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You’re not dreaming: Camping actually does help you sleep better

On a magazine assignment last summer, I joined Troop 7031 from Flagstaff, Ariz., on a canoe trip through Yellowstone National Park.

(Shameless plug: Find my story in the May 2017 Boys’ Life and May-June 2017 Scouting!)

The first day of paddling was the longest, and we arrived at camp exhausted. We set up tents, hung up bear bags and heated up dinner.

Then everybody crashed. By 8 p.m., we were out. Everybody woke up 13.5 hours later. One of the Scouts, Ryan, told me at breakfast it was the longest he’d ever slept.

What is it about camping that produces such satisfying slumber? Thanks to science, we now know. Camping and spending time in nature recalibrates our internal clocks to a natural sleep cycle.

The science of sleep

Turns out the full day of paddling wasn’t the only explanation for our early bedtime. A day spent outside in the natural light was the real culprit.

A new study released in the journal Current Biology and reported by Time magazine suggests that our internal clocks are delayed by two hours in our modern, screen-heavy worlds.

In other words, when our bodies tell us to go to sleep, we respond with a resounding “OK, but after one more episode.”

This battle with nature “isn’t a good thing, since an out-of-whack sleep cycle has been linked to health problems like sleepiness, mood problems and a higher risk of being overweight,” according to Time.

The good news

In the study, after as little as a day or two in nature, people were able to reset those internal clocks back to normal.

When camping, we enjoy natural light and physical activity during the day. At night, we relax as the campfire fades and natural darkness envelops us.

Those forces help our bodies progress through the day toward a healthy bedtime.

We climb into our tents and fall asleep quickly — even faster if there’s rain pattering overhead.

Conclusion: Camp more, sleep better.

When you aren’t camping

The study’s author says a tent isn’t the only place you can get a good night’s sleep.

He suggests these adjustments at home:

  • Expose yourself to morning light
  • Cut down on artificial light from smartphones and tablets in the evening
  • Dim the lights at home

You tell me

Do you find yourself sleeping better while camping? What tips do you have for bringing that feeling home? Sound off in the comments.


Photo by W. Garth Dowling

11 Comments on You’re not dreaming: Camping actually does help you sleep better

  1. I try to avoid climbing into a tent as often as possible.
    Picnic table, hammock, or open ground is fine with me.
    I don’t think I get much more sleep … too busy counting stars … then there’s all those crickets … then the coyotes start yapping … then the turkey … at some point the moon comes out and lights everything up. Nightlife in the woods is active.

    But, I’ll make up for it with an afternoon nap at the base of some old hemlock.

    So, overall, I find the process good for this old sleepyhead. 🙂

  2. Using the blue light removal feature on my electronics (“nightshift” on iOS) has really improved my ability to fall asleep quickly. We also purchased some Phillips Hue lights and use the warm color settings in the evening hours to replicate the color of a warm fire.

  3. Of course you go to sleep better when camping. You’ve been up since 5 AM because tent walls don’t filter out the “dawn chorus” of birds at sunrise!

    • Indeed.

  4. First night of a multi-night trip is always hard for the Scouts to settle down. I frequently have to do the dreaded “You’re keeping everyone else up” routine.
    The second night is almost always a breeze.
    Unless you’re unfortunate to be camped near one of the noisy Scoutmasters with a snoring issue…

    • C. J. Wallbight // February 10, 2017 at 10:46 pm // Reply

      For us from Troop 17, New Windsor, NY (in the 60’s)the snore was from the troop leader affectionately called “Babby”

  5. I find the first night not that easy to fall asleep. Maybe it is from going from a mattress to a sleeping pad. But after the first night it is no problem.

    • This is fairly typical of a person’s first night trying to sleep anywhere new.

  6. I believe the lack of household dust plays a big part for me. I snore less. My body is just not used to that much fresh air. Our lives are too conditioned at home; camping just yeilds peace and happiness. Not a care in the world in the woods.

  7. Geoff Kromer // March 19, 2017 at 9:30 pm // Reply

    Love being outside and camping, but I’ve never slept well when doing it. Unless it’s a nap…

  8. Since I started wearing a Fitbit, I’ve been amazed to notice how my sleep quality is so much better when I’m camping.

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