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Camping Resets Body Clock, Even If It's a Short Trip

03 February 2017

This small study by the University of Colorado Boulder in the U.S. suggests that just a weekend under canvas is sufficient to get people to bed early and improve their rest. They were exposed to four times more light by day than usual and prohibited from using headlamps or flashlights at night.

For those who hate the outdoors, that's okay too.

"Our modern environment has really changed the timing of our internal clocks, but also the timing of when we sleep relative to our clock", Kenneth Wright, lead contact of the study and director of the sleep and chronobiology lab at the University of Colorado in Boulder, told The Guardian. "Specifically, the weekend phase delay in the modern electrical lighting environment contributes to social jet lag on Monday morning because there is a mismatch between biological (circadian delay) and social (awakening early for work/school) timing, the definition of social jet lag", wrote the authors.

On a wet, cold February day, the last thing that's probably on your mind is a weekend's camping in a sodden field. They left their torches and gadgets behind and had only sunlight, moonlight, and campfires for illumination.

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Being outdoors and not having access to any technology also prevented the campers from delaying the time they went to sleep, which also helped reset their sleeping patterns.

The data suggests that modern life would have reduced exposure to winter light for the participants by 13-times.

After the weekend, the researchers recorded each participant's urge to doze off by measuring their level of melatonin, the hormone that regulates sleep and wakefulness.

They monitored their sleep and hormonal rhythms throughout the day and showed that their body clocks - which were measured by the time that melatonin levels began to rise in their bodies - moved more than 2.5 hours earlier during their week camping than they usually were at home. "It was the same in everyone". Sunrises, in particular, have a heavy influence on setting biological clocks because of the enriched blue light. Whereas those who didn't camp got up one-and-a-half hours later on the weekends as they did on the weekdays. Most who stayed home stayed up later than usual and slept in, and their internal clocks were pushed back even further. Then, nine members of the group went camping in Colorado for the weekend, while the other five stayed home. The effect was more pronounced at weekends when those in modern housing with artificial lighting went to bed almost two hours later than the campers.

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For those who view camping as voluntary punishment, Wright has good news. Instead, their days were dictated by sunlight (or lack thereof), and the light of their fires. "As important, though, is to dim the lights at night".

The researchers did two experiments in the study: one in the winter and one in the summer. "If we compare the natural summer versus the natural winter light cycle, our internal biological night is longer in winter than summer". People become naturally inclined to sleep earlier and wake earlier.

"Weekend exposure to natural light was sufficient to achieve 69 percent of the shift in circadian timing we previously reported after a week's exposure to natural light", Wright said. Basically, we go to sleep later and this causes a lot of problems.

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Camping Resets Body Clock, Even If It's a Short Trip