We all want to get a good night’s sleep. It’s common knowledge that sleeping well makes you perform better in all areas. There are numerous studies that strongly suggest this. This link suggests the incredible importance of sleep for athletes. Singers are essentially vocal athletes.
Sleep is one of the most underrated factors in singing. I would go as far as saying that without a good night’s sleep, you make it 10x harder to sing well. By well, I mean singing with the same range, support, and reliability as your best effort.
But what happens if you just can’t get a good night’s sleep?
I’ll give you some tips on how to engineer your way around this. But this is a workaround, not an ideal state.
So if you are able to, (and before a performance you have to make this your #1 priority) a good night’s sleep is the single biggest factor in what condition your body and voice will be in when you get up there to perform.
Why is sleeping so crucial for Singing?
Your voice is your instrument. Your voice isn’t just your vocal chords. It’s the whole musculature and breathing apparatus in your throat, neck, lungs, stomach, and etc. Singing is a whole body exercise, not an isolated workout. Even how you stand, and the strength in your legs and back have an effect on the quality of sound you produce.
When you don’t sleep well, your body lacks the strength to fully engage all the muscles involved with producing sound. This has an effect on several key aspects of your voice.
- Ability to sustain notes
- Staying in tune
How Range gets effected
Not having enough sleep massively impacts your ability to successfully sing in the upper registers. The greater muscular support and openness in the larynx become harder to accomplish when we feel tired and weak. As a result, we can crack or just sing weak high notes.
How Support gets effected
Low sleep means your muscular support in the diaphragm cannot maintain a contracted position. We struggle to keep the rib cage open and control the slow release of air. Related: How to sing High Notes (How to master High Notes – Support) In desperation, we use other crutches like jaw tightening and forcing too much air to compensate. This results in bad singing and vocal overuse.
How the ability to sustain notes gets effected
As a side-effect of a weaker support, we also feel very challenged with our muscular stamina. Sustaining a note becomes much harder as we tire quicker. Have you ever tried working out when you are tired compared to when you are rested? You become weaker and ‘hit the wall’ that much faster. Using the muscles to control the slow release of air as we sing through a sustained note becomes challenging.
How Resonance gets effected
Resonance is the vibration of air in the cheek, nose and forehead area of the face( Wikipedia Definition of Vocal Resonance ). A tired voice lacks the brightness associated with a healthy, strong voice. The sound sits ‘back’ in the head and does not project or resonate into the room. The lack of muscular engagement stops the sound from properly vibrating in all the cavities in the skull.
How Staying in Tune gets effected
Staying in tune is a function of musicality and technique. A good singer will have both at his/her disposal to create a musically pleasing sound. Sometimes, when we are tired, our technique suffers and as a result we can sing flat or sharp. If we were to sing in falsetto (the male voice’s high pitch sound using the false chords), the song would be perfectly in tune. How can that be? The answer is our ability to hear and interpret pitch is just fine, rather our tired body fails to support the sound properly. This results in pitch issues.
“This is all great, but I couldn’t sleep last night and I’ve got a big gig today. What do I do?”
#1 Warm up in the right way
Don’t worry. All is not lost. I’ve been there and sung well. The answer lies in mastery over technique.
To wake up those muscles, we are going to do some exercises that will force the muscles to engage and be nimble.
This exercise shocks our diaphragm into responsiveness using short notes
This exercise focuses on quick notes, working through the range. We just touch the notes. It encourages our support musculature to engage by quickly cycling through the scale.
Start on a note in the bottom part of your range. Here I start from F# and go up B, next up would be G -> C, G# to C# etc.
The next exercise does the same thing but for sustained notes.
Start with a note in the middle of your range and work up a fourth. Here I go from D -> G. Next scale would be D# -> G#, E -> A.
These are a couple of ideas of the type of exercises that help get your voice awake. Definitely speak with your teacher for more of this type. It’s also imperative NOT to overdo the warm up. You’re tired already so you may not last as long. You don’t want to waste all your energy on your warm up and not on the performance.
#2 Don’t overdo it
There is a tendency to over warm up when we are nervous that our voice is not in the right place. Don’t give in to it! This can totally destroy your energy and tire you out. Instead, warm up lightly, take a break, and then try again after 10 minutes. Sing one line of one of your performance songs. You will be surprised where your voice is!
If you feel you need to work on another vowel or a different register, then do some light exercises and take a break. Sing one line. Evaluate.
Your voice responds best when it is not over-stressed. A Warm up should be just that, a warm up. Don’t run a marathon when you are just trying to stretch.
#3 Energize yourself with good nutrition
If good sleep didn’t happen, that’s no excuse for not powering yourself for singing. Related: How Food Will Make You Sing Better. The foods that can give you the most energy for a performance should be complex carbs like bread and pasta, along with quality animal protein like fish or meat.
Also, try and aim to finish eating about 1.5 hours before your performance. This will allow you to get maximal energy from your food as it has now been digested. It also makes sure any oils or food pieces that could interfere with your vocal production have been coughed out or released in phlegm.
#4 Get a nap
If you can, get a midday nap. It’s not a waste of time. In fact, it may be the best use of time. When you wake up, do the light warm ups in #1 to bring your voice back into the correct place.
My experiences with sleep
I’ve performed under many different sleep circumstances. I’ve had times where I’ve slept like a baby and sung almost effortlessly. There was the time when I felt like I was coming down with something and I slept for 11 hours and sang like a beast the next day. There was also the occasion when I flew internationally and had something like 40 minutes sleep. I put into practice points #1-#4 and managed to perform in good voice.
Sleep is really one of the most underrated and least glamorous aspects of singing and performance. Try to get as much of it as possible and especially before the big day. However, if you don’t, you can still engineer your way to vocal success.
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