One of the most common struggles I see in my sessions are singers who despite not having any illness or sinus issues, sound as though they are sick; their voices are raspy, slightly or seriously hoarse, grainy and over all ‘pap’. And then I ask them the question: “When did you last get a proper night’s sleep?” And the common answer is, “Ag, not enough, maybe 5 or 6 hours, but I’m fine…” And then I say (rather loudly) “You are NOT fine! You are sleep deprived…IT’S A MUSCLE NOT A MIRACLE!!!!” Sleep is a key factor in vocal health. Without it, you can forget the warm ups and the belting and the cool downs and the joy, because you cannot sing properly. Your body needs sleep in order to function.
So why is bashing “Z’s” so important in singing? Your chords are essentially a muscle, similarly to that of your bicep (albeit more delicate and smaller). When you go to the gym and do weights, you can immediately see small changes in the appearance of your arms: The muscles start to bulge out more, veins become more apparent and there can even be reddening and additional heat in the area; signs that the body is breaking down tissue. This eventually subsides after the work out and the body then goes into repair mode in which it starts to rebuild and fix the muscle tissue you broke down whilst lifting those weights. In any gym regime, distinct rest periods are scheduled in so that your body has time to recover and work out that lactic acid build up. Think of an athlete training for an event: They are fanatic about getting a good night’s sleep, and often stick to a strict schedule for doing everything, in order to be in the best physical shape for the race. So, as a vocal athlete, why would you do anything different from the running athlete?
Sadly the answer is..Because we don't view ourselves as athletes!
And herein lies the problem. If the voice is like our bicep and we work it, where are the scheduled rest periods? The muscle needs time to repair: aka no talking if we work out our chords and this is really only possible when we sleep.
According to findings from Harvard Medical School, “many of the major restorative functions in the body like muscle growth, tissue repair, protein synthesis, and growth hormone release occur mostly, or in some cases only, during sleep.” So therefore if you are required to sing in a 2 and a half hour show, do a rep session or a technical vocal work out – endurance singing – rest is absolutely required!
There are also a few other things to recognise when you are trying sing when feeling exhausted: Your body cannot properly support the voice, because your posture will be poor. You will see singers using the muscles in the throat to “push” the notes out – causing swelling and pain. Your breathing is also greatly affected; by not being able to sustain phrases properly. The energy with which you need to produce a safe belt will not be optimal, and this can leave you vulnerable to sustaining an injury.
I recently read an article that interviewed some of Broadways top vocalists, and the same thing they all said was that the only way they are able to vocally give the same expected performance night after night is how much sleep they get at night. Nearly all of them said that they have to get 8 to 10 hours of sleep so that they can be vocally prepared to get through the next show.
I know sometimes there is always so much to do, and that at times sleep seems like this unattainable luxury, but just remember that it’s essential to freeing your voice. So turn off the “just one more” episode on Netflix and get some shut eye!