Research Shows Camping will Recover Sleep Patterns
Many people stay up late into the night, usually watching some type of screen like a television, phone, or tablet. Reading is even a major culprit to sleep loss. Waking up in the morning is rarely easy for most people. Now, however, scientists have discovered evidence that points toward additional sunlight exposure recovering sleep patterns. Findings were published in February’s issue of Current Biology.
No matter what time of year we are in, a few days outdoors in nature, without electricity for distraction, will reset the biological clock and lead to earlier bedtimes.
Most people now understand that sleep deprivation, including disrupted sleep and shorter duration, in our modern culture is negatively associated with health problems and decreased performance, including excessive daytime sleepiness, lower productivity and focus, mood disorders, diabetes, obesity, and substance abuse. Kenneth Wright from the University of Colorado Boulder noted that these findings show that modern environments lead to interrupted sleep and disrupted circadian rhythms, no matter the season; however, a weekend camping trip can restore these rhythms.
Past studies have shown that exposure to electrical lights and loud environments lead to a delay of about two hours in the biological clock, which is shown through a shift in normal levels of melatonin, the primary hormone responsible for regulating sleep. Just a week of outdoors time under a summer sun could shift those biological clocks to factory settings, allowing one to get to bed earlier.
Additional questions surfaced at these findings:
- What about winter, with its frigid air and shorter days?
- How fast do our clocks really change?
In this most recent research, scientists addressed these questions by sending a group of five people out into the cold Colorado winter weather for some camping. This was done around the time of the winter solstice, which is the shortest day, or longest night, of the year. Cell phones and flashlights were not allowed. Scientists monitored their response to sleep and hormonal rhythms.
Modern lifestyles, with our electricity requirements, reduce sunlight exposure in winter by 13 times. However, increased time outside during winter months led to earlier bedtimes by about an hour. Biological clocks changed to a rhythm that showed 2.5 hours earlier than before the camping trip. Biological clock rhythms were measured by determining when melatonin levels increased in the body. Sleeping patterns in the Colorado participants followed those expected melatonin changes.
Mr. Wright and his team reported that one of their questions was whether camping just once in the summer was enough to reset the clocks, and it was. For this part of the study, they sent nine participants into the wilderness, keeping another five participants at home. That weekend of camping prevented the typical pattern of weekend late nights and sleeping in, which prevented the disruption in the circadian rhythm.
While people are certainly responsive to seasonal changes to sunlight, our modern chaotic culture of light and noise bump our clocks out of sync even further; however, this can be fixed with just a few days of nature and sunlight.
If an individual is looking to restore their sleeping patterns and start getting to bed at an earlier time, a camping weekend may be just the answer; however, it is important to remember that consistence is the key to success. Keeping a regular schedule and a bedtime routine will be essential. Mr. Wright notes that increasing sunlight exposure during the day and reducing screen time and light exposure at night will go a long way to helping you restore your rhythm.
These findings indicate that it may be worthwhile for companies to create a working environment that allows for more sunlight exposure, and it may lead to lighting companies incorporating tunable lighting options, which would change by the hour and depend on where the sun is located in the sky. There is the possibility that doing this will improve health, performance, and productivity.
It is the hope of Mr. Wright and his colleagues that they will discover how much sunlight is really needed to recover sleeping rhythms, as well as figure out the connection between health, circadian rhythms, and natural light exposure.
Rachael Herman is a professional writer with an extensive background in medical writing, research, and language development. Her hobbies include reading, traveling, and cooking.