Sleep Under the Stars

Most of us spend too much time staring at this glowing screen and then have trouble sleeping, and new research hammers home the fact that technology is turning us into night owls.

What do doctors recommend? A disconnected week in the woods.

“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,” sleep expert Kenneth Wright of the University of Colorado, Boulder, said in a press release.

The Wonders of a Week in the Woods

Wright and colleagues studied the internal circadian clocks of eight adults after a typical week of work, school, social activities, and more. On average, participants tended to stay up until after midnight and wake up around 8 a.m.

After a week-long camping trip in Colorado without smartphones or even flashlights, their circadian timing shifted back two hours. Subjects went to bed two hours earlier, leaving the night owl schedule for the real owls in the trees.

Wright's studies show that a typical modern environment causes about a two-hour delay in our circadian clocks, as indicated by fluctuations in the hormone melatonin, an important chemical that affects sleep.

Researchers say the comforts of modern living, including consumer electronics and fluorescent lighting, change our melatonin levels, which explains why so many of us feel like going right back to sleep as soon as we wake up.

“Our findings suggest that people can have earlier bed and wake times, more conducive to their school and work schedules, if they were to increase their exposure to sunlight during the day and decrease their exposure to electrical lighting at night,” Wright said.

The Great Outdoors Eases PTSD

Researchers from the University of Michigan recently conducted a similar experiment on a group of military veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The effects of the trip—improved psychological well-being, social functioning, and life outlook—lasted for up to a month after their camping excursion.

“This trip helped me to reevaluate what's important in life,” 52-year-old Navy veteran Tim said. “It was nice to live a week without being 'plugged in' and take in the great outdoors.”

You, like many others, are probably overdue for a drive to the woods. Stare in awe at the beauty nature’s created, and try your best not to Instagram.

Pack More Health Into Your Camping Trip

Besides resetting your body clock, here are other ways to maximize the benefits of camping:

  • Bring nuts, berries, and granola for snacks. They’re good sources of natural energy and are packed full of protein.
  • Hike through trails and along rivers. The varying terrain is a challenging way to stretch out your muscles and joints.
  • Grill fresh meat and vegetables over a fire and avoid cooking with excess oils.
  • Find a comfortable spot to relax and de-stress.

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