Our busy schedules make it difficult to maintain a healthy sleep cycle, but it turns out that camping can help you reset that internal clock. Researchers have found that spending a few days in the great outdoors can sync your body back up with its natural rhythm.
Kenneth Wright, an integrative physiology professor at the University of Colorado, conducted a study in 2013 to determine the effect nature plays in humans’ natural circadian clocks and our ability to maintain a healthy sleep-wake cycle. The findings were fascinating, with subjects proving that in just one week being out in nature on a consistent basis, humans could revert back to the way our bodies were designed based on the rising and setting of the sun.
More recently, Wright set out again to discover if just a weekend could also jumpstart this “reset.” It turns out it can.
What is a sleep cycle?
The circadian clock is the internal clock inside our bodies that signals to our brain when it’s time to sleep and when it’s time to wake up. The process if controlled mostly by melatonin, a hormone secreted by the pineal gland in the brain, which tells us when to be tired.
While we’re able to ingest melatonin orally through supplements and food, most of it comes from our exposure to natural light. For someone with a healthy sleep cycle melatonin levels typically rise in the evening before bedtime and lower in the morning when it’s time to get up and go to work.
However, because of our modern culture of staying up late and working odd hours, many people have melatonin levels that are off balance. Watching electronics like television and staring at a phone screen can also throw off a person’s sleep cycle.
How does camping fix our cycle?
Melatonin relies heavily upon proper exposure to natural light, and camping is one of the easiest and most effective ways to increase sun exposure. Camping forces you outdoors, away from those four walls that block out the light, helping us to reset our clocks.
Researchers found that just two days of pro-longed exposure to the outdoors can help stabilize our circadian rhythm by naturally regulating the level of melatonin being released into the brain. Away from all the accouterments of modern society, like television, smartphones and weekends at the bar, we’re more likely to fall asleep based upon the setting of the sun.
Our internal clock is capable of changing at a remarkable rate once we’re away from modern day distractions.
Why does it matter?
People with regular sleep cycles are likely to live longer, healthier and happier lives. Our internal clock plays a huge role in our ability to get through the day. It affects our tiredness and our mood, making the day a breeze or excruciating to get through without coffee or a nap. Someone on a natural sleep cycle is capable of getting through the night more restfully, without interruptions, and therefore more likely to feel less groggy over the course of the day.
How to make it work.
Simply heading outdoors for the weekend might not be enough to reset your body’s clock. That’s because modern campers have developed a habit of bringing along many of the toys from home that negatively affect our sleep cycle.
On your next camping trip leave the iPad at home and focus on being one with nature. Ban electronics whenever possible and try to let the sunlight dictate your plans. You might also want to avoid alcohol on your next camping trip, as drinking often leads people to staying up way past when our bodies tell us it’s time for bed.
Of course, when you return home from your camping excursion you might have to make some changes in order for the reset button to stick. Just as a weekend in the woods can quickly alter our internal clocks, so can a couple of nights spent up late in front of the computer checking e-mails.
Try to maintain the habit of cutting off electronics before bed, and when the sun goes down, start prepping yourself for sleep by avoiding food and TV. If you get into the practice of sleeping at a more natural time you might find yourself enjoying your life just a little more.