Hydration

Are you drinking enough water?

How many times have you heard this from your singing teacher? You’ll likely read about this topic in almost every singing blog, website and book. In this blog entry, I’m going to explain why hydration is so important, how to ensure you are properly hydrated, and dispel some myths along the way.

Why is hydration so important anyway?

Being well hydrated is just all-round good for your health. Your vital organs need water in order to function properly. But you probably already knew that, so why is it so important to singers? Good levels of hydration help the vocal folds vibrate smoothly and easily, which when you consider that the speed our vocal folds vibrate at, is really vital. The smoother and easier the vibration, the lower the Phonation Threshold Pressure (PTP). PTP is the amount of lung pressure it takes to make the vocal folds vibrate. Research has shown that fully hydrated vocal folds need less force to vibrate together. Another study shows that a reduction in body fluid, even by a small amount, results in increased effort for singing.

It’s not as simple as drinking 2 litres a day…

Did you know it takes approximately four hours for the water you are drinking to get to your vocal mechanism? So, that sip of water you take just before walking onstage or into the audition room is too little too late, sorry. (Of course, the psychosomatic benefits certainly shouldn’t be underestimated, but that’s for another time!) Steaming or using a nebulizer is a much quicker way to hydrate your voice, because it is topical, meaning applied straight to the area concerned. Read more about nebulisers/steamers here. Gary Hughes says that he thinks professional singers should be steaming at least three times a day; morning afternoon, evening, right before show time, mid-show and after show, depending on the role and environment. He also says that we should aim to drink at least a litre of water by midday. I certainly try to abide by this rule; upon waking I get myself a pint of water and drink it as I’m getting up for the day, and often will drink another pint while I’m having my morning coffee (more on caffeine later) and breakfast. I really can attest to it waking you up!

Your diet affects your hydration levels

Did you know that it is possible to drink plenty of water and still be dehydrated? If your body isn’t absorbing the water you are drinking, then there’s a problem. This is where minerals, fats and oils in our chemical makeup come into play. A balanced, healthy diet will ensure that your body is able to absorb that vital water. You don’t need me to tell you what a healthy diet looks like, but some specific things to avoid or limit when it comes to being a singer:

  • Alcohol and caffeine (both are diuretics)
  • Overly salty or spicy foods
  • Certain medications such as antihistamines and decongestants. Read more about this here.
  • Some people also find that too much dairy can cause excess mucus production which can lead to vocal difficulty.

That being said…

Some mucus is OK!

Mucus lines certain areas of our body for good reason. One major benefit is that it protects from infection. If areas that are supposed to be moist (like our vocal mechanism) become too dry, they are open to infection and along with it a whole bunch of negative side effects. Water is an essential component required to create mucus.

How do I know if I’m dehydrated?

Some things to look out for:

  • Dry/scratchy throat
  • Need to clear throat often
  • Dark yellow urine
  • You require more effort to use your voice
  • Excessive thirst

In a nutshell

If you have a healthy diet and drink plenty of water, you should be fine with your intake and absorption levels. We all have days where it is difficult to drink enough for all sorts of reasons. During those days, try to take it easy with your voice and ensure to drink plenty when you get home.

If you have any questions or comments, get in touch!

 

 

 

References:

Voice and Hydration – What you might not know about water – Gary Albert Hughes 

 

Effects of hydration on Voice Acoustics – Maria Franca, Kenneth Simpson

 

Singers with Colds – Dos & Don’ts – Dr Tom Harris

 

Phonatory effects of body fluid removal – K Fisher et al.

 

Biological Mechanisms underlying voice changes due to dehydration – K Verdolini et al.  

 

Upgrade your vocal steamer – Chris Johnson

 

The role of hydration in vocal fold physiology – M. Sivasankar

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