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!)


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