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Sleep: A Pole Dancer's Nightmare


We all love it, and it is a topic of conversation that we consistently hear mentioned when looking into healthy lifestyles. Curling up under the doona, head hits the pillow and we start dozing off. Sounds dreamy right?

In reality – how many of us actually get enough sleep? Is it on the top of the list when we get home, or do we consistently think of what else we should be doing. A quick check of Instagram (guilty), squeezing in a late training class (FOMO) or the latest Netflix series has been released (might have binged Wednesday but who didn’t?)

So why is sleep relevant to pole? The evidence supports the importance of sleep for muscle recovery, brain function and development. For most of us pole is a hobby, and there are many other aspects in our lives that we also have to find time for. Outside of work, we throw ourselves into training, classes and off the pole conditioning. We make time for a life outside of pole – this might include studies; time with a partner, family and friends; walking the dog or even getting home in time to make dinner. Regardless of the level we are at with pole, or the number of activities we do outside of pole – sleep is vital for our bodies and brain to recover and develop.

So how can we find the balance with doing the activities we love (pole) and getting enough sleep for recovery as the research is telling us we need to have? It all starts with understanding why we need sleep, what makes a good night’s sleep and how can we try to achieve it.

Why do we need sleep?

Sleep is essential for our survival and function. If you are not getting enough your body can respond in many different ways. Walsh et al (2021) narrative review and expert consensus recommendations identify that sleep loss can:

  1. Impair cognition, mental well-being, learning and memory consolidation (ever wondered why you just cannot get your head around a trick?)

  2. Disrupt growth and repair of cells (important for polers for recovery)

  3. Prolong injury recovery time (our bodies need appropriate rest at time to recover from injury)

  4. Metabolise glucose and lower the protective immune response (wondering why you consistently get sick?)

  5. Increase your awareness of and sensitivity to pain (those days when you feel every single muscle in your body)

  6. Result in loss of concentration easily, mood changes and irritability… (we’ve all been there right!)

The average person requires 7.5-9 hours sleep a night, however not everyone is the same (Sargent et al, 2021, Walsh et al, 2021). Some may be able to function off more, some less. The most important part about sleep is the quality, not quantity. A way of evaluating if you have had quality sleep is asking yourself if you wake up refreshed, and if you have enough energy to get through the day? If you are answering no more than you are answering yes – it might be time to check on your sleep hygiene, but first – what actually happens when we doze off?

What happens when we sleep?

According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM), sleeping occurs in a number of stages linking to a specific cycle. We sleep in 90 minute cycles, usually between 4-6 cycles per night. That means if you go to bed at 10pm, after 5 cycles (7.5 hours) you should be waking up around 5.30am. When was the last time you slept for 7.5 hours?

There are four stages in a sleep cycle, three are called Non Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) sleep, and the other Rapid eye movement (REM).


NREM starts with a dozing off stage (N1) where the body and brain activities start to slow down, with occasional brief movements (also known as hypnic jerks or twitching). It is easy to wake up in this stage. If you are not disturbed, you progress into the next sleep stage (N2) where your body temperature, heart rate and breathing slows down. During the third NREM stage (N3), also known as deep sleep, the body continues to relax and it is difficult to wake. This stage is important for body recovery and growth. Have you even found after a good ‘deep’ nights sleep you haven’t woken up feeling the effects of that challenging skills class the day before? Deep sleep is your friend!


REM sleep occurs in bursts during our sleep cycle and has an important role in dreaming, memory consolidation and learning. During REM, our brain activity increases, heart rate speeds up, breathing becomes irregular and the eyes move rapidly. REM accumulates to 2 hours a night, and often starts in the second 90 min cycle. How many of us remember our dreams? Often it is only the vivid ones or if you get woken up in the middle of REM sleep. REM sleep for polers is important in consolidation of skills – have you often found you have been dreaming about pole and tricks, or the latest choreography for a routine? It could be your brains way of helping you with skill acquisition.

Sleep disturbance

So, what happens if you’re not getting enough sleep or your sleep is being disturbed?

Walsh et al 2021 did a deep dive into sleep in athletes, specifically looking at identifying what contributes to sleep disturbances. They looked into sports specific and non-sport specific factors. If you have a look at a few of the factors listed – how many of them can you relate to?

This research emphasised the importance of a good old siesta for athletes to make up for any sleep loss that occurs overnight. This is especially helpful for those shift workers out there with changing a sleep schedule. Hands up who is moving to Spain for daily siestas! So, if you have difficulty with late night trainings and getting enough sleep, an afternoon nap between work and class may be useful for you.

What contributes to a good sleep routine?

A good sleep routine is referred to in the research world as good sleep hygiene, and there are several key points that research continues to support in helping with this. The term sleep hygiene encompasses factors such as bedroom environments and sleep-related habits. Some of the key factors to improve sleep hygiene are:

1. Establish a sleep schedule and routine (if you can!)

May studies have shown that a consistent waking time is important for a sleep schedule – if you are feeling tired, rather than sleeping in longer, go to bed earlier. Find a night-time routine that works for you – reading a book, bath, meditation.

2. Have a cool dark room

Body temperature and brain sleep-wake cycle are linked – ever wondered why you do not sleep well on a warm/humid night, or sleep better in winter? Might be time to turn on the aircon, or change to a lighter doona.

3. Reduce electronic use an hour before bed

Unfortunately, the use of electronics (playing on phone/watching TV) whilst it may be calming for the mind, the light is actually stimulating making it harder to go to sleep.

4. Avoid alcohol and caffeine before bedtime

According to the Sleep Foundation - drinking more than two servings of alcohol per day for men (assigned male at birth) and one serving for women (assigned female at birth) can decrease sleep quality by 39.2% - we feel like we fall asleep easier, but often do not get the deep or REM sleep required for brain and body recovery.

5. Regular exercise

A good exercise routine can potentially improve sleep, and improved sleep can then improve physical activity levels. But it also works the other way – ever had a run of poor nightly sleep and found trying to participate at pole was a struggle? As polers we tick this box easily, so it is important that if you are finding you are lacking the energy at pole that you check your sleep hygiene.

On the topic of exercise - research suggests that 75 minutes of high intensity exercise, or 150 min of moderate intensity per week has been associated with reduced levels of daytime sleepiness (Ohayon et al, 2017). It can also help with reducing sleep onset – the time it takes for us to fall asleep. It should ideally take you 10-15 min to fall asleep of a night, anything less than 5 minutes can indicate you are sleep deprived (hands up if that is you!).

Ever tried to make yourself fall asleep? As much as we can create the right environment, limit caffeine and electronics use, sometimes it just doesn’t happen. The challenge is to continue to create the right conditions to promote a good sleep. Did you know that in healthy adults, caffeine has a half-life of 5 hours? Maybe that quick coffee at 5pm isn’t the best for a good night sleep?

Some fun facts

The more research that occurs in the area of sleep, the more random sleep facts we become aware of. Here are a few fun facts!

  1. 17 hours of sustained wakefulness leads to a decrease in performance similar to a blood alcohol level of 0.05 – That is why Police encourage not to drive when tired!

  2. Most alluring sleep distraction? 24/24 internet. Our phones are a blessing and a curse!

  3. PMS makes women 2x more likely to report insomnia-like symptoms before/during period - want to know more? Have a read of our blog about poling with your period

  4. Ducks at risk of attack by predators are able to balance the need for sleep and survival – they keep one half of the brain awake whilst the other half slips into sleep mode – random trivia night question!

  5. Snoring only occurs in NREM

  6. A study into sleep hygiene identified 78% of people are excited about going to bed if they have fresh-smelling sheets! If only I could change my sheets daily – that feeling of going to bed with crisp fresh sheets is pure perfection!

  7. Up to 66% of people talk in their sleep - any chatterboxes out there?

So, what does this all mean for sleep and pole?

We hope that in reading this blog you might take a moment to reflect on your sleep hygiene and implement any changes needed to your sleeping habits to help you pole. Sleep is an important part of the training and recovery cycle, and there may be a few little things you can change that can help you establish a better sleep routine.

If you have an injury that is affecting your sleep, or find that you are having more pain after your sleep – discussing this with a health care professional will be important.

The Pole Physio has online appointments available now and are ready to discuss any concerns that you have. Online telehealth appointments can be booked with the Pole Physio via our ‘Book Online’ page that can be found here. Assessment and tailored rehabilitation are provided in accordance with best practice and evidence-based treatment to help you unleash your 'pole-tential'.

Until next time, train safe.

The Pole Physio



Cuellar, N.G., Whisenant, D., & Stanton, M. (2015) Hypnic Jerks: A Scoping Literature Review. Sleep Med, 10, 393-401

Mary O’Keeffe, Kieran O’Sullivan, Chris Maher, James McAuley 2017

Ohayon et al (2017) National Sleep Foundation’s sleep quality recommendations: First report. Sleep Health 3, 6-19

Sargent et al, (2021) How Much sleep Does an Elite Athlete Need? International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance 16, 1746-1757

Walsh et al (2021) Sleep and the athlete: a narrative review and 2021 expert consensus recommendations. BJSM, 55, 356-368.


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