You and your phone have more in common than you might guess, says Dr. Rafael Pelayo, pediatrician and clinical professor at the Stanford Center for Sleep Sciences and Medicine. "If you charge your phone halfway, it works for a few hours," he explains. "But it's not performing at its full potential, and you have to be careful about how you use that energy."
It'd be nice to just plug into the wall for nine hours until you hit 100 percent battery, but for (human) dancers, it's not that simple. So DS asked Dr. Pelayo and Dr. Argelinda Baroni, co-director of the Child and Adolescent Sleep Program in the department of child and adolescent psychiatry at NYU Langone Health, how to maximize your own battery life—ensuring you'll dance better and more safely in the process.
Mistake #1: Underestimating the effects of caffeine
"Caffeine is the devil!" says Baroni. If that sounds extreme, consider this: Caffeine stays in our bodies for six hours on average. If you drink a cup of coffee at 4 pm to jumpstart an afternoon of dancing, that's the equivalent of drinking half a cup at 10 pm. "Even if you have no trouble falling asleep, caffeine blocks adenosine receptors, making your sleep less deep," explains Baroni. "You wake up less rested."
The Fix: "If you like coffee and you're used to it, drink only decaf in the afternoon," says Baroni. "It sounds harsh, but it's super-effective in making you sleep better and need less caffeine."
Mistake #2: "Catching up" on sleep over the weekend
Long rehearsals, late-afternoon classes, and hours of homework have a way of interfering with weeknight shut-eye. But catching up on sleep after the fact is not actually a thing. "You wouldn't stop eating Monday through Friday, then gorge yourself over the weekend," says Pelayo. "Even if you skip sleep completely one night, you don't sleep 16 hours the next. Ten hours or so is the most your brain allows based on evolutionary needs." And one to two extra hours on the weekend won't negate an ongoing or acute sleep deficit.
The Fix: Get the sleep you need, when you need it. This is one area where procrastination is really not your friend.
Mistake #3: Being left to your own devices
We're talking about electronic devices, like phones, tablets, and laptops. Using these bad boys close to bedtime can make you toss and turn because they emit blue light, which interferes with production of melatonin (the hormone that helps you drift off). "You might think watching a movie or chatting with friends helps you relax after a stressful night at the studio, but the screen (and the need to be constantly connected) interferes with your ability to sleep, and your sleep quality," says Baroni.
The Fix: Give your devices their own bedtime an hour or two before you nod off. Have last-minute homework on the computer? Turn on the "nighttime" display mode, and turn the brightness down.
Mistake #4: Abusing naps
Ever gotten up from a nap only to feel groggier than before? You probably slept too long or too late in the day. "Too long or late of a nap gets you into deep sleep," says Pelayo, "so you feel more tired as soon as you wake up." (Don't rely on napping to make up for last night's insufficient sleep, either—shorter sessions don't allow you to enter the deeper sleep stages in which complex mental and physical rest and repair occur.)
The Fix: "Nap between 3 and 4 pm for no more than a half hour," Baroni says. "I would never suggest anybody nap at 5 pm or later."
Mistake #5: Changing "time zones" every Monday and Friday
Do you wake up at 6 am for school, but sleep until noon whenever you don't have morning dance commitments on the weekend? "That's the same amount of 'jet lag' as going to Paris for the weekend," says Baroni, and it can make falling asleep on Sunday night much harder.
The Fix: "Avoid sleeping marathons, and keep wakeup times within a two- or three-hour range," advises Baroni. "If you wake up at 6 am Monday through Friday, don't sleep later than 8 or 9 am on Saturday and Sunday."
A version of this story appeared in the November 2018 issue of Dance Spirit with the title "The Top 5 Sleep Mistakes You Don't Know You're Making."