Camping makes you a morning person

Sunset. Are you getting sleepy. Photo: Heather Hansman
Sunset. Are you getting sleepy? Photo by Heather Hansman

Can't sleep? Have trouble waking up in the morning? Hitting snooze a million times? Maybe you should go camping.

In a study published August 1 in the journal Current Biology, sleep scientists found that spending a week out in nature and going to sleep and waking up based on the sun reset people’s natural sleep cycle, and helped them rise earlier and sleep more soundly.

Eight participants spent a week out in Colorado's Eagles Nest Wilderness without any kind of artificial light. They were fitted with sensors that tracked their sleep patterns. The scientists, led by Kenneth Wright, the director of the Sleep and Chronobiology Laboratory at the University of Colorado at Boulder, theorized that constant exposure to artificial light and computer screens is messing with our circadian rhythms, and our levels of the hormone melatonin, which aids sleep.

Their theory held up. They found that, "after exposure to only natural light, the internal circadian clock synchronizes to solar time such that the beginning of the internal biological night occurs at sunset and the end of the internal biological night occurs before wake time just after sunrise."

Even the night owls and insomniacs in the study started waking up at dawn and going to bed early. Those people, who identified as "later chronotypes," actually had the most dramatic shift in their sleep patterns, but by the end of the week everyone observed was waking up and going to sleep at roughly the same time.

So what can you do if you can't check out and live in the woods? Any exposure to natural light helps, particularly in the morning. And staying up till 3 a.m. playing “World of Warcraft” probably does not.