How much time per day we should spend practicing for optimal performance is a popular point of discussion. But when was the last time you had a conversation with another musician about how much time per day we should spend sleeping for optimal performance?

According to sleep researchers such as James Maas of Cornell University, optimal mental and physical performance is not going to happen when we are in a sleep-deprived state. In other words, we are failing to tap into our potential, and unable to play or perform at the level we are capable of reaching, if we are not getting enough sleep. And believe it or not, the vast majority of us would be classified as sleep-deprived. In fact, most of us don’t even know what it feels like to be fully awake.

So how many hours does the average person need to be capable of peak performance?

I’ll tell you in a minute, but first, how can we tell if we are sleep deprived or not?

Sleep test time!

Read the following descriptions and count up the number of statements that describe you (source: Power Sleep, by James Maas).

  • I need an alarm clock in order to wake up at the appropriate time
  • It’s a struggle for me to get out of bed in the morning
  • I feel tired, irritable, and stressed out during the week
  • I have trouble concentrating
  • I have trouble remembering
  • I feel slow with critical thinking, problem solving, and being creative
  • I often fall asleep watching TV
  • I often fall asleep in boring meetings or lectures or in warm rooms
  • I often fall asleep after heavy meals or after a low dose of alcohol
  • I often fall asleep while relaxing after dinner
  • I often fall asleep within five minutes of getting into bed
  • I often feel drowsy while driving
  • I often sleep extra hours on weekend mornings
  • I often need a nap to get through the day
  • I have dark circles around my eyes

How many times did you find yourself saying “yes” to the above statements? If you had 3 or more, then you probably need more sleep.

But I don’t have time to sleep!

Putting a higher value on sleep

Perhaps, but I doubt it. It’s a matter of making sleep a priority. Given how many demands there are on our time, we tend to sacrifice sleep in order to tackle our to-do list or spend time with friends and family. We feel that the obvious benefits of sleep such as greater energy, feeling rested, improved mood, and resistance to illness are sacrifices we are willing to make in order to have the life we want (or at least keep our life from falling apart).

Perfectly understandable, and I’m as guilty of this as anybody. On a day-to-day basis, this probably won’t kill you, though there are a number of documented cases in which sleep deprivation was the cause of fatalities, from forgetting an infant in the car to airplane crashes.

However, if you have an important audition or performance coming up, can you afford to be at less than your best? Wouldn’t you like to go into the audition with an advantage, an edge over your competition? Getting enough sleep is probably the easiest thing you can do to enhance your performance and increase your chances of playing your best and winning the job.

Performance benefits of sleep

Here is a partial list of the benefits of getting enough sleep, especially as it relates to performing.

  • Increased ability to concentrate
  • Increased ability to handle complex tasks
  • Increased ability to assimilate and analyze new information
  • Increased creativity
  • Increased motor skills and coordination
  • Increased memory

Given the time and effort you’ve devoted to preparing for the audition or performance, can you really afford not to sleep?

Ok, enough already.  Just give me the number!

The magic number

Researchers have suggested that for optimal performance, we need as much as 10 hours of sleep per night. Yep, 10 hours. And it’s not enough to get 10 hours just once, but for a consistent number of days, over a period of weeks.

Yes, it may mean giving up your nightly Daily Show fix, or late-night internet browsing, but the benefits outweigh the costs if you want to maximize your chances of playing at peak levels.

The one-sentence summary

There is no hope for a civilization which starts each day to the sound of an alarm clock.    ~Author Unknown

About Noa Kageyama, Ph.D.

Performance psychologist and Juilliard alumnus & faculty member Noa Kageyama teaches musicians how to beat performance anxiety and play their best under pressure through live classes, coachings, and an online home-study course. Based in NYC, he is married to a terrific pianist, has two hilarious kids, and is a wee bit obsessed with technology and all things Apple.

After Countless Hours of Practice, Why Are Performances Still so Hit or Miss?

It’s not a talent issue. And that rush of adrenaline and emotional roller coaster you experience before performances is totally normal too.

Performing at the upper ranges of your ability under pressure is a unique skill – one that requires specific mental skills and a few tweaks in your approach to practicing. Elite athletes have been learning these techniques for decades; if nerves and self-doubt have been recurring obstacles in your performances, I’d like to help you do the same.

Click below to discover the 7 skills that are characteristic of top performers. Learn how you can develop these into strengths of your own. And begin to see tangible improvements in your playing that transfer to the stage.

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