I remember back in 2014 being fascinated when I read a true account of Jill Neimark’s journey back to life after being left incapacitated by a devastating environmental illness. How did she do it? She lived outdoors by camping in a state forest. Her recovery seemed in part due to exposure to natural sunlight, clean food, and fresh air free from toxins but also due to connecting daily and mindfully with nature.
This quote from her story really spoke to me: “…living outside changes you. You slowly unspool from civilization, and the more you embed yourself in nature, the deeper the alchemy. Most of us sense this; it might be why camping, hiking and wilderness adventures seem to be an ever-greater obsession.”
While staring at the ceiling on a recent sleepless night, I refreshed my memory on some interesting research in this area examining what might be happening on a biological level. This short YouTube video outlines a little gem of a research project that was done by Kenneth P. Wright Jr., Ph.D. and some of his graduate students when he was at the University of Colorado in the Sleep and Chronobiology Lab.
In brief, they took baseline measurements of sleep patterns (time and duration of sleep) and melatonin levels on study participants. They then sent them off camping for a week where they were exposed to natural light and dark cycles. Researchers then took the same sleep measurements post-camping. The results suggest that artificial light changes our internal clock in potentially unhealthy ways. The good news is that you can reset your internal clock by spending time outdoors during natural light and dark cycles and by limiting your exposure to electrical light in the evenings.
The researchers recommended increasing your exposure to natural light by starting your day with a morning walk, raising the shades at home and work to let natural light in, and taking a break from working indoors and going outside. They suggest decreasing your exposure to electric light at night by lowering the lights before bed and dimming the light on your electronic devices. More and more research is pointing towards the ill effects of disruptions to our internal clocks.
If you are interested in some solid tips on how to keep electronics from interfering with getting adequate sleep, the Sleep Foundation has some good tips here. I am working my way through the list and think I might just go camping this weekend…
Neimark, Jill. The Camping Cure: Living outside changes you. When environmental illness left me too sick to stay in my high-rise, I turned to nature to heal. Aeon, 22 January 2014.
Wright KP Jr, McHill AW, Birks BR, Griffin BR, Rusterholz T, Chinoy ED. Entrainment of the human circadian clock to the natural light-dark cycle. Current Biology. 2013;23(16):1554-1558. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2013.06.039
Cell Press. Camping Syncs Internal Clock with Nature. YouTube, August 8, 2013.
Suni, Eric. Technology in the Bedroom. Sleep Foundation, June 24, 2021.
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