Spending time in nature can work wonders for human health, from lowering blood pressure and stress hormones to sparking feelings of awe. Growing research suggests it may also improve sleep by resetting our internal clocks to a natural sleep cycle. A new study released in the journal Current Biology adds to that evidence by showing the sleep-promoting benefits of the great outdoors.
Kenneth Wright, a researcher at the University of Colorado Boulder and author of the new study, embarked on his camping research back in 2013, when he sent people on a week-long summer camping trip to understand how their internal clocks changed without electronics and only natural light. Before and after the trip, he measured their levels of the hormone melatonin, which alerts the body when it’s time to prepare for bed and helps set a person’s internal clock. Wright found that people’s internal clocks were delayed by two hours in their modern environment—which isn’t a good thing, since an out-of-whack sleep cycle has been linked to health problems like sleepiness, mood problems and a higher risk of being overweight. But they were able to recalibrate after a week in nature.
Now, in the new study, Wright set out to better understand how long it takes for people to recalibrate their internal sleep cycles and whether it also works in winter.
In the first part of his study, Wright equipped five people with wearable devices that measured when they woke up, when they went to bed and how much light they were normally exposed to. Wright also measured their melatonin levels in a lab. After that, everyone went on a week-long camping trip—but this time, it was during the winter.