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 ratings

This 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.

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30 Responses to Effect of One-Legged Standing on Sleep

  1. Dan B. says:

    Sorry to sound a little sarcastic here, especially since I admire your data gathering and graphs, but: really? Excercise makes you sleep better? Who knew? :-)

    • Seth Roberts says:

      I started studying my sleep because I woke up too early in the morning. Exercise (aerobic exercise) was the first thing I tried. It did not solve the problem. In fact, it made no difference. In contrast to conventional exercise routines (aerobic or non-aerobic), one-legged standing takes no additional time. I do it while reading, which I would do anyway.

  2. Martin says:

    I can’t be the only one who read the title as “Effect of One-Legged Standing on Sheep”, can I?

    • Matt N says:

      I am concerned he is rubbing this in our faces. The sheep apparently refers to those willing to “fall’, so to speak, for the one legged thing. We would likely be “pulling our own legs” while doing this as well

  3. James says:

    I do one legged squats every day and also run (usually about 4.88mi) and have noticed that days that I do not run I do not sleep as well. I’m guessing they are related. One legged squats may be faster than standing with a bent leg until it tires. Try putting your toes of one leg behind you on your bed, balance over the other leg and lower yourself into about a 90 degree angle at the knee and back up. Maybe 25 times each leg to tire them out? Try adding weights to your hands while you do it. Instead of needing ~8minutes per leg per set you could probably be done in about a minute or two.

  4. Leigh says:

    You should look into measures of effect size with your data – it’ll give you a statistical idea of how much each of the treatment conditions are really contributing to the results… and you can do it in excel, even, without fancy software.

  5. Slartibartfarst says:

    This line of research produces arguments without a leg to stand on.

  6. Tahnka says:

    Having read the post, I find myself stunned. Is this serious? I’ve always known that a hard day of physical labor makes me sleep astoundingly well; but standing on one leg to exhaustion a couple of times per day?

    This is so far beyond what I ever would have contemplated, that I simply must try it. Serious or not…I must…

  7. Dan Tasse says:

    Hi Seth,
    I don’t understand. The first chart looks convincing, except it looks like you’re always 98-99.5% rested. The second and third chart look like there’s almost no relation between number of stands and length of sleep. (or that it’s a strange relationship; for example, in the third chart it looks like 2 and 4 are both better than 3, in the random protocol.) Is there something I’m missing?

  8. Dan Tasse says:

    Nevermind, I see. You’re saying that there ISN’T a relation between stands and length of sleep. But then it seems a bit of a jump to immediately say “therefore my sleep was more efficient”, right?

    • Seth Roberts says:

      It’s “a bit of a jump”? What’s an alternative explanation?

      • Dan Tasse says:

        Any number of things. For example, maybe sleep isn’t involved; maybe one-legged stands just make you feel more rested for the next 24 hours. And of course there’s the placebo effect. I’m sure you’ve considered this, but especially with subjective results that show small effects, we can’t throw it out.

        As a conjecture, though, it’s a great idea! I’d be interested to know if you do any follow up studies. And I appreciate your use of self-report in general; if you’re trying to maximize how rested you feel, what better way to measure it than by asking how rested you feel?

        • Seth Roberts says:

          “Maybe sleep isn’t involved.” The one-legged standing does not make me feel more rested prior to sleep. I discovered the effect by accident. One morning I woke up feeling much more rested than usual and wondered why. The one-legged standing I’d done before wasn’t even on my initial list of possible reasons. Because the effect surprised me, it cannot be a placebo effect.

          • Seth Roberts says:

            oops, some words missing in my reply. I meant to say “The one-legged standing I’d done THE DAY before wasn’t even on my initial list of possible reasons.”

          • Dan Tasse says:

            Okay, how about this: maybe standing on one leg activates some process that makes you feel more awake 8 hours later, whether you sleep or not. (not saying I think this is true, just that there are a lot of possibilities. I’m not convinced that deeper sleep must be the mechanism that led to higher restedness.)

            “Because the effect surprised me, it cannot be a placebo effect”; maybe it surprised you originally, but when you sat down and said “I’m going to measure how long I stand and my restedness and see if there’s any effect”, you can no longer claim to be surprised.

            Maybe “placebo effect” is the wrong word. The fact that you know something is different between the 2-, 3-, and 4-stand days can subconsciously influence your results, whether or not you consciously think that more standing will make you more rested.

  9. Seth Roberts says:

    This particular study wasn’t about learning if there is “any effect”. It was about dosage questions: Is four better than two? What about three? You propose that standing on one leg might cause me to feel more rested 8 hours later. This doesn’t fit what happens. I’ve found that the time of day of the standing doesn’t matter. The first time I did it, the one-legged standing was at about 8 am. I woke up more rested about 6 am the next day, 22 hours later. It also works if I do it in the evening — say, 10 pm. Then I wake up more rested at 5 am, 7 hours later.

  10. Dan Tasse says:

    Cool. That’s nice that it’s independent of time of day.

    I don’t want to propose any other theories; I just mean to say that there’s a lot of things that could cause you to report increased restedness. It doesn’t necessarily have to be standing->deeper sleep->increased restedness. (Perhaps you could try measuring sleep depth, e.g. via Zeo/Fitbit/Wakemate, to add evidence to this link.)

    Even though you’re just varying “doses of standing”, your preconceptions (conscious or subconscious) based on your knowledge of the previous day’s dose might cause you to vary your restedness ratings. That’s all I wanted to say. Arguing in internet comments can be frustrating, so I’ll leave it for now.

    Again, thanks for sharing this study! It’s a very interesting idea. And I hope the results generalize to other people too; it’d be a quick and easy way to sleep better.

    • Seth Roberts says:

      Dan, I’m grateful for your comments about this. They bring out features of the data I didn’t mention, such as the independence of time of day. I’m sure your ideas are shared by others. I predict that future studies (e.g., with Zeo) will show that one-legged-standing makes sleep deeper. That you disagree or at least are less sure is a good thing, as far as I’m concerned: it makes such studies more interesting.

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  12. marcus says:

    It looks like the range of rested percent values in the first graph are only ~0.5%. Is all this extra one-legged standing really worth an increase in restedness from a little under 99% to 99.4%? (I don’t mean to be facetious, the question of utility and returns on investment seems relevant.)

    • Seth Roberts says:

      Yes, it’s worth it. If you have a problem with 0.5%, think of the standing as reducing how tired I feel by a factor of 2 — e.g., from 0.8% tiredness remaining to 0.4% remaining.

  13. jing says:

    you’ve got an incredible data and impressive how you present you chart. how did you do that? :)

  14. Observer says:

    Wonderful personal experiment, fortuitous results and good presence of mind to even try this. Precious little speculation on the physiological mechanism until the very end though. No matter, if it works, I’ll do it, don’t need to understand the whys and wherefores until the unintended (positive?) consequences roll in. Hope you understand good measurement practices.

    Stay vigilant, there may be a follow up experiment here.

  15. Amit Amin says:

    If this works I will kiss you if I ever see you. Actually, if this works I will experiment at the higher range of repetitions. As someone with hypersomnia, any additional improvement leads to a massive increase in quality of life.

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  17. aurora1920 says:

    I’m a nonagenarian with a physical therapist daughter. She has urged me since I turned 80 to do some range of motion every day to keep joints flexible AND when in the kitchen at the counter doing this and that, to stand on one leg or the other. Both strengthening and good for balance.

    This was so interesting! I customarily do 30 seconds at a time as I stir things on the stove, or wash dishes. Think I’ll try that bent-leg until exhausted for each leg a couple times a day.

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