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The stressors of touring: Sleep

Continuing along the theme of ‘the stressors of touring’, in this week's blog I will be looking at the physical elements of this inherent occupational difficulty.

Although as a caveat, it’s important to mention that in my own research the difficulties of touring wasn’t particularly flagged up as problematic. With this in mind, I think it’s important to acknowledge how these difficulties are experienced differently for everyone. We all have our own take on life!

One hugely impactful area from my own experience was this constant struggle with sleep disturbance. Due to the nature of flights, tour buses and trains across Europe, I would often struggle to find a regular sleeping pattern. Despite this, I do find it quite irritating when reading the pop psychology tips on getting quality sleep when touring! As if we don’t try! Yes, we know all the good things we should do but for every psychologist giving ‘Huberman-isms’, there’s a bundle touring musicians with insomnia. Tips and ‘best practice’ (whatever that means) is not so easy when on a tour bus from Scarborough to Sweden.

In a way, the lifestyle of performing is also fraught with emotional dysregulation, we perform, we travel, and we try to calm down through our many different means. It took me a while to realise the extent to which my own sleep was impacted and the subsequent toll this took on my own mental health and emotional volatility. The emotional instability through sleep disturbance was also highlighted in some other research, you can view here, around ‘night-time’ musicians linking the lifestyle with insomnia and stress. We know we can’t handle stress as efficiently when sleepless!

It's hard to sleep when moving on a bus, it’s even harder when we are hyper aroused from the buzz of performing or the hypo-numb from the deflating experience of a badly played show.

So what? I hear you say…The first thing we can do is acknowledge this, the second thing is noticing the emotional rollercoaster and how it feels personally to you. From this starting point we can then try the strategies we read about. These range from planning schedules (which generally is difficult), learning self-regulation techniques (I’ll discuss these in more depth in a later blog) and keeping our eye on the drink, drugs, up and down spiral.

If you are a musician and on tour, just notice! What throws you? What helps? Start with just this, just notice. I will cover this in more depth. For some other useful tips check out the book Sound Advice, it was written by a person who has lived experience as an active musician. Tonic Music are also in the process of collating all of their 'Zines', these are guides based around these and other issues which will also address sleep etc, so keep an eye out!

There are other resources out there but rather than prescribing from a pseudo-guru perspective, I think it’s important to initially find what works for us as individuals, whether that be meditation, exercise, medication, diet or the multitude of other supports out there. Don’t forget, sometimes, a solid sense of connection to others can also aid this and give us a chance to unpack our thoughts and fears.


Adam Ficek hosts a monthly show 'Tonic Music' on Totally Wired Radio, where he talks to various guests about music and mental health. You can listen again to any of the previous show on the Tonic Music Mixcloud page.



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