I think we can all agree, without having to look at research, that the title of this article (Sit Less and Sleep More) speaks for itself. However, interestingly more and more current research is showing just how dangerous sitting and not getting enough sleep can compromise our health, even to a molecular level.
And yet, how many of us sit all day? How many of us don’t get enough sleep? Instead we stay up late on social media, constantly staring at blue light or even filtered light. We sit at our desks and say “I’ll incorporate that treadmill desk someday.” Well, our habits determine who we are and who we become. If you don’t start now, you likely never will.
Sitting Is Bad
Let’s start this argument with a mere observation from our evolution. Did we sit for long periods of time? It’s possible. However, without chairs, we may have just used the ground, which is inherently less comfortable. So, it stands to reason that maybe we sat less than we currently do. In fact, I’d venture to guess that wasn’t possible until now to sit as much as we currently do.
We needed to constantly be moving to find food, shelter, and avoid being food for other animals. This is why, somewhat inherently, we can run even if we’re not athletes. Until we started inhabiting one place for the majority of our lifespan, we moved around quite a bit. This is seen in many ancient societies and is also seen in children, who frequently move around quite a bit more than we do as adults.
And yet, how many of us hate sitting in an office all day? We placate our unhappiness with rewarding foods and die to get outside. That is, until all that junk food has made us not want to do much of anything. Then we slowly become diseased. Does this sound like a modern day parable?
Before we sat all the time, we had lower rates of obsessive-compulsive disorder, diabetes, obesity, divorce, and a host of other negative societal ills. We used to play outside quite a bit as children, and yet now kids sit more than ever indoors and staring at screens. Even as adults, to be truly “successful” sometimes you must log 60 hour weeks, looking at a screen and sitting down.
This is the beginning of the argument that sitting is not really congruent with our DNA. In fact, it is likely quite incongruent. But I don’t want to disappear down that rabbit hole. There has been much research on that topic and you can read it if you like.
What is alarming is that we are currently sitting for more than HALF of our time (while awake)! Let’s break that number down into a real day. Sleeping for (hopefully) 8 hours – we’ll tackle that soon. That leaves us with 16 hours of awake time. That means that for over 8 hours per day – we’re sitting. So, of the 24 hours in a day, we are lying down, or sitting for…16 hours, or more. Does that sound like a good idea?
In fact, researchers found that sitting, simply sitting, made you more likely to die from ANY cause. They also noted that breaking up your periods of sitting (taking frequent breaks, moving around, etc.) lowered the risk.
I’m going to guess most of you are likely sitting while reading this very sentence. You also likely sit at a desk for 8 hours per day. You should start to take a long, hard look at your routine and try to change it if you can. In addition to the raised overall likelihood of death (you will never top this reason), researchers also found that total sedentary time is linked to obesity, abnormal glucose metabolism, and the metabolic syndrome. Shocker.
What becomes more alarming and scary is that exercise, even if performed more often and regularly than the average person (hint: the “average” person is now very unhealthy), STILL isn’t enough to overcome the huge amount of sitting we’re doing! If this hasn’t made you leap out of your chair and start doing some push-ups, I don’t know what will!
We’re All Exhausted
So far, this all sounds pretty bad. Unfortunately, it gets worse. In our raise to out-do our neighbors and co-workers, we try to read everything on the computer. Every last nugget of information, “helpful tips,” news story, etc. Or we check our friend’s Facebook pages 80x a day and into the wee hours of the morning. Well, besides sitting, this seemingly innocuous habit is killing us too.
One needn’t dig far into the research to find alarming statistics about sleep deprivation. One study sums it up nicely: “mortality rates were lowest for individuals sleeping 7 or 8 hours per night.” This means that if you want to live a long life, one of the best, and most essential things to do is sleep for 8 hours per night.
The really interesting thing is that sleeping more than this amount also shows detrimental effects. Whether this means that subjects were sleeping more because of other health problems, is possible, but not entirely clear. What is clear is that 40 million Americans suffer from chronic, long-term sleep disorders, and an additional 20 million experience occasional sleeping problems. This is not good.
On top of the death risk, sleep loss also helps us to store (and gain) more fat. Since sleep loss results in startling metabolic and cardiovascular changes, it makes sense that other problems would crop up, when we don’t get enough ZZZ’s. Our hormones also get out of whack, unsurprisingly.
One particularly obvious study showed that just one night of sleep deprivation increased ghrelin (your hunger hormone) levels, and caused the subjects to experience increased feelings of hunger. So now you’re sitting all day, hungrier than normal, and sleep deprived. Does this sound familiar?
Another study showed that lower amounts of sleep correlate with reduced leptin (your satiety hormone) and increased body mass index. These are not good changes. Your body needs sleep for a plethora of reasons. Depriving it of its normal requirements is a surefire way to quickly make yourself unhealthy.
In the rare case that you only experience one night of sleep loss, you may have at least one tactic that can help you stay (somewhat) healthy. Researchers have found that morning light can modulate leptin and ghrelin concentrations. This means that if you are sleep deprived, and thereby more likely to overeat, that some morning light exposure can help to possibly fend off the munchies.
Lastly, as you are probably well aware, you are cognitively not at your best when you are sleep deprived. Though scientific references are probably not necessary to prove this to the majority of readers, they nonetheless exist. The typical coffee binge the morning after a restless night, is founded in biochemistry. Behavior is based on biochemistry, and oftentimes we can’t fix a behavior until we fix the biochemistry.
Beyond this, sleep loss may cause brain damage. Yes, you read that correctly. Here is a brief video summarizing.
The study was done on mice, sure, but the implications could be vast. In the study, we see that reduced SirT3 activity happens when sleep deprived. This process can literally lead to loss of LCns neurons. Does this sound like something you want happening, in YOUR brain?
Hopefully I’ve made a strong case for getting off of your butt and sleeping more (I know that sounds contradictory). There has never been a time when our lifestyle contradicted more directly with our DNA. Conversely, we can see that a healthy lifestyle will help to fend off disease and death.
It is important to understand that there is much science and reason behind simple recommendations like “sitting less” and “getting more sleep.” I hope I’ve conveyed that information, as well. We all sit too long. We all stay up too late. This is almost an unavoidable part of modern life. Knowing how (and why) to fight back against this conglomerate of unhealthy habits, is key. Our habits determine who we are and who we become. If you don’t start now, you likely never will.
Do you have questions about sitting or sleeping? How much do you sit and sleep per day? Let us know in the comments!