Science in Action: Why Did I Sleep So Well? (part 2)

A few days ago (Tuesday night) I slept unusually well, presumably because Tuesday day had been unusual in some way. I made a list of nine possible reasons.

Today I realized I’d forgotten something: 10. Stood on one foot more than usual. To pass the time while looking at my face in the mirror I had stood on one foot while stretching the other leg, pulling my foot up behind me. I was curious how long I could do this so I did a few trials with each leg where I did it until it became too painful. I lasted about 2 minutes on one leg and 2.5 minutes on the other.

This might seem trivial — and I forgot about it. But standing on one foot continuously for a relatively long time surely stressed my leg muscles much more than usual. Previous research convinced me that standing many hours improves sleep. Maybe this “extreme standing” produces the same hormonal effects in a few minutes as normal standing does in ten hours. That would be wonderful!

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16 Replies to “Science in Action: Why Did I Sleep So Well? (part 2)”

  1. I was always very interested by your theory that standing more than 10 hours improves sleep. After you performed all that self-experimentation, did you ever take the next step and check to see if others who routinely stand more than 10 hours a day (waiters, retail workers, etc.) sleep unusually well? Of all your hypotheses, it seems the stand/sleep one would be the easiest to prove because plenty of people naturally engage in the behavior.

  2. At least one branch of Tai Chi (Cheng Man-Ch’ing as taught by Ben Lo) emphasizes holding postures. Several postures require all weight to be one one leg, such as White Crane Spreads Wings, and Play the Lute. You could wander over to Lenzie Williams classes in Berkeley and ask him and his senior students if anybody has noticed a difference for the days they hold postures.

  3. Andrew, I have done such a study. Two students and I compared the sleep of retail workers with people with desk jobs. There was an interaction of job and age. Older workers showed the predicted effect (those who stood a lot had better sleep than those who stood little); with younger workers, their sleep was usually good in both cases (so the lack of difference was probably a ceiling effect).

  4. Seth, I see why you are so successful with self-experimentation. You are willing to entertain some unusual hypotheses in terms of cause and effect. And then you have the patience to test them out. I think that your ability to remain open to unusual correlation is key. It appears that one must initially learn to suspend the mind’s (left brain) critical judgement. My brain immediately discredits certain hypotheses as implausible. Also, I tend to assume that there are multiple causes for an effect that work together synergistically, so combinations of variables that play a part can seem overwhelming.

    (I’ve been reading the book: My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor so I’ve been thinking about brain pathways involved with things. She is a neuroscientist who had a severe stroke and was able to articulate what occurred from that perspective. It’s a fascinating and inspiring read.)

    I feel inspired to test your standing on one leg hypothesis. I enjoy yoga one-legged postures even though I rarely do them. Also, I’ve wanted to improve my balance by standing on one leg on a balance disc. When I did T-Tapp I most enjoyed the exercises that entailed standing on one leg. I did those one legged exercises for quite an extended period of time. I don’t recall if my sleep was better, but it might have been. I am curious about other health benefits of one-legged standing.

  5. Thanks, Heidi. The hypothesis in this post — that standing on one leg will improve sleep — isn’t implausible given my earlier observations that standing for many hours improved sleep. In the earlier work I found that until the standing became stressful (= many hours) it had no effect. I should have realized back then that it might be the stress, not the hours, and that other ways of producing stress might have the same effect.

    But you’re right, I did entertain a strange hypothesis. It happened when I considered the possibility that mere standing (not exercise) would cause weight loss. That’s why I started standing a lot many years ago. That hypothesis turned out to be completely wrong — I didn’t lose any weight — but I did start to sleep much better.

  6. That’s great how a wrong weight loss hypothesis led to improved sleep. Actually, I was thinking that the standing on one leg was less unusual than many of the other things on your list (in the previous post of why you slept so well). It was helpful for me to read your list and have a glimpse of how you generate self-experimentation ideas. I hope that you’ll continue to write about the things that you’ll do to test these possibilities. I admire your ability to come up with obscure and unusual ideas. I wrote a list of things that help me to sleep better, but they are more obvious commonly accepted kinds of things. I’m pondering how to look for more unusual correlation.

    Today I stood on one leg on a balance board while washing dishes. I like the challenge of it – it was fun. I actually was sorry that I didn’t have more dishes to wash!

  7. Consider that humans evolved to stand–actually to walk–for long periods in search of food, and also to undergo short periods of extreme exertion when killing prey or fleeing from danger. Maybe some combination of both produces optimal sleep.

  8. Could you elaborate on what “too painful” means exactly? I think I can stand on one leg for a long long time in various states of discomfort to pain.

  9. Evconvert, my threshold for stopping is low. “Too painful” means “more than slightly uncomfortable”. Or even “slightly uncomfortable.” You could say I stop when it becomes difficult to continue.

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