Could a Pre-Show Nap Help You Perform Better?
On busy performance days, international guest artist Joy Womack always makes time for one activity after class and rehearsals: a nap. "I like to feel well-rested when I need to be in the spotlight at night, not dragging at the end of the day," she says. "It helps me recover and refocus."
With her earbuds tuned to a guided meditation app, she can squeeze in a nap wherever she needs to. "One time I even took a nap on the floor of the tour bus in Siberia," she says. "Dancers can sleep anywhere."
Joy Womack prioritizes napping before a show. Photo by Quinn Wharton for Pointe magazine.
As research has revealed the benefits of short daytime naps, power-napping advice has proliferated, and more dancers are choosing to include a nap in their pre-performance routines. Approaching napping strategically will help you get the most out of an afternoon snooze.
"When you are sleep-deprived, your attention, concentration and acuity decrease," says Alcibiades Rodriguez, MD, medical director of the Comprehensive Epilepsy Center–Sleep Center at NYU Langone Health. "Not only mentally, but motor-wise, too."
Depending on how sleep-deprived you are, even a 10-minute nap can give a measurable performance boost, from heightened alertness, mood, cognitive performance and memory to increased grip strength and sprint time. Making a nap a regular part of your routine may boost these benefits further. "There is research to say that regular nappers actually benefit more from napping," says Lauren McIntyre, ATC, a clinical specialist at NYU Langone's Harkness Center for Dance Injuries. "Our bodies like schedules."
Both Rodriguez and McIntyre emphasize that quality nighttime sleep cannot be replaced by daytime naps. But getting all your sleep at night can be tough, acknowledges McIntyre: "If you're working another job on top of performing, or if you're performing late into the night, that nap could potentially be really beneficial."
How Long Should It Be?
Some experts recommend keeping naps under 30 minutes to avoid sleep inertia, the groggy feeling that can follow a longer nap. But there are benefits to sleeping longer, too. "One study shows that a 45-minute nap, taken six hours after waking, can help boost alertness for another eight hours," says McIntyre. In other words, a performer who wakes up at 9 am and takes a 45-minute nap at 3 pm could stay boosted until midnight.
A 2013 study at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research supported the use of caffeinated gum—which can be found in athletic stores—to quickly dispel the grogginess of sleep inertia.
Should You Try "The Coffee Nap"?
When it comes to shorter power naps, one research-backed and expert-approved trend is the "coffee nap." Because it takes about 20 minutes for caffeine from a beverage to be absorbed into the body, drinking a caffeinated beverage just before a 20-minute nap gives a double boost upon waking.
A pre-nap coffee will wake your body in about 20 minutes. Photo by Tyler Nix/Unsplash
Ways to Fall Asleep Faster
These four strategies can help you nod off more quickly:
- Follow your biological rhythm by napping between 2 and 5 pm, when your body naturally gets sleepier.
- Cool your body first by taking a lukewarm shower, or napping in a cool room.
- Turn out the lights or use an eye shade.
- Use music, white noise or a guided meditation to get ready to sleep. "I highly recommend meditation before a nap to re-center," says Womack. "The Calm app is my go-to!"
And If You Can't Fall Asleep?
If sleep won't come, don't force it. "Exerting effort to try to sleep rarely ends in a good sleep situation," says McIntyre. Try using the time as a quiet moment to relax, reflect or meditate. "There's probably some benefit in closing our eyes for all of us."
Find Out What's Right For You
Trial and error can help determine your ideal nap length and strategy—and whether a pre-performance nap is right for your body. "Try it out before show day," Womack suggests, "and see if it's something that works for you."
In the middle of one of New York City Center's cavernous studios, Misty Copeland takes a measured step backwards. The suggestion of a swan arm ripples before she turns downstage, chest and shoulders unfurling as her legs stretch into an open lunge. She piqués onto pointe, arms echoing the sinuous curve of her back attitude, then walks out of it, pausing to warily look over her shoulder. As the droning of Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto's mysterious "Attack/Transition" grows more insistent, her feet start to fly with a rapidity that seems to almost startle her.
And then she stops mid-phrase. Copeland's hands fall to her hips as she apologizes. Choreographer Kyle Abraham slides to the sound system to pause the music, giving Copeland a moment to remind herself of a recent change to the sequence.
"It's different when the sound's on!" he reassures her. "And it's a lot of changes."
The day before was the first time Abraham had seen Copeland dance the solo in its entirety, and the first moment they were in the studio together in a month. This is their last rehearsal, save for tech, before the premiere of Ash exactly one week later, as part of the opening night of City Center's Fall for Dance festival.
Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.
"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."
Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.
Now, college scholarships are just one of many ways NYCDA has gone beyond the typical weekend-long convention experience and created life-changing opportunities for students. We rounded up some of the most notable ones:
Dancers are understandably obsessed with food. In both an aesthetic and athletic profession, you know you're judged on your body shape, but you need proper fuel to perform your best. Meanwhile, you're inundated with questionable diet advice.
"My 'favorite' was the ABC diet," says registered dietitian nutritionist Kristin Koskinen, who trained in dance seriously but was convinced her body type wouldn't allow her to pursue it professionally. "On the first day you eat only foods starting with the letter A, on the second day only B, and so on."
"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.