Trouble sleeping at night? You’re not alone. According to a 2013 study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 9 millions adults in the United States take prescription sleeping pills.
But you don’t have to pop pills to get better shut eye. In fact, a peaceful winter camping trip might just do the trick. A recent two-study paper, published in Current Biology, found that just one weekend of camping can have a long-lasting impact on a person’s sleep pattern.
“These studies suggest that our internal clock responds strongly and quite rapidly to the natural light-dark cycle,” said Kenneth Wright, lead author and Integrative Physiology professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder.
Our modern environments can be destructive to our circadian rhythm — the natural cycle that releases hormones and tells our bodies when to sleep, wake and eat.
To study how modern light — such as telephones, TV and florescent lighting — impacts our internal clock, Wright and his team sent a group of volunteers camping during the summer. The volunteers were exposed for four times more natural daylight than usual and were not allowed to use headlamps or flashlights at night.
When the volunteers returned from their camping trip, the onset of melatonin — the hormone that helps prepare the body for nighttime and sleep — came less than two hours earlier. In other words, the participants’ internal clock was synced with the summer sun. The campers were able to maintain a more regular sleep schedule as well.
By absorbing natural light and avoiding artificial light sources at night, their bodies were able to reset themselves to a more natural schedule, not only for sleep but also for metabolism and appetite.
During the second study, a group of volunteers were sent camping during the winter. Wright and his team discovered that the campers’ melatonin levels rose 2.6 hours earlier than usual — a higher level than with the summer campers. The exposure to natural light patterns during winter, the researchers concluded, had a stronger impact on sleep patterns than in the summer.
“Weekend exposure to natural light was sufficient to achieve 69 percent of the shift in circadian timing we previously reported after a week’s exposure to natural light,” said Wright.
Can’t get away for a weekend camping trip? Try limiting your exposure to artificial ‘blue’ light emitting from phones, TVs, tablets, laptops and other electronic devices. Blue light can disturb your circadian rhythm, not only ruining your sleep, but also causing weight gain by influencing the hormones that signal hunger in your body.
Want to know more about Blue Light? Check out Dr Gundry’s new article and YouTube video.