Effect of One-Legged Standing on Sleep

In 1996, I accidentally discovered that if I stood a lot I slept better. If I stood 9 hours or more, I woke up feeling incredibly rested. Yet to get any improvement I had to stand at least 8 hours. That wasn’t easy, and after about 9 hours of standing my feet would start to hurt. I stopped standing that much. It was fascinating but not practical.

In 2008, I accidentally discovered that one-legged standing could produce the same effect. If I stood on one leg “to exhaustion” — until it hurt too much to continue — a few times, I woke up feeling more rested, just as had happened when I stood eight hours or more.  At first I stood with my leg straight but after a while my legs got so strong it took too long. When I started standing on one bent leg, I could get exhausted in a reasonable length of time (say, 8 minutes), even after many days of doing it.

This was practical. I’ve been doing it ever since I discovered it. A few months ago I decided to try to learn more about the details. I was doing it every day — why not vary what I did and learn more?

One thing I wanted to learn was: how much was best? I would usually do two (one left leg, one right leg) or four (two left leg, two right leg). Was four better than two? What about three?

I decided to do something relatively sophisticated (for me): a randomized experiment. Every morning I would do two stands (one left, one right). In the evening I would randomly choose between zero, one, and two additional one-legged stands. Sometimes I forgot to choose. Here are the results for three sets of days: (a) “baseline” days (baseline(2), baseline(3), baseline(4)) before the randomized experiment and during the experiment when I forgot and (b) the “random” days (random 2, random 3, random 4) when I randomly choose and (c) a later set of days (“baseline 4”) when I did four one-legged stands every day.

Each morning, when I woke up I rated how rested I felt on a scale where 0 = not rested at all (as tired as when I went to sleep), and 100 = completely rested, not tired at all.

2011-03-20 rested ratingsThis shows means and standard errors. The number of days in each condition are on the right.

The main results are that three was better than two and four was better than three. The three/four difference was large enough compared to the two/four difference to suggest that five might be better than four. The similarity between random 4 and baseline 4 means that the amount of one-legged standing on previous days doesn’t matter much. For example, on Monday night it doesn’t matter how much I stood on Sunday.

These differences were not reflected in how long I slept. Below are the results for “first” sleep duration, meaning the time from when I went to sleep to when I woke up for the first time — which is when I measured how rested I was (the graph above). On a small fraction of days, I went back to sleep a few hours later.
2011-03-20 first sleep duration

These results mean that one-legged standing increased how deeply I slept, what you could call sleep “efficiency”.

I also computed “total” sleep duration, which included first sleep duration, second sleep duration, and nap time the previous day (e.g., nap time on Monday plus sleep Monday night). If I took a long nap, I slept less that evening. Here are the results for total sleep duration.

2011-03-20 total sleep duration

The results also support the idea that one-legged standing made me sleep more deeply.

The randomized experiment had pluses and minuses compared to a simpler design (such as an ABA design, where you do each treatment for several days in a row). The two big pluses were that the conditions being compared were more equal and you could simply continue until the answer was clear. The two big minuses were that I often forgot to do the randomization and lack of realism. If I decided that four was the best choice, I’d do four every day, not in midst of two’s and three’s.

Overall, it was clear beyond any doubt that four was better than two, and clear enough that four was better than three (one-tailed p = 0.02). The results suggest trying larger doses, such as five and six. I’ve only done six once: before a flight from Beijing to San Francisco. It was one of the few long flights where I slept most of the way.

If you try this and you do more than one right and one left, leave plenty of time (two hours?) before the second pair, to allow the signaling molecules to be regenerated.

30 Replies to “Effect of One-Legged Standing on Sleep”

  1. This is brilliant work, and informatively presented. I intend now to utilize one-legged standing more methodically on myself.

    A couple of questions:

    1. How you rate restedness: Can you tell about how you anchor your 0-100 scale, because it looks like your range of responses there is very slim (99% – 99.4%).

    2. You mention waiting for signalling molecules to regenerate. Can you elaborate on this further or is it just a really good guess (makes sense to me).

    Thanks! Wayne

  2. Thanks, Wayne. I hope that you can use one-legged standing to give yourself permission to surf the Web — you surf while standing on one leg. To answer your questions:

    1. My range of rested ratings is small only because I wake up really rested every day. (I do other things that help, such as no food until 3 hours after waking up and plenty of sunlight in the morning). For a long time the average was lower, around 95, and 99 was rare. Somehow I can judge the “size” of how tired I feel when I wake up and compare that size to the size of feeling really tired. A psychologist named S. S. Stevens and others have done many studies of what is called “magnitude estimation” of such dimensions as loudness and brightness with rating scales similar to mine. They found great regularities.

    2. I’m just guessing about the signaling molecules. They make more sense than an electrical signal because it doesn’t seem to matter when during the day I do the standing. As if the molecules sit in the blood waiting for sleep.

  3. Exercising extreme (cross fit etc.) leads to exhaustion and sleeping well.

    Source, “the great fitness experiment”

    I tried last week to do very short “all out” sprints on a sprint cycler (gym)

    found myself falling very easily asleep. Even falling asleep by mistake middday

  4. Yechezkel, like you I have found that exercise makes me fall asleep much faster. But I have also found that does not make me sleep more deeply. It had no obvious effect on my probability of waking up too early. It was one of the first things I tried to reduce early awakening.

    Chris, yeah, I would certainly like to try the Zeo.

  5. FYI, when I started standing while working a couple of years ago (partly inspired by your comments), I also experienced some foot pain, but discovered that I could fix that by taking my shoes off. I also added some of those gel matts that some chefs and others use, and now I regularly stand about 10 or 11 hours a day (I’m 64). My sleep has definitely improved, and my wife noticed the difference in the quietness of my sleep, too. The improvement in my sleep could be conflated with other changes though, since I noticed a dramatic improvement in apnea when I stopped eating wheat some years ago. Also, I end up standing on one leg for some time each day, with one leg up on the desk, just because it feels good.

    I started the standing up while working as an experiment, and continued because I noticed a pretty dramatic alertness improvement. Now, I simply do not like to work sitting down.

  6. I tried one leg standing for a while and found that I definitely was a lot more alert when I woke up…I also woke up earlier than my usual alarm clock by half an hour or so.

    I gave it up, however, because I found that I’d get a lot more fatigued late in the day on days where I woke up alert. For me at least it felt like a zero sum game, alert in the morning but then cranky and irritable at night on days after one legged standing.

  7. Chris, when I first started standing a lot (like 8 hr/day) I was enormously tired the first few evenings. But after a week or so that went away and the benefits persisted. By the time I started one-legged standing I already stood a lot. The one-legged standing caused no fatigue in the evenings. I think there is just an introductory period you need to get through.

    vic, I rarely eat after 8 pm. I agree, bad idea to eat near bedtime.

  8. Perhaps I’m just being foggy brained (not rested enough this morning?), but I’m not sure I understand your counting.

    When you say “two”, “three”, “four” — is that two times standing on one leg to exhaustion, or two times on each leg. That is, left leg to exhaustion followed by right leg to exhaustion — is that one, or two?

  9. hmmmmm, interesting. Considering I work two jobs…one as a receiving associate where I offload and process trucks for 4-8 hour shifts and work at a Grocery store as a cashier and bagger for another 4-8 hours shifts… work 7 days a week, I still do not find I get better sleep at night. I’m lucky if I get 5 hours a night…

  10. A really interesting device you might want to try to find is called a Sleep Timer made by the author of “No More Sleepless Nights” Murray Jarman. It’s basically a little timer that you have to squeeze to keep it from starting itself. Once the person falls asleep they no longer squeeze the trigger on the Sleep Timer. The idea is to measure “sleep latency” or the amount of time it takes to fall asleep. The author presents a scientific approach to finding the best way for the individual to fall asleep fast.

    However, this may or may not be the best way to judge sleep quality. Maybe neither is the “first sleep” idea.

    What do you think is the best way to measure sleep quality? Perhaps number of times awaken in the night? REM cycles?

  11. Interesting article, thanks. But do I understand your first chart correctly? It appears to display that how rested you felt on awakening varied over a VERY VERY narrow range of between approximately 98.7% and 99.5% ?!! This suggests you were rating how rested you felt on your 0%-100% scale to small fractions of 1 percent. Surely the numbers along the x-axis of the chart must be wrong? Thanks!

    Seth: The x axis is correct. The ratings are very close to the edge of the scale (100%). Thus the precision. If this is hard to understand, think of me as rating the amount of a substance that makes me feel tired. When there is none of it, the restedness rating is 100%.

  12. Thanks for your reply Seth.
    It is hard for me to understand: I don’t know what you mean by “think of me as rating the amount of a substance that makes me feel tired.” Substance?
    My current expectation/belief is that most people would probably struggle to rate their perception of their own restedness on a 1-20 scale to the nearest whole number (ie., to within approx 5%) with much confidence, let alone to within fractions of 1 percent.

    Seth: Suppose someone asked you to estimate how many grains of flaxseed were on a plate. Suppose the number could range from 0-1000. You can look at the plate for only a few seconds. For convenience, you decide to give your estimates as percentages 0-100%. When the number of flaxseeds is very small (e.g., 6), you will be able to make remarkably precise estimates (e.g., 0.6%). With larger numbers, your estimates will be less precise. The point: when you are at the edge of a scale, estimates can be more precise than at the middle of the scale.

  13. “If I stood 9 hours or more, I woke up feeling incredibly rested. Yet to get any improvement I had to stand at least 8 hours. That wasn’t easy, and after about 9 hours of standing my feet would start to hurt. I stopped standing that much. It was fascinating but not practical.”

    In the light of recent news [1], it seems one has to actually stand (or at least not sit) for at least 8 hours a day, preferably even more. 🙂

    [1] http://healthland.time.com/2012/03/28/standing-up-on-the-job-one-way-to-improve-your-health/?xid=huffpo-direct

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