Do you struggle to get enough sleep? Do you find it difficult to fall asleep until later at night? Many of us suffer from these problems.
Have you ever went on a camping trip and felt that your sleep was somehow different? Beyond the fact that you were sleeping in a tent, which isn’t always the most comfortable place to sleep, did you think the quality of your sleep somehow changed for the better during and perhaps immediately after your camping trip?
As we have discussed in a previous article, living in our modern world with all of the bright artificial lighting can disrupt our body’s melatonin production thereby impacting our circadian rhythms and leading to a poor night’s sleep.
What is Circadian Rhythm?
Circadian rhythm refers to the 24-hour cycle of wakefulness and sleepiness each of us has over the course of the day. People will also refer to circadian rhythm as our body clock and sleep-wake cycle.
Our circadian rhythm is controlled by our brain and the hormones it signals our body to release that tell us when it is time to be awake and alert and when it is time to go to sleep. It is influenced by outside factors such as daylight and artificial light.
Knowing that late circadian timing is associated with many negative health consequences a group of researchers wondered if exposing people to more natural light while simultaneously getting them away from artificial light might help to shift their biological rhythms and help them fall asleep earlier and get a better night sleep.
These researchers decided to investigate the impact camping has on our sleep. Not only does camping give people exposure to the natural light and dark cycle, but camping helps remove us from the artificial light that can be disruptive to our natural sleep patterns. So how might camping impact our circadian rhythms and would it help us fall asleep earlier?
To explore this the researchers looked at two scenarios.
Camping in the Mountains for a Weekend in the Summer
The first study wanted to see the effects of camping in the mountains for a weekend. It compared a group of volunteers who went camping for a weekend in the mountains with another group of people who stayed home for the weekend.
The camping group ended up having a change in their melatonin levels that shifted their biological clocks almost 1 ½ hours earlier.
The group that stayed at home stayed up late and slept in later. Meanwhile, the camping group maintained a regular sleep schedule.
So not only did camping change people’s circadian rhythms and melatonin levels to allow them to fall asleep earlier, but this change can happen in as little as one weekend.
Camping for a Week Close to the Winter Solstice
The second study followed people who went camping for a week near the winter solstice. How would the shorter days and longer nights at this time of year impact the camper’s body clocks?
Since they weren’t exposed to artificial light while camping the campers went to bed earlier and slept longer. Their sleep patterns begin to match the season, which is what you might expect since that is what happens with animals in the wild, but it had never been looked at in this way before.
You can read more about the research here.
Things To Remember
So does this mean that all we need to do is go on a camping trip if we have a hard time getting to sleep at night?
Not necessarily. Even if we did go camping any benefits we receive in terms of resetting our internal rhythms will be lost upon our return home if we don’t maintain a regular sleep pattern. In other words, if we go back to our old ways of staying up late surrounded by electronics and artificial light after going on a camping trip the circadian reset campers receive will be lost and melatonin production will be negatively impacted.
So while going camping for as little as one weekend can help our bodies reset to a more natural rhythm there are three things we can do at home to help simulate the benefits that study participants received from camping. Yes, here are a few easy things you can do:
- Find ways to get more exposure to natural light during the day (maybe going for a walk during your lunch)
- Try to maintain a regular bedtime
- Shut off computers, televisions, and smartphones before bedtime approaches
- Start to shut off or dim some of the bright lights before bedtime arrives
If you want to read more about melatonin and how it impacts your sleep click here.
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Last update on 2023-09-20 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API