Camping can help you re-set your body clock, a new study from the University of Colorado suggests.
Eight participants spent a week camping with no electrical light, torches or mobile phone use. Their sleep cycles changed in comparison to their sleeping patterns before the camping trip. They woke and went to bed earlier, and were much more in sync with natural daylight hours. Their patterns of melatonin release (the sleep-regulating hormone) also changed. When the individuals were in their usual home setting, melatonin continued being released until a couple of hours after they had woken up, leaving them groggier. In contrast, when camping, their melatonin levels dropped just before they woke up, leaving them less sleepy.
It seems that our usual modern environment causes about a two-hour delay in our normal sleep-wake cycle. “By increasing our exposure to sunlight and reducing our exposure to electrical lighting at night, we can turn our internal clock and sleep times back and likely make it easier to awaken and be alert in the morning,” said one of the researchers, Professor Kenneth Wright, Director of CU-Boulder’s Sleep and Chronobiology Laboratory.
Dr Paul Reading, Consultant Neurologist and President of the British Sleep Society, also commented on the American research. “This study is important because many people, particularly teenagers, have major problems sleeping at a conventional hour and become extreme “night owls”. Bad habits may play a role but many have a legitimate genetic reason,” said Dr Reading. “The experimenters suggest that any inborn (abnormal) sleep-wake rhythm may be more easily overcome if we’re exposed to normal hours of natural sunlight.” So people might be able to go to sleep earlier and get up in time for work or study if they are outside more in the day. “By contrast,” said Dr Reading, “long exposure to manmade light appears to promote the tendency to be a “night owl”.
So camping might be one way to get sleep back on track, but if that’s one step too far, try using candles and reducing your time in front of bright computer or TV screens in the evening. And try having as much time outside as possible in the daytime. Sweet dreams.