Discovering your sleep debt score and why it matters to a dancer

| September 30, 2013 | 1 Comment
Sleeping to be a star?

Sleeping to be a star? Photo by NimahelPhotoArt via Flickr.

You probably won’t know it, but you could already be deep into sleep debt and this silent loan shark is steadily stealing the shine off your performance. Sleep debt is caused by accumulating sleep loss over time and yes, your body does keep score – that late night I-know-I-shouldn’t-but-I’ll-have-it-anyway coffee sets you back at least ten points. Well okay, maybe five.

Most people don’t realise that they have chronic sleep debt, because it builds up slowly over days and weeks. Also, there are two types of sleep loss – acute and chronic:

Acute sleep loss happens when you pull an all-nighter and you’re awake for more than 24 hours. You may think you’re a cool kid for doing it, but the resulting impairment can temporarily make you as dumb as Dory (you know, Finding Nemo).

Chronic sleep loss is when you only get about four to seven hours sleep a night, putting you a little more into debt each time. And surprise surprise, this is actually the really nasty thief-in-the-night, increasingly robbing your power during the day, but so subtly that you wouldn’t notice the change.

Just can’t get enough

US researchers found that while most people will catch up on acute sleep loss with a single night of 10 hours sleep, those with chronic sleep loss showed deteriorating performance for each hour spent awake.

They found that three days is not enough to recover from chronic sleep loss, but they couldn’t say how many days or weeks may actually be needed. This could be because every person needs a slightly different amount of sleep, and of course your sleep debt score might register higher on the scary-scale than others!

Finding Nemo posterHow to fix your sleep debt and improve performance

Cheri Mah (@Cheri_Mah) is one of the leading American authorities in sleep and athletic performance and she coaches collegiate and professional sports teams on optimal sleep, recovery, and peak performance. She found that swimmers who increased their sleep improved their reaction time off the starting block by 17%, and tennis players got a 42% boost in hitting accuracy too (see the study info here).

If it works this well for swimmers and tennis players, imagine what advantage this can create for a dancer.

So start by extending your nightly shut-eye by 30 minutes or more. Yes, that means no more night-time coffees and bad reality TV shows. Set a reminder if you have to until your new habit becomes second nature, but do what you can to get some more sleep each night.

But don’t get fooled…

That rejuvenated feeling you might have after one decent night’s sleep is wonderful, but a tad misleading too. Don’t be tricked into believing that you’re restored as new and your debt is paid.

This loan shark is sneaky and you’ll have to keep paying your debt for a while yet, consistently night by night if you want to shake off the shark and reach your peak performance again.

Your new sleep patterns will be worth their weight in gold soon enough. Okay, so you can’t really weigh sleep, but just think, those extra zzz’s could just win you gold at the next dance competition with your new found vigour and competitive advantage. Now isn’t that worth sleeping on?

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Category: Body

About the Author ()

Hi, I'm Robynn, and I'm a student of the potential of the body, the marvels of the mind, and the beauty of it all combined in ballet. As the editor, BodyMindBallet is where I get to learn, to share and to enjoy this wide world of dance - and with every day I gain an ever richer respect for the athleticism of dance and the skill of performance artistry.

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