A recent study indicates that camping out for a week can reset the biological clock that runs our sleep patterns. The belief is that the introduction of electric lights have reduced our access to natural sunlight which in turn affects our natural circadian rhythms. This means that we stay up later than our normal biological clocks allow.
By spending time outdoors camping, our bodies can reset to their normal biological rhythms. The study was performed with eight volunteers who managed to synchronize with the sunrises and sunsets during their time outdoors.
Published in the journal Current Biology, the premise of the study is that all forms of life on Earth have evolved their biological rhythms to anticipate sunrises and sunsets. However, the introduction of electrical lighting, most notably the widespread use that began in the 1930s, has shifted the circadian rhythms in humans.
The study concludes that even small electrical lights, such as those found in cell phones, can shift our internal clocks that allow us to stay up later. The study measured the levels of hormones and melatonin in the body to conclude that artificial lights actually push back our natural biological clocks by roughly two hours.
Normally, melatonin levels rise just before we go to bed and decrease through the night until we wake up in the morning. However, the participants in the study tended to stay up well past midnight and wake up after eight o’ clock. Their melatonin levels remain relatively high for several hours which indicates being out of sync with normal body rhythms.
Once these volunteers spent time outdoors and sleeping in tents, their biological rhythms shifted back to more normal conditions. As part of their stay outdoors, all electronic lights were banned and only the light from campfires were allowed. All of the volunteers, even the “night owls”, shifted their body clocks back to more normal times.
One of the more interesting aspects of the study was that the amount of sunlight experienced by the volunteers increased dramatically, roughly 400% more than what they were normally use to during their typical days.
However, while the time the volunteers in the study fell asleep and woke up was earlier, the total amount of time that they slept did not change. The levels of melatonin in their bodies also reverted to more normal patterns as well.
The researchers did suggest that people didn’t have to go camping for a week to readjust their circadian rhythms. A walk in the morning and dimming all the lights in the evening may have a similar effect.