by Amanda MacMillan
Camp Twin Lakes New research published in the journal Cell Biology suggests that camping out is good for resetting our internal clocks, which can help us wake up feeling rested in the morning -- even after we return home. Not to mention the other things we love about camping: great hikes, outdoor workouts and of course some good old grilling.
In the study -- which I totally wish I'd participated in -- University of Colorado Boulder researchers studied the circadian timing (sleep/wake patterns) of eight adults in their normal environments of work, school, social activities and most importantly, electric lighting. Then they took those same adults camping for a week, with their only source of light coming from the sun and a campfire -- no flashlights or smartphones allowed -- and let them sleep on their own individual schedules, without any formal structure.
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The researchers found that in a modern, electricity-fueled environment, many people tend to have about a two-hour delay in their natural circadian rhythms, specifically staying up until after midnight and waking up around 8 a.m. After a week in the woods, however, their schedules shifted back to be more in line with sunrise and sunset.
When people are hidden from sunlight in the early morning and exposed to artificial glow late at night, their levels of melatonin (a hormone that regulates sleep) can get out of whack, the study authors explain. Specifically, it can take two full hours after waking up for melatonin levels to decrease to what-should-be-normal "daytime" levels, explaining why so many of us are so sleepy first thing in the morning.
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Exposure to the real sunrise, however, helps melatonin decrease earlier, during the last hour of sleep -- so you wake up feeling alert and chipper, not groggy and blurry-eyed. Of course, the authors say, this camping-trip trick will have the biggest effect on those with the most extreme "night owl" type lifestyles, steering them quickly toward a more "early bird" schedule.
Not the outdoorsy type? Simpler strategies, such as going for a morning walk, keeping window shades open at work, stepping outside for lunch and keeping lights low in the evening (including computer and phone screens!), can also make getting #UpnOut a little easier, says lead author Kenneth Wright. "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."
Do you find that a few days in the great outdoors helps set your internal clock straight?
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by Amanda MacMillan