Eat, Sleep, Dance, Repeat: The Importance of Sleep for Dancers

importance of sleep for dancersBy Alyssa Hartley for Athletico Physical Therapy

As summer comes to an end, Fall brings a season of routine. This is especially true of dancers who are back to academia on top of rehearsal. Professional dancers, for example, will begin preparing their upcoming repertoire for programs like Joffrey Ballet’s Giselle and Hubbard Street Dance Company’s Fall Series.

While the days are getting shorter, rehearsals are getting longer and cutting into valuable time meant for counting sheep. The CDC recommends 8-10 hours of sleep for teens 13-18 years old, and 7 or more hours per night for adults 18-60 years old. This can be difficult to achieve for dancers, whose rehearsals consist of specialized physical activity of high volume, frequency and intensity throughout the week. Dancers also don’t usually have an off-season, which can contribute to increased incidence of altered sleep-wake rhythms, illness and musculoskeletal injuries. In fact, studies show:

Rarely Sleeping Beauty

In Germany, there was a small study of 24 classical ballet dancers and their sleep quality prior to a ballet premiere. The total time spent asleep and ratio of time asleep vs. awake in bed was low in the ballet dancers compared to age-matched athletes. Over the course of 67 days prior to the show’s premiere, there was an even greater exacerbation in these sleep factors. This was true while the amount of time spent in ballet class and rehearsal per day did not change. Now, imagine this same degradation in sleep over the course of multiple shows throughout the year. That adds up to be a lot of missed shut-eye for dancers!

Wide Awake

There have been hundreds of studies on athletes and disturbed sleep. Athletes that participate at the Olympic, international, national and professional level, such as professional dancers, are considered “elite”. A systematic review of the literature of sleep quality in elite sports shows that elite athletes generally show high levels of insomnia symptoms (inability to initiate and maintain sleep). Pre-sleep arousal (more brain activity) and sleep restriction (not having the time to sleep long enough) were the most prevalent issues. Thus, lack of sleep can actually exacerbate insomnia, creating a vicious cycle.

Benefits of Sleep for Dancers

The processes that occur during sleep have been widely studied, and the benefits are far-reaching for all humans, but certainly for athletes. Sleep increases the secretion of growth hormone, which is necessary for dancers to grow and get stronger. Memory consolidation and motor-sequencing occurs during sleep, which is necessary for dancers when learning new choreography or technique. Therefore long-term to even short-lived disturbances in sleep can cause a dancer to perform worse mentally and physically, possibly affecting his or her contracts professionally.

Sleep is an essential part of mental and physical recovery. Many dancers, from recreational to professional, have challenging classes and rehearsals on back to back days without enough time for recovery. If an athlete does not have enough recovery between high-intensity workouts or rehearsals, successive workouts or classes are done at a less than optimal physiological condition. If training stress is too high, and there is not enough adequate recovery, such as prior to a competition or performance, “overtraining” can occur.

Over time, this pattern results in a plateau of performance and possible injury. A meta-analysis shows that dancer injury is extremely prevalent, with ankle, foot, lumbar and cervical spine injuries being the most frequently injured. One small study even found highest illness prevalence after six weeks of an overload training regimen in athletes. No dancer wants to be injured or sick before a performance, indicating that appropriate recovery – and most notably sleep – is imperative for excelling on stage.

Tips to Catch Some Zzz’s:

  • Make sure you are in a cool, dark environment
  • Avoid alcohol, caffeine and drug use
  • Eliminate screen time prior to bed
  • Aim to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day
  • If possible, consider a “post-lunch” nap for around 20 minutes for greater energy, but not within 4 hours of bed

Adequate sleep can help prevent injuries and improve daily functions, but it is still important for dancers to pay attention to their bodies. Should any unusual pain or discomfort occur during or after rehearsal, make sure to begin the healing process as soon as possible by scheduling a complimentary injury screen at your nearest Athletico location.

Schedule a Complimentary Injury Screen

Destress, Build Bones, & Boost Metabolism

By Karen Malkin – Karen Malkin Health Counseling 


By now, you probably know that stress takes a tremendous toll on your body, often showing up in the form of headaches, intestinal issues, weight gain, hypertension, insomnia, and other health problems.

Did you know stress also wreaks havoc on your bones and calorie burning capacity?

If stress travels with you like unwanted baggage, take advantage of summer’s slower pace to let it go, boost metabolism and build strong bones. By making a commitment to incorporate these stress-reduction techniques into your summer routine, you will stand taller, breathe easier, feel stronger and burn more calories.

First, let’s take a quick look at how stress impacts your health.

  • When stressed, your body releases the hormones cortisol and insulin.
  • Elevated cortisol and insulin lead to increases in blood sugar, cholesterol, and signals the body to store fat and not build lean muscle.
  • Stress causes salt retention.
  • Stress decreases gut flora, healthy bacteria, needed for good digestion.
  • Stress decreases the amount growth hormone in your body which is needed for growth and to build muscle.
  • Stress decreases thyroid hormone needed to regulate metabolism.
  • Stress increases inflammation in the body and oxidative stress and causes premature aging.
  • Stress increases nutrient excretion.  The body excretes calcium as well, chromium, selenium, magnesium, zinc and all the micro minerals, through the urine, from going to your bones for the good of other tissues-it’s like the anti-Vitamin D.

Am I stressing you out?

Slow Down to De-stressDon’t worry-if changing gears doesn’t come naturally, it’s very hard for me, too. Thankfully, summer’s warm temps and laid back attitude presents the IDEAL environment to slow down. For me, heading to Eagle River, Wisconsin for time with my family and friends breathing in the north woods air helps me truly relax and recharge.

Here are 5 tips to help you de-stress:

  1. Cut down on your commitments. Say “NO”.  Create a NOT to-do list.
  2. Take a vacation, spend time in nature, and truly unplug (NOTE: this means your mobile phone and laptop also take a rest!) Try not to worry. What you resist, persists!
  3. Practice deep breathing, rhythmically, which short cuts the stress response and allows you to feel relaxed very quickly, which increases calorie burning capacity.
  4. Read a good book; catch up on your summer novels!
  5. Get quality sleep and give yourself permission to nap. Sleep deprivation increases the hunger hormone, ghrelin, which causes refined carbohydrate and sugar cravings.

Move to De-stress

Summer also presents the perfect season for strengthening bones, as you’re naturally more active in the warmer months. Cycling, walking and Pilates are my exercises of choice, especially in the morning to get my day started right; it’s a great option for stress reduction, which in turn helps keep cortisol levels regulated. Simple daily walks, weight training and finding loving ways to move your body will go a long way toward rebuilding your bones.

Eat to De-stress

Reducing caffeine and other acidic foods such as animal protein, milk, packaged foods and soda, and adding in a nutrient dense array of colorful whole foods from summer’s harvest helps ward off bone deterioration. Fruits and vegetables, especially calcium rich leafy greens and those high in lycopene and polyphenols such as tomatoes, berries and watermelon are particularly beneficial for bone health. Additionally, Food + Oxygen = increased calorie burning capacity.

Take deep sips of air before and during each meal. Eating under stress slows down metabolism. Turn on the parasympathetic nervous system by relaxing, which burns more calories and boosts metabolism! So, in the remaining weeks of the season, claim your space in the hammock, spend time with the people you love, take a walk in nature, catch up on your summer read, and fill your plate with dark leafy greens, fresh fruit and lots of vegetables. Your body-and bones will thank you. Keep your eye on the prize: a long and healthy life!

Golf: Return to Play after Surgery, Winter Conditioning & New Teaching Technology; Avoiding Winter Sports Injuries

Episode 17.34 with Hosts Steve Kashul and Dr. Brian Cole. Broadcasting on ESPN Chicago 1000 WMVP-AM Radio, Saturdays from 8:30 to 9:00 AM/c.

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James StandhardtSegment One (01:30): Dr. Nik Verma sitting in for Dr. Cole and Steve speak with James Standhardt from GOLFTEC about returning to play after surgery, winter conditioning, importance of club fitting and new technology in golf instruction. James has taught for more than 14 years and has given over 19,000 lessons with GOLFTEC. Six time “Outstanding Achievement in Instruction” winner.

Segment Two (16:05): Dr. Julia Bruene from Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush talks about how to avoid skiing and other winter sports injuries.

Dr. Julia Bruene is a sports medicine physician with special interests in concussion management, care of female athletes, care of combat athletes/mixed martial arts, and special needs athletes.

In 2006, Dr. Bruene graduated magna cum laude earning her bachelor’s degree in health planning and administration, with a minor in chemistry from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She went on to complete her medical degree at Rush University Medical College, Chicago, IL graduating in the top 20 percent of her class. Dr. Bruene served as chief resident in the Advocate Lutheran General Hospital Family Medicine Residency Program, Park Ridge, IL. She then completed a fellowship in primary care sports medicine at Rush University Medical Center.

A Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioner and recreational runner, Dr. Bruene understands how vital physical well-being is to athletes. Dedicated to keeping fellow sports enthusiasts healthy, Dr. Bruene volunteers to provide medical coverage for Chicago-area sporting events such as the Chicago Style Gymnastics Meet and Bank of America Chicago Marathon. She has also participated in team coverage for local area high school, college, and professional teams, and is a team physician for the Chicago White Sox.



Erica was 14 years old when she began experiencing knee pain, which the family believed to be a result of a recurring sports-related injury. After three weeks of pain with no improvement, Erica’s mother, Angie, decided to have her visit the Rocky Mountain Youth Sports Medicine Institute for an exam. Angie was convinced that Erica had hyperextended her knee and would probably require a couple weeks of physical therapy.

“As she sat on the exam table, she asked me the innocent question, ‘What if they say I need to have surgery’ and we both laughed because it couldn’t possibly be that bad,” said Angie.

After a thorough examination including xrays, the doctor diagnosed Erica with Osteochondritis Dessicans Lesion of the knee, or OCD, which is a softening of the bone due to a blunt force injury or repetitive motion. Pain from OCD typically presents itself significantly after the original injury occurs. Erica’s doctor explained that she had likely been living with the condition for years and that the bone had progressively softened until it caused pain to catch her attention.

“The diagnosis made perfect sense, since Erica plays the back row on her club volleyball team and is frequently hitting the floor to dive after balls,” said Angie. Erica’s doctor scheduled a surgery to scrape out the damaged bone and then replace it with bone marrow from another part of Erica’s leg. Angie was hopeful for a successful procedure and 100 percent recovery, so her daughter could rejoin her volleyball squad and regain her quality of life.

The surgery began with a scope to assess the damage and found that Erica’s cartilage was shredded due to the softened bone that wasn’t able to support it. At this point, Erica’s surgical team determined she actually needed a bone/cartilage graft to replace the damaged tissue in her knee. Thanks to a generous tissue donation from an anonymous donor, Erica was the lucky recipient of a bone and cartilage transplant.

“I was relieved that Erica was able to get such a well-matched graft that would help her heal and be back to full activity in nine months, but I also felt incredibly heartsick for the parents and family of the 15-yearold who wasn’t going to get the chance to run, jump and live life like Erica would on her new knee,” said Angie.

Angie is thankful for all of the support Erica received from family, friends and her medical team throughout her treatment. Erica’s recovery was successful and she is currently practicing to join her high school’s golf team this spring.

“Erica continues to build strength in her leg, but still laughs at how little her calf is compared to the other leg. Her classmates still freak out a little when they see the big scar running across her knee, but she sees it as another distinction that makes her Erica,” said Angie.

Angie never expected her healthy, athletic 14-year-old daughter to need a tissue donation, but when the unexpected happened, both Angie and Erica were whole-heartedly appreciative for the generous gift provided to them by a young donor. And they send their warmest wishes and love to the donor family.

“We pray for the family who lost their 15- year-old and hope that God has given them comfort and strength. And in my prayers I thank them for the perfectly-fitting gift that they gave Erica,” said Angie.