Camping is the perfect fix for shitty sleep habits
We’ve all been there before: black bags under our eyes, dragging our bodies along like zombies, disgruntledly grumbling our “good morning” greetings.
We know sleep deprivation makes us lesser beings, but we can never seem to catch enough Zs. In fact, according to the CDC, one in three American adults don’t get sufficient shut-eye.
But a new study from the University of Colorado at Boulder suggests a foolproof solution for fixing your fucked-up sleep cycle: go camping.
That’s right, a few nights of dozing in the dirt can significantly improve your circadian rhythm, the natural process that regulates when you feel awake and active or sleepy and sluggish.
Physiology professor Kenneth Wright and his research team found that as little as one weekend spent backcountry camping offers enough exposure to a natural cycle of light and dark to better your biological clock.
When Wright first started his experiment, he wanted to focus on how removing electrical devices and electrical lighting affects our sleep cycles. The outcome might seem relatively obvious; if we didn’t have lamps, laptops, and cell phones, we’d be overcome with boredom and doze off at dusk.
These results were verified when Wright sent his first study’s participants into the wilderness for a week without flashlights. When the participants returned, researchers found that the campers experienced an onset of melatonin, a hormone that prepares the body for sleep, two hours earlier than usual in the evenings. Melatonin began to diminish earlier in the morning, as well.
Essentially, the campers’ internal clocks were reset. They were falling asleep earlier at night and waking up earlier in the morning.
The campers were much better off when compared to a test group of homebodies who didn’t spend their nights in a tent. The indoor hermits stayed up later and slept in later while home for the weekend. Their internal clocks actually shifted later, giving them a sort of “social jetlag” that could make Monday mornings infinitely shittier.
Fortunately for anyone who hates waking up to the disturbing chirping of birds and the obnoxious babbling of a brook, this study’s lessons can still be applied from the comfort of your home.
Wright recommends doing “anything you can do to increase your light exposure during the day, whether that’s going for a walk before work, taking a lunch-hour stroll, or just sitting by a window while you read the morning newspaper.”
By the same token, you’ll need to cut down on light in the night-time, dimming the bulbs to bring on some evening ambience and putting away your backlit devices an hour or two before bedtime.
But if you want a quick fix to correct your internal clock, the benefits of a weekend in the woods are unbeatable. Come Monday morning, your co-workers may not even recognize this upbeat, energized version of you. Finally, perhaps the grumpy zombie has become the happy camper.