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The Placebo Effect Works on Sleep and Exercise, Research Shows

The Placebo Effect Works on Sleep and Exercise, Research Shows

What if you could get the benefits of a good night’s sleep without actually having had one?

In great news for insomniacs everywhere, a new study has found that the simple power of suggestion might be enough to improve the cognitive functions associated with a well-rested body.

The placebo effect — most commonly demonstrated when someone takes a sugar pill that makes them feel better — has fascinated researchers for years. But new research takes the concept beyond inert pharmaceuticals to reveal that people can get placebo sleep, and even placebo exercise. By simply being told they were sleeping well and exercising enough, they received beneficial effects.

In one study, Christina Draganich and Colorado College psychology professor Kristi Erdal recruited 164 participants who were told they would be undergoing a new technique to measure sleep patterns. The technique was a fabrication. The volunteers were given a short lecture about the importance of REM and how better sleep improves cognitive function, and then they were hooked up to phony sensors before going to sleep. They were then divided into two groups, “above average” quality sleep and “below average” quality sleep.

The “above average” group was told that the sensors recorded 28.7 percent REM sleep while the “below average” group was told they received 16.2 percent REM. Of course, since the sensors were fictitious, these recordings were not true. They were then given a test to measure cognitive function. The “below average” group did significantly worse on the tasks, while the “above average” group had superior performances.

A follow-up phase that added more controls and additional cognitive tests confirmed the initial results. “These findings supported the hypothesis that mindset can influence cognitive states in both positive and negative directions, suggesting a means of controlling one’s health and cognition,” the researchers concluded.

Meanwhile another study, published in the journal Psychological Science, further supports the idea of intangible placebos — this time as they pertain to exercise and health. Researchers studied a group of 84 female housekeepers from seven hotels. The housekeepers in four of the hotels were told that their work fulfilled the exercise requirements for good health, while the women in the other three hotels were told nothing.

After four weeks, the women were examined to ascertain changes to their health; the workers who were told they were exercising adequately lost an average of two pounds, lowered their blood pressure by almost 10 percent, and were significantly healthier as measured by body-fat percentage, BMI and waist-to-hip ratio. These changes were notably higher than those from the group who didn’t think they were exercising enough and were especially remarkable given the time period of only four weeks, according to the study’snews statement

The findings suggest that simply thinking you got a workout could actually make you healthier, said Ellen Langer, Harvard University psychologist and author of the study. “Whether the change in physiological health was brought about directly or indirectly, it is clear that health is significantly affected by mindset,” said Langer.

Both studies conclude that moderating one’s mindset can prove beneficial for health. Now all we need is a group of scientists duping us into believing that we are sleeping wonderfully and exercising enough.

Read more: Fitness, General Health, Health, Insomnia, Mental Wellness

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Kara, selected from Mother Nature Network

Mother Nature Network's mission is to help you improve your world. From covering the latest news on health, science, sustainable business practices and the latest trends in eco-friendly technology, MNN.com strives to give you the accurate, unbiased information you need to improve your world locally, globally, and personally – all in a distinctive thoughtful, straightforward, and fun style.

54 comments

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2:58AM PST on Mar 2, 2014

The placebo effect is a wonderful thing!

12:46PM PST on Feb 28, 2014

I'm still skeptic. Could we get placebo food? xD

4:34AM PST on Feb 28, 2014

good night, Vicky

2:28AM PST on Feb 28, 2014

I'm going to bed now... to get some real sleeeeeeep..... zzzzz....

8:40PM PST on Feb 26, 2014

ty

8:37PM PST on Feb 26, 2014

ty

2:17PM PST on Feb 26, 2014

as a former asthmatic child, my parents told me, "asthma is simply mind over matter. if you think you can breathe fine, you will." yet asthma strangled me all of my childhood. there are many instances in having a physical body that the concept of "mind over matter" is an insult. yet there are undeniably other instances when this concept does mean something. I think I'd like to try what this article suggests. just sayin'.

12:48PM PST on Feb 26, 2014

Thank you

10:23AM PST on Feb 26, 2014

the simple power of suggestion huh... ok here's mine.

for sleep.. "hit em with a hammer"
for exercise "your ass is on fire"

:)

7:53AM PST on Feb 26, 2014

ty

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