Fix Your Internal Clock By Going Camping
The disconnect between Mother Nature and humans has plagued our sleep cycle since Thomas Edison invented the lightbulb.
If you feel restless during the hours when your head is supposed to hit the pillow, you’re not alone. Artificial light leaves us feeling unrested. Twenty seven percent of American adults report that they have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep most nights, according to a 2016 Consumer Reports survey. Of the 4,023 participants included, 68 percent struggled with sleep at least once a week.
First, a biology lesson: Human melatonin levels rise naturally at night, and drop during the daytime in the wake of natural light. Scientists use melatonin to measure photoperiods, known as the physiological response that organisms have to cycles of daylight and darkness. If you consider the urge to power through a late night binge session of the newest television series, it’s easy to imagine why this remains level – your TV’s unnatural light confuses your body, keeping your melatonin down.
When camping, we’re more inclined to fall asleep shortly after sunset and rise with the sun. This hormone also drops the body’s core temperature, which makes it easier to sleep. Before the lightbulb was invented in the 19th century, our circadian rhythms prompted us to go to bed after nightfall and rise at sunrise. Though candles and oil lamps were used, the light was dim and easy on the eyes.
How Can You Fix Your Internal Clock And Regulate Your Circadian Rhythms?
Your circadian rhythm is essentially a 24-hour internal clock that is running at all hours of the day. Also known as your sleep/wake cycle, this natural response lets your body know when it’s time to sleep and when it’s time to hit the grind.
However, the incandescence of artificial lighting threw off these natural body rhythms after Edison came around. When humans rose in the morning, the melatonin in their bodies was in conflict with the external time. Grogginess ensued, and I’m sure this is where the snooze button started growing on a tree somewhere.
A small study from the University of Colorado, Boulder recently found that participants who spent a weekend camping without artificial light and went to bed sooner in the day, fell asleep up to 1.8 hours earlier than those who stayed at home and woke up earlier as well.
Why Sleeping Outside Helps You Fall Asleep Earlier
The reason? After sleeping outside for a few days, your melatonin levels become more aligned with the sun cycle. Not only are you outside and soaking up the sunshine for longer, but you’re also more likely to go to bed after sunset. This acts as a huge reset for your body, and you will probably find that you feel more rested after your second or third day.
After a week of camping, the same participants’ body clocks moved more than 2.5 hours earlier. After the weekend, their melatonin levels were spiking about 1.4 hours earlier.
On a non-scientific level, a lot of campers can vouch for this. After even two days of waking up in the Great Outdoors™, you feel instantly more energized. Maybe it’s the science. Maybe it’s the scotch you drank before you went to bed. Maybe it’s the Boy Scout that discovered lucid dreaming. Regardless, it’s a way to reconnect with nature and get your internal rhythms back on schedule.