Looking for a way to reset your sleep habits? Head for the hills!
That’s what new research is suggesting, anyway. Turns out, the best way to cure your stubborn case of insomnia might be to get back to nature — pack a bag, head into the wild and pitch a tent. But most importantly, leave your gadgets at home.
“Our modern environment has really changed the timing of our internal clocks, but also the timing of when we sleep relative to our clock,” said Kenneth Wright, an author of the study. “A weekend camping trip can reset the clock rapidly.”
Wright and his team in Colorado sent a group of five individuals aged 21 to 39 into the Rocky Mountains for six days one December (we’re shivering just thinking about it!), and instructed them to leave all technology, including flashlights, behind.
With just sunlight (which they got much more of than they typically did in their daily lives), moonlight and firelight to illuminate their surroundings, the subjects all reported falling asleep an average of two hours earlier and sleeping almost three hours more than usual. Instead of seven and a half hours of zzz’s per night, participants were getting 10. All from realigning their sleep schedule with the rise and fall of the sun.
When the group returned home, each participant had their sleep hormones measured. Surprisingly, it appeared the reset effects of the six-day nature retreat lingered, and the subjects’ bodies continued to prepare them for sleep earlier than before the trip.
“Even with a small number of people we saw robust effects,” Wright said. “It was the same in everyone. How our circadian clock responds to the natural light-dark cycle is part of our fundamental physiology.”
To see how getting outside could influence people in the summer, Wright conducted a similar experiment in July, sending another group of nine out for a weekend. This time, the group was allowed to bring headlamps as a source of light. Still, however, subjects reported falling asleep earlier and sleeping longer.
If the thought of spending several nights under the stars sounds more like punishment than pleasure, rest assured that you don’t have to actually go camping to reap the benefits.
“If our goal is to have people sleeping at reasonable times so they’re not asleep at work and school, there are things we can do in our daily lives,” said Wright. He recommended getting more natural light by going for a walk at lunch or even sitting by a window. “As important,” he adds “is to dim the lights at night.” When the sun goes down, we should adjust our interior lights accordingly.
Still, we’re keen for camping, and this sounds like as good a reason as any for a weekend getaway. We’ll bring the marshmallows and chocolate if you grab the graham crackers.