In the shelter of our apartments, homes and condominiums we enjoy many comforts and luxuries our tribal ancestors would never have imagined. It seems we have given up one very important benefit to living out in nature, however, which science is now starting to document. When we sleep outside, without electricity and artificial light our bodies begin to sync up with the cycles of the sun, according to the latest studies published in Current Biology. Yes, science now shows how camping can help improve your life by resetting the body clocks to their natural circadian rhythm.
It doesn’t take a genius to ascertain that a week of camping makes you feel great in a number of ways. We may come up with a list of why’s including: released focus on work and demands, immersion in nature, proximity to wildlife, time with family (or without them) and sleeping under a blanket of crystal clear stars. These all contribute to good health and new found clarity for sure, but science has now documented that a week under the wide open sky changes our sleep patterns and the way our bodies respond to light.
Though our computers, televisions, Netflix, living room lamps, bedroom clocks and kitchen incandescents are fabulously convenient, they actually disturb the normal release of melatonin in the body, changing the time we would normally sleep at night and rise in the morning. Those who camp for one week without the comforts of electricity, using only the campfire as light, were found to profoundly adjust their sleep patterns to coincide with the rising and setting of the sun. For some campers, this was a dramatic shift from their previous ‘night owl’ behavior.
A University of Colorado at Boulder research team monitored eight participants who camped out over a one week period and recorded their sleep patterns and exposure to light. These participants received over 400% more sunlight than in their normal lives, a huge difference. Findings also showed that the normal behavior of the pineal gland was to release melatonin both an hour before sleep and an hour before rising – which prepared the body for rest and waking. This resulted in less grogginess as well as deeper, richer sleep for all. No wonder camping feels so refreshing. Not to mention, there is no exposure to electromagnetic frequency waves from wi-fi and cell phones in the great outdoors (unless you bring them).
Camping can improve your life in a myriad of ways, but the latest scientific study shows that sleep patterns are the number one way a trip to the woods can be of benefit. Researchers want to now run these same tests on less healthy individuals, especially those with sleep problems, as all of the participants were in good health. Perhaps the next time you are feeling burned out, what you really need is a trip into nature for a good old run in with the rhythm of the sun. Oh, and leave your cell phone and lanterns behind. Since camping year-round is not always an option, try turning down the lights at night, cutting the t.v. watching early and get out the candles. Not only will it improve the atmosphere, but help you sleep better and wake up more refreshed.
Written by: Stasia Bliss