Drink water. We’ve heard that admonition all our lives, and for a wide variety of reasons. After all, up to 60% of your body is made up of water! But as a voice actor, staying hydrated takes on a whole new sense of importance. It’s a critical part of keeping your voice “in shape” for whatever a script (or lengthy session) might require.
But how much water is enough? And does one have to drink water, or would another liquid serve the same purpose? Can H2O (in its liquid state) always meet a voice actor’s needs? Recently, circumstances forced me to explore the subject of hydration in-depth.
For the past several months, my schedule as a voice coach has called for me to have a very long day every Monday, typically with sessions beginning as early as 8 AM, and ending at 5 PM. I noticed that by mid-afternoon I was becoming hoarse, despite the fact that I was sipping water occasionally throughout the day. In fact, after my final session, my voice was almost completely gone. To make matters worse, there seemed to be a “carry-over effect.” As the week unfolded, after a couple of hours or so of vocal work each morning, I could hear the strain in my voice.
Concerned that I had overworked and possibly damaged my vocal cords, I made an appointment with an ENT specialist, who used a scope to get a look at what was going on. Fortunately, no harm had been done, but in the course of the exam she asked me how much water I typically drank per day. I asked, “Do you mean water, or liquids?” She wanted to know specifically about water. I told her I sipped room temperature/cool water from time to time on the days when I was recording or coaching, but at other times probably not very much. After giving it more thought, I had to admit that I probably only drank about 16-24 ounces of water in a typical day, plus small amounts that I sipped when working.
My doctor told me that I was not getting nearly enough water, especially given my profession. She recommended using this rule of thumb: Take my body weight (160 lbs), divide it by 2, and then take the result (80) as a goal in terms of ounces of water to drink per day. Among other benefits, this would help my body produce thin, watery mucus that would, in turn, keep my vocal cords moist and lubricated.
She went on to say that drinking water would NOT provide immediate benefit to my vocal cords, for the simple reason that when we swallow, the vocal folds close to keep food and liquids from entering the airway. The larynx rises inside the neck and the epiglottis moves to cover it, providing even more airway protection.
A little internet research on my part found plenty of backup for what she said. Lesley Childs, M.D. – Otolaryngology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, put it this way: “It’s a myth that what you eat or drink comes into direct contact with your vocal cords. Drinking honey or tea, or gargling salt water or apple cider vinegar can definitely be soothing for your throat, but they aren’t washing off the vocal cords.” Okay, if that’s the case, then what does one do for immediate relief when it comes to providing the vocal cords with moisture?
While liquids can’t reach the vocal cords, moist air can. Breathing moist vapor can provide direct moisture contact, and while it’s not practical to hop in the shower every hour or so, or drag around a vaporizer to use when needed, there is a very portable solution – a device called a nebulizer.
Nebulizers use oxygen and compressed air or other means to break up solutions into small aerosol droplets that can be directly inhaled from a mouthpiece or face mask. A quick search revealed a number of these products can be purchased for under $100.
As for drinking tea, coffee, or other beverages as part of your voice-over routine, if you have something that makes you comfortable and works for you, fine. Avoid (or hold to a minimum) dairy, and don’t substitute these liquids for water (in other words, if you drink that 8-ounce cup of coffee, it doesn’t count toward your water tally).
Getting back to the question of how much water one should drink to maintain adequate hydration for good health, the lowest number that I found online was 64 ounces/day, and several sources advanced a formula similar to the one that my doctor gave me that yield a bit higher number. And yes, it is actually possible to over hydrate, a condition called hyponatremia. But as long as you spread your water consumption across the day (stay under 27 ounces per hour) and keep close to the 64-80 ounce range as a daily total mentioned earlier, you will not be at risk for overhydration.
To make this easy to monitor, I now fill a 24-ounce cup of water in the morning and replenish it twice during the course of the day (if I get halfway through that third cup I know that I’ve made my goal). In addition, I have my nebulizer standing by and use it a few times on those long days (or for those lengthy sessions).
The bottom line: the hoarseness is gone, my voice doesn’t sound scratchy at the end of the day, and as a bonus, I feel great! Little aches and pains from sore muscles and joints have largely disappeared – forgive the pun, but I think they’ve been washed away.
My recommendation: make sure you’re getting enough water throughout your day, every day. If you’re doing a good bit of voice work, consider supplementing your water consumption through the use of a nebulizer.
Bonus tip: If you’re a male over the age of 55, you might want to consider finishing drinking that water BEFORE 7:30 PM. 🙂
For more reading on the SAV blog on the subject of vocal health, hydration, and more, check out this Working Wednesday!