In modern times, it doesn’t take much to throw people off their sleep cycles. Working into the wee hours makes folks tired and groggy the next day. Laying in bed flicking through posts and pages on smartphones and e-books stirs their brains and prevents them from falling asleep. But a team of researchers has discovered an unexpected potential cure for common insomnia: Go camping.
Scientists believe that in order to establish a healthy, natural sleep cycle that syncs up with the sun, humans need to be exposed to lots of natural light, as well natural darkness. This means getting outdoors in the sun during the day and avoiding artificial lights at night.
CU Boulder professor Kenneth Wright tested this theory in two different studies. In the first, he sent volunteers camping for a week in the summer. In the second, participants hit the woods in the dead of winter. Both sets of campers were measured against volunteers who stayed at home and went about their normal routines.
Summer campers were exposed to four times more light during the day, while winter campers were exposed to 13 times more light than participants who stayed home. In addition to this, the campers were prohibited from using artificial light sources such as flashlights or headlamps at night.
The result? Both groups experienced an earlier onset of melatonin – the hormone that promotes sleep. The summer group had a boost in their melatonin levels 1.4 hours earlier than their non-camping counterparts, while the winter group’s melatonin levels rose 2.6 hours earlier.
The results indicate that if humans aren’t exposed to artificial light, their circadian rhythms shift to match the rising and setting of the sun. Since everyone can’t spontaneously go camping, Wright hopes that the findings will assist in the development of architectural designs that incorporate more natural light into people’s environments to combat insomnia.
The findings of the study were published in the journal Current Biology.
By Dawn Henderson, Earth.com Staff Writer
Source: Kenneth Wright, CU Boulder