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."
It's a cycle familiar to many: First, a striking image of a lithe, impossibly fit dancer executing a gravity-defying développé catches your eye on Instagram. You pause your scrolling to marvel, over and over again, at her textbook physique.
Inevitably, you take a moment to consider your own body, in comparison. Doubt and negative self-talk first creep, and then flood, in. "I'll never look like that," the voice inside your head whispers. You continue scrolling, but the image has done its dirty work—a gnawing sensation has taken hold, continually reminding you that your own body is inferior, less-than, unworthy.
It's no stretch to say that social media has a huge effect on body image. For dancers—most of whom already have a laser-focus on their appearance—the images they see on Instagram can seem to exacerbate ever-present issues. "Social media is just another trigger," says Nadine Kaslow, a psychologist who works with the dancers of Atlanta Ballet. "And dancers don't need another trigger." In the age of Photoshop and filters, how can dancers keep body dysmorphia at bay?
If "Fosse/Verdon" whet your appetite for the impeccable Gwen Verdon, then Merely Marvelous: The Dancing Genius of Gwen Verdon is the three-course meal you've been craving. The new documentary—available now on Amazon for rental or purchase—dives into the life of the Tony-winning performer and silver-screen star lauded for her charismatic dancing.
Though she's perhaps most well-known today as Bob Fosse's wife and muse, that's not even half of her story. For starters, she'd already won four Tonys before they wed, making her far more famous in the public eye than he was at that point in his career. That's just one of many surprising details we learned during last night's U.S. premiere of Merely Marvelous. Believe us: You're gonna love her even more once you get to know her. Here are eight lesser-known tidbits to get you started.
Every dancer knows that how you fuel your body affects how you feel in the studio. Of course, while breakfast is no more magical than any other meal (despite the enduring myth that it's the most important one of the day), showing up to class hangry is a recipe for unproductive studio time.
So what do your favorite dancers eat in the morning to set themselves up for a busy rehearsal or performance day?
When it comes to dance in the U.S., companies in the South often find themselves overlooked—sometimes even by the presenters in their own backyard. That's where South Arts comes in. This year, the regional nonprofit launched Momentum, an initiative that will provide professional development, mentorship, touring grants and residencies to five Southern dance companies.