Just One Weekend Of Camping Can Reset Your Sleep Rhythm
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By Heather Callaghan, Editor
When you’re lying wide awake for the hundredth time because you have severe insomnia – are you thinking of sunshine, the moon, the stars or the far-off mountains? These majestic manifestations of nature might be your best friends when you desperately need to sleep – and need to bounce out of bed in the morning. They teach us the true rhythm of life.
Researchers from the University of Colorado recently found that spending a weekend out camping resets the circadian clock inside our bodies that influences sleeping habits and could provide a boost to our health.
Research has shown that a lack of quality sleep can raise the risk of obesity, Type 2 Diabetes, cardiovascular problems and even scramble emotional regulation. The sheer amount of artificial light we receive at night and the lack of sunlight during the day unsurprisingly have turned some of us around. Dr Kenneth Wright who heralded the report published in Current Biology said, “We’re waking up at a time when our circadian clock says we should still be asleep.”
Researchers “dragged” a small group of volunteers to a Colorado nature site for a series mid-winter weekend camping trips. The only light they were allowed was a campfire – not even torches were allowed. Here’s a summary of their observations:
- At home, the campers were receiving 13 times more evening light than the camping trips, even during the darkest times of the year
- It only took one weekend to reset sleep rhythm – the campers quickly began sleeping and waking in tune with their internal body clocks
- Their special watches that recorded light levels and blood tests showing melatonin levels showed an increase two-and-a-half hours earlier than before the expedition and the campers were naturally going to bed earlier
- Winter camping rose melatonin levels over half an hour earlier than summer camping, suggesting our rhythm is seasonal too
- To continue the camping benefits, one only needed to get a bigger dose of sunlight and keep lights and screen time to a bare minimum after sunset
- It’s possible that we could alter our habits to produce similar benefits
Before you run out and buy a Yurt, please know that researchers didn’t find this technique to be a long-term solution. Even though more time in the great outdoors, i.e., more sunshine during the day and darkness at night, provided some interesting results – given our “smart-screen” culture, the moment a camper packs his tent and goes home to the same society and habits, he may be back to having sleep issues.
Dr. Wright says that society needs to do more to build natural light in the day, such as making sure buildings allow more natural sunshine. He suggested recording favorite TV shows instead of watching them into the night and taking walks in the morning sunshine. He even suggested a new generation of “tuneable” light bulbs – that can be made far brighter in the day and dimmer at night (sort of like a modern version of the gaslight?).
And I think one of his main points is to reduce screen time – an idea that might sound foreign to younger generations and those with heavy work demands. The blue light is a melatonin killer – perhaps the screens of the future will have built-in colors to reduce the blue light so we don’t have buy special screens and glasses to counteract it.
Can you think of any other tips that could provide a “reset button” to sleep – share your wisdom below!