76” x 80”, 100 % Egyptian cotton ivory sheets (1200 thread count, of course), fluffy, white goose down pillows, comforter folded back, lights on dim, a spray of lavender on the pillow cases, Sarah Vaughn playing on the Bose. Stretch your arms over your head, enjoy the ensuing yawn, a sip of water, and you are ready to jump between the sheets, consolidate today’s experiences, close the eyes, and SLEEP.
In order to maintain optimal vocal health, sufficient rest is crucial, especially for those of us who depend on our voices for our livelihood. If you don’t get enough hours of shut eye, your vocal tissues can swell. You may find that your voice gets tired more quickly and that you don’t have the dynamic range that you’re accustomed to. As your voice sends out an SOS due to its fatigued state, other non-speaking body parts may try to compensate for your vocal tiredness, creating unfavorable tenseness in your vocal cords.
Additionally, sleep repairs your voice, your body, your memory, and your creativity – all of the cognitive skills necessary to continue to learn and perform well. At the same time, the right amount of rest keeps you from being susceptible to infection by maintaining a healthier immune system – fighting off colds, throat irritation, and other infections.
Another factor to consider is the quality of the sleep you’re getting. Basal sleep is that deep, continuous sleep that lasts about seven to eight hours and leaves you refreshed and ready to perform at a superior level. This is the kind of sleep you want. Unfortunately, it’s not the kind of sleep many of us get. Poor sleeping habits, like waking often during the night, or restlessness due to physical ailments, can accumulate over time, causing what’s called ‘sleep debt’. This debt can make you feel lethargic, depressed, contrary, withdrawn, and just plain TIRED. Not a great list of attributes as you face a day of marketing your voice, your winning personality, and delivering a stellar performance.
So, you’re climbing into that refuge of rest, you close your eyes, relax your body, and find that slumber escapes you. Causes abound when trying to figure out the “why” of not being able to sleep. Was the day particularly stressful? Did a producer redirect your performance until you felt you would relish a screaming match? Are there some additional worries on your particular plate? Could you just not find the rhythm and pattern in the documentary voiceover that you promised would have a twenty four hour turnaround time? Did you forget and have a late evening cup of coffee? Is someone snoring nearby? Or possibly the Mexican chorizo dinner has caused a bit of acid reflux?
Whatever the reason, the inability to sleep can be attributed to something. So, just as you prepare for a performance, speech, or audition, you have to lay the groundwork for a good night’s rest.
If the sandman has skipped your bedroom for the moment, GET UP! Lying in bed, watching the clock, adjusting the pillows for the ninth time, will only increase your angst. Drink a warm cup of Throat Coat tea with lemon and honey. Read a chapter of a favorite book. Take a warm bath. Plan to get enough natural light during the day. Bring the sunlight into your living space by opening shades and curtains. Get out of the recording booth at regular intervals, take a walk to the mailbox – anything to give your body some exposure to light.
On the other hand, be mindful of limiting artificial light as the evening progresses. Turn off that computer as early in the evening as possible. Avoid high wattage lighting in the bedroom. Skip television or movies that make you feel worried, anxious, stressed, or scared. Stay away from situations that might increase stress, such as arguing, emotionally charged conversations, debating politics or religion.
Use a sleep mask, ear plugs, a sound machine or some type of adjustable white noise designed for relaxation and blocking distractions. Dohm-DS is a white noise machine with exceptional noise-masking capabilities. Simply Noise is a download of white noise available on Apple’s App Store.
Hard though it may be, make an effort to support your biological clock by sticking to a regular sleep schedule. Work towards waking up and GETTING UP at the same time every day. Formulate a routine and stick to it.
One final suggestion on getting that phantasmagorical seven to eight hours of shut eye is to experiment with sleeping positions. A highly recommended sleep position, especially for those of us who use our voices, is to sleep with your head in a raised position. This body alignment can help sinuses to drain, decrease the severity of snoring, and can aid with gastrointestinal problems. Two pillows, a foam wedge, or raising the bed frame on one end are several ways to try this trick.
Prior to lights out, restrict salty snacks. Salt will contribute to water retention, possibly creating puffiness around the eyes or swelling of extremities. Not only do you want to treat your voice with care, the other parts of the body will be grateful to be included in the healthy plan.
A glass of wine, soda, coffee, caramel macchiato = NO! Embrace water as your nighttime drink of choice. Your vocal cords and your body will soak up that last bit of H20 and ‘Tomorrow You’ will be incredibly grateful.
Oh, and by the way… Sweet Dreams!
Angela Castonguay is a successful voice-over artist, coach, and author, whose book Feeding Your Voice provides an essential guide to voice care. For more of her work, visit her website angelacastonguay.homestead.com.