When you talk or sing, the surfaces of your vocal cords vibrate against each other 100 to 1,000 times per second. The active support muscles switch on and off multiple times per second to position the vocal cords and shape the various sounds of speech.The vocal mechanism is built to handle these jobs, just not all the time, with no chance to recover. Even the most talented, best-trained voices need rest as part of general preventative care. Your voice will stay healthier when allowed opportunities to rest, recover, rehydrate, and relax. This can simply mean taking short breaks throughout the day. If you’ve been talking or singing for an hour, don’t use up you entire rest break talking, even if people really want your attention. Your voice needs attention, too.
When you have a big vocal demand coming up, build in rest periods before and after. If you have extremely heavy vocal demands, try to set aside one full day per week for silent rest. After all, star athletes have built-in rest days, or they play in rotation. If you are a vocal athlete, your throat needs the same care.
What about resting the voice when there’s a problem, such as vocal nodules? Medical opinion on this has changed over the years; you can search online and find every possible recommendation. In the early days of voice care, when there was a problem with the voice, doctors would often prescribe complete silence for a month or more. That might have worked for people with servants and no children, but it is no longer considered realistic or necessary in most cases. Extended silence can even lead to a fear that the voice will “break” when speech resumes.
Vocal rest recommendations are now more individualized. The physiological benefits of voice rest are balanced with its psychological, interpersonal, and vocational costs.For diagnosed problems related to overuse, vocal rest is usually combined with rehabilitation (retraining). Your own doctor and speech therapist will determine your best plan. This is ideally a process of negotiation and problem solving, not just being given a list of rules. For instance, if heavy use if built into your life, the speech therapist can help you sort through each speech situation by its vocal risks and demands, prioritizing so you use your “vocal allowance” on the most important tasks.
Sometimes, the “silence treatment” is non-negotiable. For instance, after vocal surgery your doctor may prescribe a week or two of strict voice rest so that the vibratory edges of the vocal folds can heal properly. Vocal-fold hemorrhages and some kinds of burns also typically need a period of absolute rest. It’s important to follow such instructions to avoid serious complications or permanent vocal damage. Even before you see a doctor, giving yourself complete vocal rest for a day or two may be helpful if you’ve had an unexpected vocal strain.