Trouble sleeping? Try camping

A new study by US researchers suggests a weekend camping trip could help reset your biological clock – in turn helping you sleep better. 

Words Natalie Cyra

It’s almost guaranteed that the majority of us are guilty of sitting up late into the night, watching TV, glued to our smartphones, playing computer games or reading a book by lamplight. Getting up to the sound of the morning alarm isn’t easy. However, now US researchers reporting in Current Biology have more evidence to suggest that the solution to these sleeping woes could be as simple as spending more time outdoors in the sun. A few days spent camping is enough to send people to bed earlier, no matter the season.

Previous research from the team showed that exposure to artificial lighting causes about a two-hour delay in our internal clocks, but was reversible with a week of summer sun. Now they’ve tried an even quicker treatment, sending a small group camping for the weekend – no flashlights or cell phones allowed – which turned out to send people to bed earlier and prevented the typical weekend pattern of staying up late and sleeping in. 

“Late circadian and sleep timing in modern society are associated with negative performance and health outcomes such as morning sleepiness and accidents, reduced work productivity and school performance, substance abuse, mood disorders, diabetes, and obesity,” says Kenneth Wright at the University of Colorado Boulder. “Our findings demonstrate that living in our modern environments contributes to late circadian timing regardless of season and that a weekend camping trip can reset our clock rapidly.”

While it may be the easiest excuse ever to go camping in summer, what happens as the weather gets cooler, and how quickly can our clocks be changed? To find the answers the researchers sent another group of five active people camping for a week in the chilly Colorado winter, around the time of the winter solstice when the days were at their shortest. The same rules applied: no flashlights or cell phones allowed. 

The data suggests that our modern lifestyles reduce light exposure in the winter by a whopping 13 times. With increased time spent outdoors, people in the study started going to bed at a more reasonable hour. Their internal clocks, measured by the timing of when melatonin levels began to rise in their bodies, shifted more than 2.5 hours earlier. Their sleeping patterns followed these changes in melatonin levels and people went to sleep earlier.

Once back on track, it’s important to be consistent with sleep habits, including nighttime exposure to artificial lighting, the researchers say.     

Just another reason mother nature is invaluable for ultimate health and vitality – we love it! 

Source: Science Media Centre NZ. 

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