There’s nothing like a night under the stars to give you some peace of mind – and apparently a good night’s sleep.
A new study published in Current Biology analyzed the sleep quality of a group of people tasked with camping out at Colorado’s Eagle’s Nest Wilderness, versus a group who stayed at home for the weekend.
The camping group wasn’t allowed to use any light source other than the campfire and the Sun, and they were equipped with adapted watches that measured how much light they were exposed to.
The researchers found that those who spent the weekend camping without any electronics naturally fell asleep up to 1.8 hours earlier (and woke up earlier, too) than those who stayed home.
“These studies suggest that our internal clock responds strongly and quite rapidly to the natural light-dark cycle,” said lead author Kenneth Wright of the University of Colorado, Boulder.
“Living in our modern environments can significantly delay our circadian timing and late circadian timing is associated with many health consequences. But as little as a weekend camping trip can reset it.”
The sleep hormone melatonin is released in response to darkness, but our exposure to electronics can throw it off, said the researchers.
Along with getting almost 10 hours of sleep every night in the wilderness, the campers’ melatonin release shifted after the experiment. A saliva analysis after the trip found the campers’ melatonin rise began 1.4 hours earlier in the summer, and 2.6 hours earlier in the winter (which they discovered in a separate wintertime experiment.) In other words, the campers’ biological sleep rhythms were effectively reset after a weekend under the stars.
If your current circumstances don’t leave much time for weekly camping trips, the researchers recommend getting more bright natural light during the daytime and turning off your electronics an our or two before bedtime.
Wright added: “Our findings highlight an opportunity for architectural design to bring more natural sunlight into the modern built environment and to work with lighting companies to incorporate tunable lighting that could change across the day and night to enhance performance, health and well-being.”