How Camping Can Help You Sleep Better

How Artificial Light Affects Sleep

With the shift the blog has taken toward the pursuit of wellness, I have been taking a closer look at ways to improve my health.  When I began researching the connection between spending time outdoors and mental health, I came across several studies about fluorescent lighting and how it can negatively affect our bodies.  While fluorescent lighting has allowed us to work at night–thereby increasing productivity–it can interfere with our circadian rhythm. Our circadian rhythm is basically our body’s clock.  It tells us when to go to sleep and when to wake up.

The following description and diagram are courtesy of Wikipedia:

circadian rhythm /sɜːrˈkdiən/ is any biological process that displays an endogenousentrainable oscillation of about 24 hours. These 24-hour rhythms are driven by a circadian clock, and they have been widely observed in plantsanimalsfungi, and cyanobacteria.[1]

The term circadian comes from the Latin circa, meaning “around” (or “approximately”), and diēm, meaning “day”.

 

By NoNameGYassineMrabetTalk✉ fixed by Addicted04 – The work was done with Inkscape by YassineMrabet. Informations were provided from “The Body Clock Guide to Better Health” by Michael Smolensky and Lynne Lamberg; Henry Holt and Company, Publishers (2000). Landscape was sampled from Open Clip Art Library (Ryan, Public domain). Vitruvian Man and the clock were sampled from Image:P human body.svg (GNU licence) and Image:Nuvola apps clock.png, respectively., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3017148

Your Body And The Outdoors

Exposure to certain types of fluorescent lighting has been found to suppress melatonin production.  Melatonin is responsible for regulating sleep and wakefulness.  Lack of proper sleep is linked to all kinds of negative impacts on the body.  Depression, cognitive impairments, extreme fatigue just to name a few.  Some studies have linked the suppression of melatonin to cancer.  We were not meant to live under fluorescent lighting, but outdoors under the sun.   The sun provides us with vitamin D, boosts levels of serotonin (the “happy hormone”) and encourages the production of white blood cells (which can boost the immune system).  It only makes sense that the longer we spend under artificial lighting and not outside in the sun, our physical and mental health can suffer.

girl with closed eyes in sunlight

This brings us to the subject of this post.  How can backpacking help you sleep better?  A study by the University of Colorado At Boulder followed eight backpackers on a week-long camping trip.  The only light the campers were exposed to was from the sun, moon, stars and campfire.  The test subjects wore wrist monitors that measured the amount of sunlight they received each day, the intensity of the sunlight and their activities (sleep and wake patterns).  Melatonin levels were noted and compared with what they were in their daily lives, prior to the camping trip.  It was discovered that the subjects went to sleep earlier and got up earlier than they did in their normal lives.  They received approximately four hours more of sunlight than they were accustomed to getting outside of the study.

Basically this means that when you remove yourself from artificial light and rely solely on the sun, moon and stars for at least one week, your internal body clock will reset itself.  Without artificial lighting to suppress melatonin production, levels of the hormone will synchronize with the pattern of natural light, or the rising and setting of the sun.

tents in forest
Camping can reset the body’s internal clock and help improve sleep.

 

Guinea Pig Time

I have long had a love/hate relationship with sleep.  My sleeping pattern for as many years as I can remember has been horrible.  I’m sure being a mother has a lot to do with it.  I feel exhausted when I go to bed, yet I often find myself awake 2-3 hours after dozing off.  Once awake, it is nearly impossible for me to get back to sleep.  As a result, I am dragging the next day.  Around 2-3 in the afternoon I find my eyelids drooping.  It’s maddening.  I know many folks with the same issue.

So I am going to use myself as a guinea pig.  I am planning a week-long trip into the woods.  I am very much looking forward to not only the solitude but to better sleep.  Since I’d like to take Remi and she’ll still be too young to hike long distances, we will probably camp and go on short day hikes.

Have you experienced better sleep on backpacking/camping trips?  We’d love to hear about your experiences in this area.

 

 

 

 

 

Sources:  http://ergonomics.about.com/od/lighting/a/How-Fluorescent-Lights-Affect-You-And-Your-Health.htm, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fluorescent_lamps_and_health, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Circadian_rhythm, http://www.mirror.co.uk/lifestyle/dieting/15-reasons-sun-good-you-623393, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/trouble-sleeping-go-campi/, http://www.cell.com/current-biology/abstract/S0960-9822(13)00764-1, https://hikingresearch.wordpress.com/tag/circadian-rhythms/

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2 Comments

  1. Barbara Rivers January 31, 2017 at 9:44 pm

    A decade ago I used to have a very irregular sleep pattern. Back then I wasn’t eating the healthiest food and was stuck indoors a lot. Now that I welcomed dogs into my life – my own two pups and my client dogs – I find myself outside walking a lot (both during the day when I’m walking my daily midday clients and at night time when I have travel clients who are out of town), and I NEVER have trouble sleeping anymore. It’s quite amazing.

    1. Shannon Adams February 6, 2017 at 8:58 pm

      That’s so amazing, Barbara! It really is so cool how our bodies respond. I think I operate at such a breakneck pace during my regular days that unless I log some serious miles hiking, I’m still finding it hard to sleep. But I’m very anxious to see how my body reacts to no fluorescent lighting for a week. Should be a fun experiment!