Go outdoors for a better sleep
Ah, so here’s another piece of research that reveals even more benefits of spending time outdoors. A study has shown that simply being outside in natural light can help us to reset our biological sleep/wake cycles. This has the advantage of making it easier to get to bed at night and wake up feeling good in the morning.
The theory follows on from the idea of “night owls” and “morning people”. Most of us tend to believe we are one or the other. So, we either prefer being up late or we prefer to be up early.
But modern day living has most likely played havoc with our natural clocks. The average person spends most of their time indoors and therefore in unnatural light. Yet being outdoors in daylight could be the key to better sleep patterns and, ultimately, better health.
The study from the University of Colorado looked at sleep/wake patterns, habits and our circadian clock (our natural 24-hour internal clock).
Our sleep/wake cycle creates a drive that balances sleep and wakefulness, while our circadian clock (or rhythm) regulates it.
But there are many disruptions to this rhythm, including the UK’s daylight saving system (the clocks went back on Sunday), our exposure to unnatural/natural light, working patterns etc.
One of the biggest factors in changing our circadian clock is said to be indoor lighting.
The researchers compared people who, on the first week, spent most of their daily time exposed to electrical lighting and, on the second week, a camping trip free of many modern lighting devices.
Perhaps it won’t be a surprise to learn that modern life has left our sleeping patterns out of sync and that we mostly stay up at night far later than we should or do not get enough sleep.
The study showed that during the week of camping, natural light exposure increased by four times. And when it came to sleeping patterns the people who classed themselves as night owls went to bed on average two hours earlier than normal.
This two-hour sleep gain allowed time for their bodies time to release melatonin earlier, which had the effect of making it easier to get to sleep at night and to get up in the morning.
The researchers have now suggested that after spending time outdoors, exposed to natural light, sunrise and sunset, we can actually reset our biological rhythm.
While a week of camping or walking and cycling in the great outdoors is one of the best ways to reset our internal sleep clocks (and certainly something to plan for your next holiday) it’s usually not possible to have so much daylight during most people’s normal lives. However, there are many ways to gain the benefits of more natural light.
8 great ways to get more daylight
- Morning walk: Get up 30 minutes earlier than normal and go for a walk outdoors.
- Lunch and chat: Meet a friend for a walk and talk at lunchtime, instead of heading indoors to a cafe.
- Meet and talk: In the same way, you could suggest a walking meeting rather than an office-based meeting.
- Walk home: If you can walk all or part of your daily commute make sure you do as regularly as possible.
- Pedal power: Cycle to and from work or between meetings.
- Switch off: Turn off bright lights, iPads, mobile phones, TV etc before going to bed.
- Weekends outdoors: Make the most of your time away from the office to get out on your bike or on foot.
- Book a holiday: It's great to have a camping, walking or cycling holiday to look forward to and is sure to be of benefit to your sleeping patterns and health.