A week of residing in the outdoors may resync your internal clock and help you sleep better, say Colorado researchers.
Going camping is a great way to get some fresh air — and some fresh Zzzs, according to a new study in the journal Current Biology, as it can help resync your internal clock. Researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder found that after a week of camping, the body’s circadian rhythm fell in line with the rising and setting of the sun – which experts say can help people fall asleep earlier and wake up feeling more refreshed.
Circadian rhythm is based on the hormone melatonin, which is regulated by exposure to light. With the advent of electric light in the 1930s, humans became exposed to light for much longer than is naturally possible, according to the study, which has disrupted that rhythm. In addition, the color of electric light is much more intense, which further disrupts sleep.
“What’s remarkable is how, when we’re exposed to natural sunlight, our clocks perfectly become in synch in less than a week to the solar day,” study author Kenneth Wright, a professor of physiology at the University of Colorado Boulder, said in a statement.
The researchers looked at eight people who went camping in the Rocky Mountains for a week, and found that their circadian rhythm, which regulates sleep, “resycned” to sunrise and sunset – meaning they woke with the sun and become tired at sunset. This resync, Wright said, could help people avoid the insomnia and morning grogginess that comes with being exposed to light all day.
“When people are living in the modern world — living in these constructed environments — we have the opportunity to have a lot of differences among individuals,” Wright said in the statement. “Some people are morning types and others like to stay up later. What we found is that natural light-dark cycles provide a strong signal that reduces the differences that we see among people — night owls and early birds — dramatically.”
On average, the study participants awoke two hours later when they were exposed to electric lights compared to after camping, according to the study, and the effect lasted for more than two weeks after camping.
Poor circadian rhythm can do more than just prevent you from getting a good night sleep – it can also raise a woman’s risk for ovarian cancer, according to a study published earlier this year by researchers from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine. Researchers found that women worked night shifts had disrupted melatonin levels and circadian rhythms, and were nearly 25 percent more likely to develop ovarian cancer.
“Given the high mortality rate among patients with ovarian cancer,” the researchers wrote in the study, “the identification of potentially modifiable risk factors is crucial to disease prevention efforts.”
Resetting your circadian rhythm may help – but if you can’t go camping, there may be other ways.
“Having a darkened room when you do sleep can improve the quality of sleep, and would help restore melatonin levels,” said Gloria Huang, MD., associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. “It’s important that when you do sleep, you do everything you can to improve the quality of it.”