Monday, June 17, 2019

Tango's Worst Health Risk

Is tango harming your physical health? Probably.

Is late-night tango harming your long-term health more than helping it?

Luckily, that can be changed easily enough. Tango is healthy for us in many ways as this blog has pointed out for over ten years. In the last ten years, scientists have only started realizing just how bad sleep deprivation is. And the problem with tango?  Mostly we do it at the wrong time of our sleep cycle! Our present enjoyment of tango too often leaves us sleep-deprived and with a messed up circadian rhythm.

Let say we are dedicated to our health by ...
--eating well,
   --having a great exercise program,
     --meditating every day,
       --staying in contact with friends and family,
          --being inspired by literature, the arts, and charismatic educators,
             --being out in nature often ...

 . . . but then, let's say, we do these healthy things in the middle of the night and constantly get only four hours of sleep!

Under the list of "things that are good for me," one must consider:  What, how much, and WHEN.  Tango is mostly doing the "when" part very badly when it comes to your health.

My own confession:  
I admit that tango used to be the single most disruptive element in my life to my health. Tango was vital for my mood and passion for life, but I was ignorant about the price I was paying. For example, as a new tango dancer and a once-good sleeper, I would drive to milongas four times a week 100 kilometers away.  On the way home, I would buy a coffee and drink it to stay awake at the wheel. At that time I could sleep well and wake up for work.  Even with coffee in my system, I could have slept for eight hours, but I was off to work with four to six hours of sleep, not knowing that my memory and health were being severely compromised. My body, I believe, also was aging prematurely.  The good news is that I am regaining memory; I have a stronger immune system, a lower morning heart rate--just by sleeping as long as my body will allow me. Tango remains a wonderful boost to my mood, as it was then, but now without sacrificing my sleep. These days, I search out early milongas. But even in regaining health, there are many things I cannot recover because of my ignorance of the importance of sleep.

Not drunk, just exhausted!
Dance marathons in the 1920s and 30s
led to the deaths of some participants
You need sleep, baby!
What was at stake when I was fooling around with less sleep and irregular sleep times? Here's a quick list of tango's most concerning risks to our health because of sleep-deprivation:

  • Brain health risk:  Not getting enough sleep may lead to early-onset dementia or Alzheimer's Disease.  During deep sleep, our brain cleans itself from toxins.  All other organs besides the brain get a good cleaning with simply drinking enough clean, fresh water.  However, the brain needs both good hydration and deep sleep to cleanse itself.  The risk for women suffering from Alzheimer's disease if far greater than for men; so get your sleep, ladies!
  • Cardiovascular health risk: The incidents of heart attack increase 24% after a time change. This is only a one-hour change in your circadian rhythm during daylight savings time! Tango can fool around with your circadian rhythm far more than a single hour!
  • Sexual health risk Men who have regular sleep deprivation (4-5 hours of sleep) have the testosterone levels of men ten years older.  Just a week of poor sleep has dramatic losses in testosterone.  Women's sexual health is similarly harmed by sleep deprivation.
  • Risk of decreased memory and learning ability:  Without sleep, people underachieve at school and work. Even one's judgment in everyday tasks is compromised.
  • Immune System health risk: Our immune system's efficiency is significantly compromised only after one night of getting four hours of sleep.
  • Psychological health risk:  Poor sleep increases our risk for anxiety and depression disorders, ADHD and a risk having manic/depressive episodes.

  • The Solution is having more and more early tango events.  Have a dialogue with organizers about the feasibility of earlier milongas and practicas in your town.  Early tango events will start to be the norm, sooner or later. I know of an Australian community where early milongas are normal. The present tango scene will not change easily to better health choices. But the new generation will know "too much" to continue risking their long-term health prospects. The older milongueros may have smoked, drank in excess, pulled out knives easily, and stayed out late in spite of needing to get up for work.  Which of these health risks have you already rejected as part of your tango?  Ready for giving up sleep deprivation, which is worse than smoking moderately? Your love of being in your body with music and a warm embrace will someday not be paired with sleep deprivation.

    Sleep well!


    Please watch this!  The below TED Talk by Matt Walker gives a great overview of what we now know about sleep, much of which has been learned only in the last ten years.

    Note:  I plan to add more solutions in a future post.  If you have insomnia, I will suggest a tango-specific, scientifically proven protocol to beat insomnia for dancers.

    Photo credits: 


    1. Amen to this, Mark. Natural light floods our bedroom, and I've always been a get-up-with-the-sun person. I DO NOT like late nights, both for my energy level dancing and the effect the next day. When I visited about this with Alex Krebs--a musician as well as tango dancer/teacher, so you'd think he'd be cool with late nights--he said he's the same way, and I could do what he did, start your own studio where you can have afternoon or earlier night milongas. So I am working on doing that with the Tango Tribe studio.

      One thing that might be mentioned to mitigate the effects of either tango nights or advancing age where sleep can become erratic on its own, is the use of one or more naps during the day to recharge. We can fit in nrief naps to coincide with natural energy swings, and one can use the Ben Franklin (or was it another luminary?) technique to time them. Hold keys or some other noisy object in the hand over a plate as you sit or lie. When the body becomes totally relaxed the hand opens dropping the object, making your alarm noise for an efficiently short but long enough nap.

    2. Excellent thought piece, Mark. Just last night, at our 7-10pm Freedom Plaza milonga, someone was bragging how the previous night's milonga Z goes to 2:30am and beyond, even to 4am. Granted that's on a Saturday night, but there's gotta be alotta drowsy tango obsessives out there on Sunday...


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