Ever noticed that you sleep differently when you're camping? It's not just the lack of Netflix: people experience better, more natural sleep in nature. But why?
In honor of National Park Week and Earth Day, Kala Sleep looked into the science behind sleeping in the great outdoors. Do people actually sleep better when they're camping? We wanted to know. The answer, it turns out, is yes.
The reason has to do with circadian rhythms, the daily cycles in your body regulated mainly by light and darkness.
Your body is evolutionarily programmed to be awake when it's light out and to get sleepy when it gets dark. But electric lights and electronic screens (*cough*Netflix*cough*) have thrown things off. Most people don't get a lot of exposure to natural sunlight over the course of their day, and lightbulbs and electronics brighten their night long after sunset. Because of these "unnatural" light and dark patterns, research has shown that most people's sleep cycles are "delayed" - that is, our bodies go through hormonal changes that prepare us for sleep much later than they would if we were just exposed to natural light. Not great, since out-of-whack sleep cycles can affect your mood, your productivity, how likely you are to gain weight, and of course how alert you feel during the day.
Do people actually sleep better when they're camping? The answer, it turns out, is yes.
What does all that mean? Essentially, we're getting sleepy somewhere between 2 hours (in summer) and 2.5 hours (in winter) later, and needing to wake up later, than we we should be - and it's affecting our lives and bodies in a ton of ways. And catch-up sleep - like sleeping in on weekends to make up for the sleep you didn't get during the week - throws internal clocks off even further.
So how does camping change things? Well, as you might expect, all that natural light - and the lack of electronics and electric lights - is super great for your body. After as little as a weekend spent in nature, your body resets itself to where, physiologically speaking, it really wants to be: getting sleepy when it gets dark, and waking up when it gets light. Research suggests that even if you're naturally a late riser, you'll probably find yourself getting sleepy earlier and waking up much earlier than you would at home - even becoming (GASP) a MORNING PERSON. Camping was also shown to be a great way to combat winter blues: people in one study came back from their winter camping trips sleeping & waking up on average 2.5 hours earlier, and with more normal levels of melotonin, the hormone that tells your body it's night time. All that translates to falling asleep naturally, sleeping deeply, and waking up feeling alert (an experience that a lot of us have…well…never).
The best way to achieve this, of course, is to get outside as much as possible. If you can get away for the weekend, go camping! If not, take a walk when you wake up in the morning, and limit your exposure to bright white lights and electronic screens in the 2 hours before bedtime.
Need more help sleeping well and feeling alert during the day? Check out Kala Sleep on Pinterest for more!