A study published in Current Biology, shows just how detrimental artificial light is to a healthy sleep cycle.
Research confirms that spending some time in the great outdoors can not only improve blood pressure, digestion and boost the immune system, but can also turn night owls into early birds–resetting their internal clocks.
The study was conducted in the Colorado Rockies at Eagle Nest Wilderness, where eight people spent a week camping without any source of artificial light. The time spent outdoors restored their natural sleep cycles. Getting better and deeper sleep allows people to have more energy during the day, a clearer mind, decreases stress, and promotes weight loss.
The research team was led by Kenneth Wright, the director of the Sleep and Chronobiology Laboratory at the University of Colorado at Boulder. The team closely tracked the sleep habits of each of the participants for a week’s time as they went about their normal lives. The 30-year-old on average participants were required to wear a watch with sensors that measured how much light they were exposed to, as well as when they moved, in order to indicate when they were asleep. Saliva samples were also taken to measure the levels of melatonin in their bodies.
Smithsonian.com reported that as a whole, the campers slept for roughly the same amount of time each night as before, but fell asleep two hours earlier and awoke–without alarm clocks–two hours earlier as well.
Scientists say two factors are at work when it comes the improvement of sleep schedules while outdoors.
By turning off artificial light after sunset (television, computer screens, mobile phones, fluorescent bulbs) participants were able to naturally increase their melatonin levels, which promoted sleep. Furthermore, all that sunlight–something that people who spend most of their daytime hours indoors don’t experience–helped set their circadian clocks back to normal. As a result, just before waking, melatonin levels naturally dropped, reducing levels of grogginess.
Aside from escaping the routine of your busy life to take in the lovely smell of a crackling campfire or laying on your back to stargaze, spending a few days in the wilderness allows you to reap some other serious health benefits. Between eliminating the toxic levels of pollutants, breathing in the extra oxygen and taking in a bit of sunshine, camping can help you live a longer, healthier life all while allowing you to enjoy the beauty of nature.
If you’re interested in improving your own sleep schedule, but can’t seem to find the time to pack up and head for the mountains, researchers recommend adding more natural light in your day: take your lunch outside, go for a walk in the morning and minimize your exposure to artificial light and electronics once the sun sets.
It’s really that simple.