When Counting Sheep Doesn't Cut It: How Dancers Can Deal with Insomnia
You turned out the light hours ago, but you're still tossing and turning in bed. Every time you're about to doze off, the corrections you got in class today pop into your mind—and just like that, you're wide awake again.
If you have trouble falling or staying asleep, and you often wake up feeling less than refreshed, you may have insomnia. And the reasons are often connected to your mental and emotional well-being, which means there are few quick fixes. But there are some things you can do to get the rest you need to dance your best.
There are two main types of insomnia. Acute insomnia is when trouble sleeping occurs over a short period of time. (Think about when you're just too excited about an upcoming competition or too nervous about a test.) Acute insomnia usually resolves itself without treatment or medication, because the event it's tied to passes. Chronic insomnia occurs over months and is usually linked to major life changes, like a new schedule. It could also be the result of certain medications, a sleep disorder, or another medical condition.
Insomnia is quite common. In fact, Dr. Vijay Jotwani—Houston Methodist primary care sports medicine physician and a consulting physician to the Houston Ballet—thinks it might even be more common among dancers, because of the major role that performance and competition play in our lives. With late-night rehearsals, travel, and ever-changing physical and mental demands, dance training is full of factors that can affect healthy sleep. And being a young person adds even more: Scrolling through your feed before trying to sleep, doing homework in bed, and eating late at night can all contribute to insomnia.
How to Cope
Start cultivating good "sleep hygiene" by making a few changes during your waking hours. Maintain a consistent sleep schedule ("Even on weekends, whenever possible," says Dr. Kate Cronan, a pediatrician and emergency medicine physician at Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, DE), and keep your bedroom dark at night. "Put down electronic devices at least an hour before going to bed—the blue light screens emit can make it hard to get to sleep," Cronan says. Jotwani encourages dancers to use the bedroom primarily for sleep and to finish homework in another room.
But what's a dancer to do, when many of the contributing factors of insomnia are part of a performer's schedule—a schedule dictated by artistic directors and school? "Dancers should work with teachers on setting a schedule that allows for good rest and recovery time," Jotwani says.
For most people, medication isn't the answer. "A misconception about insomnia is that it needs to be treated with medicine," says Jotwani. "Often the non-medicine components to a treatment plan are more important than medication."
If improving your sleep hygiene doesn't help, it's probably time to talk to a doctor about the issues you're facing. The bottom line, Jotwani says, is that poor sleep will affect your performance in the studio and raise your risk of injury.
Bedtime Best Practices
Rosie DeAngelo, a yoga instructor and freelance dancer in NYC, has a three-part plan to help you manage stress before bedtime.
"Shoulders and hips are two big areas of physical and emotional tension," DeAngelo says. "Pigeon pose and double pigeon pose are great hip-openers." For the shoulders, DeAngelo recommends releasing the pectoral muscles in supported fish pose.
Single Pigeon pose (Thinkstock)
Single Pigeon: Lay your right shin down parallel to the front of your mat, finding a position where the knee feels no pressure. Lengthen your left leg behind you and carefully lower your torso down over your shin.
Double Pigeon pose (Thinkstock)
Double Pigeon: Bend your right knee approximately 90 degrees and stack your left shin directly on top of your right. Walk your torso forward over your legs to deepen the stretch. If this hurts the knees, sit on a few pillows or keep the bottom leg extended forward.
Supported Fish pose (Thinkstock)
Supported Fish: Position yoga blocks behind you on the mat under your shoulder blades and under your head one level higher. Once you lie back on them, your pelvis should be completely on the floor.
"Breathing practices can help with sleep because they slow your heart rate and ground your energy," DeAngelo says. Try alternate-nostril breathing: Sit comfortably and tall. Place your left hand open in your lap, palm up, and place your index finger and middle finger together between your eyebrows. Exhale completely, close off your left nostril with your pinkie and ring finger, and inhale through your right nostril. Always switch nostrils before you exhale. Switch fingers and close off your right nostril with your thumb. Exhale out the left, pause, then inhale through the left. Repeat for at least 5 minutes. Once complete, release your right hand and keep your eyes closed, breathing normally for 5–10 more rounds of breath.
Lavender essential oil (Thinkstock)
"Lavender or cedarwood oil is great for relaxation," DeAngelo says. Dilute one or both with coconut or jojoba oil and place the mixture on the bottoms of your feet (where there are lots of pores, so you'll absorb the oils efficiently).
A version of this story appeared in the February 2018 issue of Dance Spirit with the title "When Counting Sheep Doesn't Cut It."
Kyle Van Newkirk is a tap dancer you probably remember from the premiere season of NBC's World of Dance. In case you missed it, he is also one of Showstopper's incredible convention teachers. What makes Kyle stand apart from some of today's other incredible tappers? He isn't afraid to change what tap means to his audience and even himself. This modern view of tap dancing is important because it shows us that tap dancers are just as versatile and dynamic as dancers of any other genre. We sat down with Kyle to get his advice on bringing tap dancing into the 21st century.
Sure, dancers definitely have some unique identifying characteristics. (We're all obsessed with Center Stage? FACT.) But we're also subjected to all kinds of annoying, inaccurate stereotyping. Here are 10 dancer stereotypes that we never want to hear again.
They say there's no "I" in "team"—and nowhere is that truer than the world of college dance teams, where precision reigns, uniformity is key, and a single misstep from any given "I" can cost a group a championship trophy. So it's unsurprising that securing a spot on one of the best dance teams in the country is no easy feat.
Members of these highly athletic teams rehearse for hours every week—on top of academic classes and commitments—and perform at football and basketball games, annual concerts, and nationally televised competitions (hi, ESPN). And "no I" rule notwithstanding, each of these top teams is made up of highly trained, highly technical, highly hard-core individuals, who come together to create a ready-for-victory pack.
These six teams aren't one-off success stories—they're consistently strong, and earn the top spots at major competitions like UDA and NDA nearly every year. Up for the challenge? Here's what to know before you go to auditions.
When Janet Jackson puts out a call for new dancers, basically the ENTIRE WORLD responds. More than 75,000 people entered Jackson's epic #DanceWithJanet contest, announced earlier this spring, which let hopefuls from around the globe audition via social media for a chance to perform with the icon.
So, out of those tens of thousands, who became the newest members of the #JTribe? Meet Phillip Galbert and L'Vala "Lala" Moss, the winners of the competition. Last night, they joined Janet onstage at the Billboard Music Awards. And they more than earned their place in the spotlight.
The Glorya Kaufman International Dance Center is the 54,000 square foot home of the USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance, one of the largest facilities dedicated to dance on a private university campus. Designed for their innovative new curriculum, that supports a range of dance styles, the school's staff designated Harlequin to provide wall-to-wall flooring for the large 3,500 square foot Performance Studio as well as five dance studios in their new state-of-the-art building.
Last May, we told you about a special exhibition of the Mark Ryden artwork that sparked Alexei Ratmansky's sweet-treat of a ballet, Whipped Cream. Well, hold on to your tiaras, bunheads, because there's a brand-new exhibit featuring actual costumes from this megahit production. The Nutcracker's Land of Sweets has some serious competition!
DancerPalooza, America's Largest Dance Festival, is moving to sunny SAN DIEGO, California from July 24-29, 2018.
Check out all of the NEW Intensives DancerPalooza has to offer this year!
Picture this: You've scored tickets to Ellen DeGeneres' hit show, "Ellen." The day has come, the show is as hysterical as ever, Ellen is debating the biggest hot-button issue since the blue/black or white/gold dress, "Laurel vs. Yanny" (side note: it's LAUREL, people), and tWitch is killing it over at the DJ booth, as always. Ellen decides it's the perfect time to single out an audience member and, lo and behold, that person is "SYTYCD" champ ( and December 2017 cover star!) Lex Ishimoto.
If diamonds are a girl's best friend, it's safe to say that faux-diamond earrings are a dancer's best friend. A fixture onstage at just about every competition weekend, these blinged-out baubles are also the surest sign that recital season is upon us again. And what better way to get into the sparkly spirit than by drooling over these 5 diamonds in the rough? (Sorry not sorry!)