To Sleep… Perchance to Practice

Most everyone understands that sleep is a time for rest and recovery for the body – and the brain – and yet, somehow we continue to try to perform our best on less than adequate sleep.  I thought it would be interesting to share a few lesser known facts about sleep.

Studies have shown that a night of sleep in-between learning something new and being tested on it can significantly improve performance. In a study of motor skills, participants who were tested 12 hours after learning a new skill with a night of sleep in-between improved by 20.5%, compared to just 3.9% improvement for participants who were tested at 4-hour intervals during waking hours. Our brains use sleep to process the information it took in during the day.  

Love it when research can clearly connect the dots for our students (as well as ourselves) that their ability to learn combinations, new choreography, enhance their technique will improve with quality sleep.  If they can think about the combination or choreography before they go to sleep it will encourage the brain to review it during the deep sleep cycles.

I would always touch upon the power of sleep multiple times during the semester.  Sometimes it felt like it was going in one ear and out the other – but every now and then I was rewarded by a student saying “I took your advice and went to sleep at 9 and woke up at 5 to study and did well on my test!” 

Perhaps if we shared the fact that sleep deprivation can cut your brain’s ability to take in new information by almost 40% that would make more of an impact.  We know that pulling all-nighters doesn’t work – but having night after night of not enough sleep will also negatively influence your intellectual and motor learning.  (As well as your overall health and immune function) 

I learned something interesting from Professor Barbara Oakley that sleep flushes out toxins that are created from our normal daily awake state.  It is during sleep that these toxins are flushed out. Sleep is when the brain does its housecleaning, so to speak!  Here is a short 3-minute video where she discusses this. 

It’s accepted that little sleep will influence test-taking – but the negative consequences are even greater for dancers taking a class fatigued and overly tired.  After all the chances of physical injury is far greater during a dance class than when you are sitting at a desk taking a test.  Our bodies need recovery time along with our brains!

About a year ago I purchased an Oura ring that tracks sleep, resting heart rate, heart rate variability, activity, etc. I found it fascinating to learn over time my own patterns with sleeping, what seems to encourage a good nights sleep and also the deterrents. I’m not suggesting we all need to purchase sleep trackers (although they are fun for those of us who like to geek out on personal research) What I am suggesting is that as teachers we need to do whatever we can to help change the culture of devaluing sleep – and set a good example by getting proper sleep ourselves!

To your success, (and a good night’s sleep!)


Anatomy of Habit Part 2

This is a 21 minute clip – be patient – it may take a moment to load!  Enjoy!  Deborah



holding brain copyI recently returned from TCU where I had all the freshman dance majors in a course called “The Working Body”.  And work they did… meeting every day for multiple hours a day, exploring how to bring anatomical knowledge into their technique and dancing.  They were wonderful – and I will miss this very special group!

I asked them on the last day to take 5 minutes and write down a takeaway from the week.  I was curious after such a whirlwind of a week what stuck and seemed most important.  Below are their brief statements and a few responses and explanations from me. (They gave me permission to post) I hope you find it interesting reading!

[quote style=”boxed”]I dealt with a compression fracture in my upper back for a long time, and I have had pain in that area for a long time. When we talked about the spine in the course, I learned a way to feel as though I’m decompressing my spine and putting air in between each vertebra. It definitely helps with the pain I face now, and will prevent me from future spinal injuries! AA[/quote]

I remember seeing this dancer’s spine change after focusing on increasing and balancing the rotation of the spine.  It was so cool to see that some of the lateral curves improved – it just goes to show that with every lateral curve of the spine – there is also rotation.  I’ve seen good improvement with focusing on improving spinal rotation first then focusing on stretching.

Read more

5 Success Principles

I’ve been thinking a lot about the mindset it takes to become a successful dancer or performer and decided to put together an initial video clip on 5 important success principles.  Enjoy!

“Education is the key to injury prevention”

Guided Visualizations

With the holiday countdown, Nutcracker performances, increased social engagements – stress levels can easily increase.  Dancers and dance teachers need recovery time and ways they can train (or retrain) their bodies into more efficient patterns.

I created a mp3 file of guided imagery for my students.  As I talk about in the Train Your Brain ebook for children – your brain doesn’t know the difference between what is real and what is imagined. I first learned about ideokinesis (using imagery to change neuromuscular pathways) from Irene Dowd and it has guided my rehab work with clients since then. In order to make a real physical change you have to go back to the cortical or brain level and change the message that is being sent out.

The focus of this mp3 file is to simply release all unnecessary tension and to increase your physical state of well-being. When you listen to it you can either be in constructive rest position which is lying on your back with your legs supported over pillows or on a chair – or sitting easily upright, supported comfortably in a chair. (note: it is 26 minutes)

I hope you’ll take a break over your busy week and click below to listen to this!


To your success,


“Education is the key to injury prevention”