 

These results highlight a real need to attempt to improve the sleep performance within the sector, despite the small scale of the surveys we’ve conducted in the area, there is a significant trend towards under insufficient sleep volume and quality. We will look deeper into sleep in posts to come, and in the meantime it might be worth considering how you sleep and whether you could make changes to improve your sleep performance.

 

Thanks for reading

 

Barry

@barry.sigrist