The National Park Service is often called “America’s Best Idea,” and it could soon turn into America’s Healthiest Prescription, especially for those who suffer from any kind of sleeping disorder.
It may be time to turn to your tent if you are searching for an insomnia cure. According to a recent study, healthier sleep is one of the standout health benefits of camping. So how are the two connected?
Today, electronics have an enormous influence on most people’s natural sleep cycle. As a result, modern life typically involves limited exposure to sunlight during the day, followed by prolonged exposure to electronics and harsh lights at night. But rather than spend your money on potentially dangerous sleep meds, the researchers recommended a more natural solution: camping
What Are The Sleep Benefits Of Modern Day Camping?
Kenneth Wright, PhD, Researcher and professor of integrative physiology at the University of Colorado, discovered that exposure to modern unnatural lights affects the circadian cycle, resulting in delayed sleep timing.
This is not the first time Wright investigated the potential of camping to remedy the negative effects of unnatural light. In a 2013 study he published in “Current Biology,” he sought to find out the effects of camping on health, particularly in relation to sleep. During the study, participants who spent a week camping in Colorado during the summer reported improved biological sleep clocks.
During that period, the campers were exposed to four times more light during the day, and all forms of unnatural lighting were banned at night. The result? Their bodies stared producing sleep-inducing melatonin two hours earlier than usual, around sunset.
In contrast, a separate study published by Wright in “Current Biology” in 2016 involved participants spending either a weekend or a whole week camping in winter. He tracked both circadian rhythms and sleep patterns. The researchers measured melatonin levels in participant’s blood to track their circadian rhythms.
He noted that before they left, the participant’s sleep patterns weren’t aligned with their natural internal clocks. Normally, melatonin levels should increase right before we fall asleep and fall as soon as we wake up.
“However, in our modern environment, those melatonin levels tend to fall a few hours after we actually wake up. The brain keeps signaling that we should be sleeping several hours after we have already woken up.”
So, what were the effects of the week-long winter camping trip? After spending a week camping, participants found themselves waking up two hours earlier. Their melatonin levels didn’t lag either. They rose at sunset and decreased at sunrise. Even those who participated in the brief weekend trip ended up with better sleep hormone cycles.
“A single weekend spent camping shifted the biological clock 70 percent of what those who spend a week experienced,” Wright said in an interview with the Denver Post. “Exposing ourselves to a natural light/dark cycle coupled with staying away from electrical light is an effective way of rapidly adjusting out clock.”
Wright’s work is only a small part of the many research studies that prove the importance of exposure to sun, fresh air, and nature to our overall health and well-being.
Sleeping Tips For Campers
If you are a first time camper, you must be wondering how you are supposed to enjoy a good night’s rest while sleeping in the cold on the ground. While comfort is the most common concern for campers, a little discomfort is all part of the experience. Simply bring the right gear to keep you warm and dry.
Once you get to your preferred campsite:
Find a smooth, flat surface to set up your tent. Nothing is worse than sleeping on a slanted surface or having to deal with rocks or sticks poking your ribs all night long. Also, ensure that you don’t pitch your tent where water might flow through or pool in case of heavy rain.
Do not wear too many layers. You can easily overdress in your quest to stay warm. Too much clothing can actually reduce the amount of body heat your sleeping bag will trap. Ensure that you change into fresh clothes before going to sleep if you spend the whole day sweating.
Put a pad or a blanket beneath your sleeping bag. You can always do with an additional layer of cushioning from the rough, cold ground.
Other Health Benefits Of Camping
If the prospect of improving your biological sleep clock doesn’t excite you enough, you might be interested in these other health benefits of camping.
It’s the best way to get close to nature, and this has been proven to be beneficial for your mental well-being. Researchers at the University of Michigan found that spending even the shortest amount of time in nature may reduce the symptoms of depression. In a separate study at Stanford University, it was found that outdoor time can help reduce rumination (obsessive negative thinking).
What’s more, an article published in a 2008 release of “Environmental Health Perspectives” magazine concluded that spending 30 minutes in the sun takes care of close to 30 percent of our bodies’ daily vitamin D requirement. Vitamin D plays an important role in bone health, may prevent diabetes, ensures coronary health, boosts the immune system, and improves learning, concentration, and more.
Other Natural Ways To Improve Quality Of Sleep
Not everyone can afford the luxury of taking a week long camping trip every now and then. Luckily, there are several other ways of improving your sleep naturally.
1. Keep Electronics Away From Your Bed
Working from your laptop or watching TV tricks you mind into treating your bedroom as a work place instead of a place for rest. Limit watching your nighttime shows to your living room, then settle into your bed with a relaxing book about an hour or so before going to bed.
2. Keep A Strict Sleep Schedule
This should protect your circadian rhythm. You will be falling asleep and waking up naturally every day.
3. Maximize Your Exposure To The Natural Light Cycle
If you have no option but to stay indoors most of the time, try sitting next to a window. You can also try adjusting your indoor lighting in accordance with the time of the day. This includes using a light box early in the morning and dimming the lights as the sun goes down to mimic outdoor lighting.
4. Avoid Simple Carbs, Sugary Sweets, Or High-Glycemic Fruits
This is especially important before going to bed. Consuming these often spikes blood sugar and can make you wake up feeling hungry. Instead, go for a small amount of protein alongside complex carbohydrates and vegetables. These foods can also bolster melatonin to help you fall asleep quicker.
Camping Health Benefits Final Thoughts
Apart from correcting your circadian rhythm, camping benefits your health and happiness in a number of ways. It reduces the symptoms of depression, minimizes negative thinking, and increase vitamin D levels in the body.
You can however, achieve some of the benefits by creating and sticking to a schedule if you are unable to go camping on a regular basis.