What I am about to tell you may sound a little bit counterintuitive but please bear with me.
Giving up your fancy memory foam mattress, your lovely soft pillow and your nicely heated bedroom and going to sleep in field could in fact be a great way to overcome your sleep problems and get that much-needed good night’s rest.
I told you it would sound a little bit weird. What! Don’t believe me? Well, you don’t have to. I have science to back me up. A study released in the journal Current Biology suggests that sleep al-fresco has many sleep-inducing qualities.
Still not ready to give up your king-size in exchange for a sleeping just yet? Stick with us and below we’ll break down exactly why sleeping outside amongst the bugs and beetles may have such a glorious somnambulatory effect on campers.
Sleep and Light
Light plays an incredibly important role on our circadian rhythms, that is our internal body clock, the thing that tells us when to wake up and when to go to sleep. Our minds have evolved through countless generations to associate daylight with being awake and active and darkness with sleep.
This system worked well for us all throughout the many millennia of our hunter gatherer days and even well in to the Industrial Age. Then along came Edison with his electric lightbulb and messed the whole thing up. Suddenly the nights weren’t so dark anymore. This was great for getting things done and probably meant a lot of people banged their head and stubbed their to less but it wasn’t so good for our sleep.
Fast-forward another 150 years and it is not just lightbulbs that our minds have to content with, our lives are now dictated by screens. So many screens you want to scream!
No matter the size, screens all have one thing in common, they all emit a form of blue-light that mimics the impact of daylight on our brains and plays havoc with our how our body produces a neurotransmitter known as melatonin. If you have sleep problems you probably know this word very well.
Melatonin is the hormone that tells us when to be drowsy and when to be alert, it dictates our circadian rhythms.
What has all this got to do with camping I hear you cry? Well, stop be impatient and read on…
A forced light diet
Heading up to the hills with a tent on your back means taking a break from the stresses and strains of the modern world, it also means taking a break from the massive amounts of artificial light you are subjected to every single day. The impact of this enforced light diet on your sleep cannot be underestimated.
Kenneth Wright, the researcher at the University of Colorado Boulder who conducted the study published in the journal Current Biology studied the levels of melatonin present in individuals. He found that normally people’s internal body clocks were delayed by two hours due to the impact of the modern environment. A week in nature camping was enough to recalibrate and re-synchronise these out-of-sync sleep cycles and help individuals rediscover that feeling of a good night’s rest.
And before you start to complain, camping doesn’t have to be uncomfortable. You don’t have to go all Bear Grylls and forsake every modern comfort. There are many good, lightweight camping mattresses out there, if you need help making the right choice check out this informational guide from the Sleep Advisor.
Now it isn’t just the change in your light diet that gives camping the same effect as a handful of sleeping pills. Spending time is nature is a great way to simply calm the mind down, studies have shown getting a bit lost in the wilderness does wonders for our health, lowering levels of the stress hormone cortisol and even lowering our blood pressure.
Plus going camping generally involves a bit of exercise and anything that gets us away from our desk-based sedentary lifestyle and gets the blood pumping is great for our sleep. In fact one experiment found that insomniacs who worked out for just four months were able to increase their average sleep time by on average 85 more minutes shuteye a night. For the chronically sleep-deprived that can amount to a life changing amount of extra rest.
Now it isn’t always possible to get out to the fields with a rucksack on our back. And doing so every week certainly isn’t a viable solution really. You can however bring a little bit of the wild way of life into your domestic routine. Wright adds that you can mimic the impact of a week in the woods to a lesser extent by making sure you expose yourself to morning light, cutting down on smartphone use, avoiding screens in the evening and installing dimmer switches at home. All sacrifices I am sure you will agree are worth making for a few more hours shuteye night.
Happy camping, just make sure you don’t attract the bears with all that snoring you will be doing!