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Just a week in the woods can reset your sleep cycle, new study says

Camping

If you’re struggling to get a good night’s sleep, a winter camping trip might be just what you need.

Anyone who’s ever slept beneath the stars knows how refreshed you feel when you wake up. While the feeling is often attributed to the fresh air or the previous day’s activities, a new study found that a short camping trip can drastically affect your circadian rhythm. 

According to the study, living in a world filled with artificial light can delay a person’s sleep-wake cycle, and when your sleep and wake times are out of line with your internal clock, it’s as if you’re continually jet-lagged.

“Our brains say we should be sleeping several hours after we wake up,” Kenneth Wright, a professor of integrated physiology at the University of Colorado and the study’s senior author, told NPR.

The simplest way to fix this, according to Wright, is to go on a digital detox and drench your eyes in natural morning light. 

Wright sent two separate groups into Colorado parks to see if a little winter camping could reset their clocks. One group of participants went for a week-long winter camping trip, one went for a weekend camping trip, and one group stayed home to live their usual lives.

While tracking the results, Wright paid close attention to people’s sleep cycles and circadian rhythms by measuring their melatonin levels, which regulate sleep.

The sleep cycles of participants who spent a weekend winter camping were shifted by nearly an hour and a half. For those who went camping for a week, the “jet lag” was completely gone. 

The negative effects of artificial light might be widely known, but Wright’s findings also indicate that getting enough natural light can actually reverse those effects.

If you’re not able to spend a week in the woods, Dr. Phyllis Zee, director for the Centre for Circadian and Sleep Medicine at Northwestern University, suggests exposing yourself to the natural light-dark cycle in other ways.

“We can on weekends or days off go out or sit by the window and just expose ourselves to a natural light-dark cycle,” she told NPR.