The Dangers of Sitting, Too Little Sleep, and What You Can Do About Them

As I sit in front of this computer for the 14th straight hour today (the 10th or 11th day in a row with no end in sight; I’m finishing my dissertation), I can’t help but want to share what exactly this is doing to me. I try to change positions, turn the chair around and stand on my knees, shift my legs often. I try to remember to keep me feet flat on the ground and not cross or sit on my legs. Of course, I fail. As it turns out, my default sitting position is shifted onto my right hip, with my right leg tucked under my left leg. My back is rounded, shoulders hunched. This is the “white-collar 9 to 5” position. It is, in no small way, slowly killing me (and millions of others). The human body is made to move. It is a biomechanical MARVEL. The level of travesty in its mistreatment is similar to buying a top-notch hunting dog and locking them in a crate (or a desk chair) all day.

This whole posts really starts the other day. I was talking about how tired I am with this recent stretch of only 6-7 hours of sleep a night for the last couple months. My wife considers this communication “complaining”. I prefer the term “diagnostic reporting”. Her response was that I had gotten “Like, 8 hours of sleep”. I’ll tell you what I told her…

1) 8 hours in bed is not the same as 8 hours of sleep.

It took me an hour to fall asleep between my mind racing and staring at a computer screen late at night. We share a family bed, which means that Little Man kicks me in the face occasionally, ~1-2 times, during the night. I’m sure it’s more often, he’s a squirmer, but I only remember once or twice. So 12AM – 8AM is probably only 5-6 hours of sleep.

2) The “8 hours a night” rule needs to DIE.

We’re not machines. People aren’t neat and orderly and uniform. There are differences from person to person in their optimal amount of sleep. There are also differences based on what is going on in your life. People that carry a high load of physical or mental stress need more sleep in order to recover from it.

3) Listen to your body!

Your body tries to tell you things, I swear. Unfortunately, somewhere along the line people were advised to stop listening. Have a headache, take some aspirin. Fatigue, drink more coffee. That headache is happening for a reason, maybe you’re dehydrated or your blood sugar is low. Rather than addressing the core issue, aspirin tells your body to shut up. If you feel tired, and you’re not getting enough sleep, then SLEEP. If you’re getting a lot of sleep 10+ hours, and you’re tired, see a doctor!

So, back to the “9 to 5” posture. Here’s a quick rule to follow, when you don’t use a muscle/joint/tendon it gets stiff. If the muscle remains contracted for a long period of time, it gets shorter and tighter. Sitting makes all the muscles on the front half of your body stiff and short, especially your hips. Curling a leg under you like I do, puts strain on the knees and shortens your achilles tendon. Having your heels elevated also shortens the achilles. I sit shifted to one side, that puts uneven pressure on my lower back. This is all on top of the upper back and shoulder problems of sitting hunched over a keyboard. Carpal tunnel is a big danger as these types of habits stretch out over the years. Doesn’t this make sitting down sound exhausting?

It is! Have you ever felt GOOD after sitting on your butt all day? I never have. For a long time I didn’t put two and two together, but staring at a computer all day is the surest way to make me feel crabby, headache-y, stiff, sore, and lazy. That’s right, the great activity paradox. Do nothing, and you’ll have no energy. Expend energy, and somehow you have more! We’re meant to move, my friends. Desk jobs (the way we do them, anyway) are an affront to the very core of our humanity! Poor sleep inhibits your ability to recover/heal from stress, and sitting all day destroys our quality of sleep (and life). It’s a vicious cycle that has millions of people circling the drain.

What can I do about it?

Most of us can’t just up and quit our jobs, don loin clothes, and disappear into the woods. That’s not to say, though, that there isn’t anything we can do to help lessen the impact of modern living and desk jobs on our health. Let’s make a deal and hold each other accountable on this, okay? I will set an alarm (download for Windows/Linux, Mac) to stand up and walk around, squat, do backbends, jog, play with my kid (if I’m working from home) for 10 minutes out of every hour. It’s not much, but there’s evidence that it can help. Ten points to Gryffindor (or your house of choice) if you do it OUTSIDE in the SUNSHINE! More on the benefits of sunshine and being outdoors to come! For specific mobility problems, check out the Mobility Project over at Mobility WOD. I can get behind someone that says things like “basic human maintenance” and “supple leopard” in the same sentence!

Thanks for reading. Stay Crunchy!

Did you enjoy this post? If so, I would appreciate comments and shares on facebook or twitter! All of the pictures are pinnable!


P.S. Standing desks are another super helpful invention for those of us shackled to a computer for work. They range from high quality, high cost to downright cheap and inventive.

P.P.S. My morning/nightly regimen has had a pretty clear impact on the quality of my sleep when I do get some. Herbal tea at night and starting my day with plenty of B vitamins and antioxidants may be all that’s keeping me going! I like THIS tea, and THIS multivitamin. The aloe and antioxidants really seem to help and research suggests that aloe has a dual effect by helping heal the gut AND increasing absorption of nutrients.



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