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