Whether it’s in a tent, a cabin or an RV there’s nothing like camping for a quick reset with restful sleep that calms the soul. Putting the solipsism argument aside, there is a scientific argument to be made for the reset. Researchers are discovering that camping beyond the lights and unnatural bustle of modern society can restore our natural circadian rhythms.
If you’re a reader of this blog, you may have read the ancient sleep blog entry about our take on the difference between our modern eight hour day and how we once slept long before the industrial age. Before bright lights and the modern city or town, our circadian rhythms, somewhat inaccurately referred to by the colloquialism of “internal body clock,” guided our awake and sleep patterns.
While this biological imperative still guides our sleep and informs our health, it is much more easily and often out of whack due to the 24/7 modern world. Camping has been found to reset that clock.
A recent study from the Sleep and Chronobiology Laboratory at the University of Colorado shows that camping outdoors sans electronic devices, helped synchronize people’s internal body clock to solar time so that they went to bed at sunset and woke up just after sunrise. This is paired with an additional study regarding how modern lights of night skies shape our circadian rhythms today.
Your first question may be, “what is circadian rhythm and is it a beat that I can dance to?” Well, your body certainly can, and does. The National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), a part of the National Institute of Health (NIH) has a great circadian rhythm education primer on what circadian rhythms actually are and what they do, but here is a shorter, less scientific explanation.
The first line of the NIGMS circadian rhythm fact sheet pretty much spells it out in broad terms. They say, and we quote, “circadian rhythms are physical, mental and behavioral changes that follow a roughly 24-hour cycle, responding primarily to light and darkness in an organism’s environment.
Although the body clock drives circadian rhythms and is not exactly the same thing, circadian rhythms have their basis in nerve cells within the brain and are mainly influenced by light. The body has a number of different “clocks,” and circadian rhythm turns different genes on and off for a number of these clocks.
The big picture is that they not only affect our sleep-wake cycles, they influence hormone release, body temperature and other functions of the body. Obviously, they have a profound effect on our health in many ways, which is why sleep (as a restorative and reboot function) is so essential.
Although statistics show that more than 45 million people went camping in the spring of 2014 with the vast majority of them camping by tent, the numbers have declined and fluctuated. Reasons for this include economic changes, the general demands of modern life and the pull of technological recreation.
Regardless of the numbers, camping will always be a part of us as the wilderness calls our minds and bodies in order to reconnect with the natural world and natural sleep. Even those with sleep conditions such as Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) can partake of the benefits of camping with today’s highly portable, full featured and long battery life CPAP machines.
Early preservationist, naturalist, and early advocate for the National Park system John Muir knew a thing or two about the relationship of our minds and bodies to the outdoors without modern distractions. Two of his many famous quotes say it all:
“When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.”
“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity”