Camping Could Cure Insomnia, Make You Less of a Zombie in the Morning

Exposure to natural light could help reset your biological clock.

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Aug 1 2013, 6:35pm
Photo: Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

Trouble sleeping? It might be time to hit the great outdoors. A new study by researchers at the University of Colorado, Boulder, shows that a week of camping may reset the body's biological clock, allowing it to fall asleep easier at night.

Previous studies have shown that nighttime exposure to the light from TV, computers, tablets, even the tiny blinking light on cell phone chargers can reduce melatonin levels, which can cause sleep disturbances. Kenneth Wright, lead author of the study, published in Current Biology, thought that by increasing a person's exposure to natural light by letting them go camping (and taking away all their gadgets), they would naturally fall into a more "natural" sleep cycle that closer corresponded with sunrise and sunset. 

It worked: During the first few days of camping, test subjects tended to fall asleep around midnight and woke up around 8 AM. A week later, most people were falling asleep by 10 PM and waking up at 6 AM. Subjects reported feeling more awake and alert during the morning, which he says is more conducive to a standard 9-5 job schedule. Over the course of the study, participants were exposed to four times more natural light than they were while going about their normal lives. 

"We were interested in determining how much our exposure to light has changed and how modern electrical lighting patterns have altered the timing of our internal clock," Wright said. "If people spend more time indoors shielded from natural light, this will likely contribute to later bed and wake times."

While it's not easy for everyone to disconnect for a week (or to stay out in the wilderness for that amount of time), Wright says that the key to the study was the exposure to natural light, not the actual act of camping. That means that forcing yourself to get out of bed and outside as early as you can in the morning might eventually lead to shifts in your biological clock.

"We used camping to ask a question about how much modern electrical lighting patterns have influenced the timing of our internal clock," he said. "One way to shift the internal clock earlier and achieve earlier bed and wake times is to increase the time you spend outside in the morning and also to reduce your exposure to electrical lighting at night." 

That, unfortunately, means you probably shouldn't be scanning through Motherboard articles when you can't sleep. Save that for when you're at the office.