BOULDER, Colo. (CBS4) – A weekend spent camping may be the key to getting better sleep overall.
That’s according to researchers at University of Colorado Boulder, and the impact may be even more potent with winter camping.
“These studies suggest that our internal clock responds strongly and quite rapidly to the natural light-dark cycle,” said lead author and CU Boulder integrative physiology professor Kenneth Wright in a prepared statement.
“Living in our modern environments can significantly delay our circadian timing and late circadian timing is associated with many health consequences. But as little as a weekend camping trip can reset it.”
Wright conducted two studies which were published Thursday in Current Biology.
The question is just how quickly does exposure to natural light shift human biological rhythms.
In one, his team recruited 14 volunteers. Nine went camping in the mountains for a summer weekend. The other five stayed home.
Researchers tested the campers and found their melatonin levels had shifted their biological clocks 1.4 hours earlier.
The campers also maintained their regular sleep schedule unlike the five who stayed home (they stayed up and slept in later).
In the second study, five volunteers went camping for a week near the winter solstice. When they returned, researchers tested their melatonin levels once an hour for 24 hours. Those measurements found the campers had been exposed to 13 times much as light a day as in their typical winter, weekday environment.
When camping, they went to bed earlier and slept long. Without artificial light, their biological night got longer to match the season. That’s what happens with animals.
“This has been assumed but never demonstrated,” Wright said.
Researchers say after camping, you would need to keep a regular sleep pattern to maintain the circadian reset.
If you can’t get away for camping, Wright says getting more natural bright light by day helps, as does shutting off phones, laptops and devices well before bedtime.
You can find the full studies at cell.com/current-biology/fulltext/S0960-9822(16)31522-6