Facebook. Instagram. SnapChat. Smartphones. Work or social life. The modern man or woman is bombarded by a frenzy of activities on a day to day basis. Your brain absorbs so much information and experiences in 24 hours that there is barely time for sleep. As a result, your internal circadian rhythm is seriously disrupted which interferes with your sleep and health.
For most people, that is an acceptable norm. The price you pay for being a participant in modern life. If this was a harmless lifestyle, there would be no need for you to worry. But it is not.
A change in your body’s internal clock is associated with some serious health and psychological conditions such as insomnia, mood disorders, type 2 diabetes, heart conditions, depression and an increased risk of weight gain.
The Physiology of Sleeplessness
All human beings have the hormone melatonin that is responsible for setting your body’s internal clock. The levels of this hormone will rise just before you go to bed and fall drastically just as you wake up.
For people living in the “pressure-cooker” modern environment such as in large cities, this is not always the case. The melatonin levels will only drop several hours after they have woken up. A few hours after waking up, their bodies are still telling them they should be asleep. The sleep and wake cycle is always out of step with their internal body clocks.
Camping to the Rescue
Fortunately for most of us, a whacky sleep cycle is not a life sentence, at least if you try out some camping during winter. That is according to a new research carried out by the University of Colorado, Boulder.
The study on the resetting of sleep cycles found that exposing yourself to the natural day night cycle will help reset your internal body clock.
How fast it does this depends on whether you do your camping in the summers or winters. In an earlier series of experiments published in 2013, a group of people were sent out on a week-long summer camping trip with the goal of determining the impact of the natural environment on their sleep-wake cycles.
The levels of the hormone melatonin were measured before and after the trip. The researcher, Kenneth P Wright, also wanted to find how long people would take to “recalibrate” their internal body clock when removed from an environment where stressors such as work, smartphones, TVs, neon lights, sounds of cars etc are interfering with their sleep cycles.
The research found that the circadian rhythm for someone living in a modern environment was delayed by two hours.
In the latest published study, the participants put on wearable devices to measure information such as when they went to bed, when they woke up as well as the amount of light they were exposed to. The sleep hormone melatonin was also measured before they embarked on the camping trip. The experiment was performed during summer and winter months.
From the winter experiment, the researchers determined that the artificial “jet lag” had disappeared. The participants were able to reset their internal body clocks after only a few days in the wilderness during winter.
The sleep hormone melatonin began to rise 2 hours and 36 minutes earlier than usual allowing the participants to catch some sleep earlier than usual and also waking up more than 2 hours earlier than they normally do.
Even when there was light late in the night during winter, the person still showed higher melatonin levels early on synonymous with the body’s normal biological night.
Why Winter Camping?
Because the effect of the outdoors in resetting your internal body clock is even more potent at this time. While the melatonin rise occurred 1.4 hours earlier during summer camping in the experiment; during winter the melatonin rise occurred 2.6 hours earlier than usual.
Camping in winter is the fastest and most effective way to reset your internal body clock.
The reason this happens is that out in the wilderness, your scope of activity is constrained by natural light from the sun. This light has rich blue waves that help in resetting the internal body clock. In the absence of any artificial lighting or screens, people’s circadian rhythm will quickly align itself with that of the other animals living in the wilderness.
Of course in the modern setting, you can’t live in the wilderness with other animals in order to enjoy better sleep! You can instead go out on a camping trip for a few days, even for a weekend, to quickly recalibrate your body towards normalcy so you can begin enjoying a healthier bedtime. If you do it in winter, the impact would be even better!
The conclusion from the study is that people should try as much as possible to stay in rhythm with the natural lighting cycle in order to enjoy a natural circadian rhythm. Without that, they are likely to suffer a “social jet lag” as their internal body clock is shifted more and more out of phase due to the modern living environments they inhabit where artificial lighting and lots of flashing gadgets are prevalent.
There are various ways in which you can train yourself to keep in sync with the natural lighting rhythm beyond just going out camping. For example, you can take an early morning and late evening walks that will help wean you out of the screens. The key is to try as much as possible to eliminate your indoor habit. Try interacting with the sun.