How a tent could fix your body clock
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Do you find it hard to nod off at night but feel exhausted the next day? Then try sleeping under canvas.
Exposure to the natural light of dawn and dusk helps synchronise our internal body clocks, helping us to drop off and then wake up refreshed, a study shows.
“Night owls” who struggled to get to sleep were found to benefit most from camping.
After a week’s natural light-dark cycle, they found it easier to drift off and felt far more awake when they got up, researchers found.
The scientists discovered that after a week of exposure to a natural light-dark cycle, they found it easier to drift off and were much more easily roused and alert in the morning.
“By increasing our exposure to sunlight and reducing our exposure to electrical lighting at night, we can turn our internal clock and sleep times back and likely make it easier to awaken and be alert in the morning,” said lead researcher Kenneth Wright, of the University of Colorado, Boulder.
“What’s remarkable is how, when we’re exposed to natural sunlight, our clocks perfectly become in synch in less than a week to the solar day.”
Electrical lighting, which became widely available in the 1930s, and gadgets such as televisions and iPads have affected our internal circadian clocks, which tell our bodies when to prepare for sleep and when to prepare for wakefulness.
One concern is that artificial lighting means we are exposed to light much later into the night than is normal in nature.
The study, published in the journal Current Biology, looked at the sleep patterns and measured the internal body clocks of eight adults who were exposed to electrical lighting at home and work.
They then examined the same individuals after they had spent a week camping in Colorado, with sunshine and campfires the only forms of light.
In the first experiment, the volunteers tended to stay up until after midnight and to wake at 8am.
Scientists found artificial light resulted in a two-hour delay in their internal body clock.
But after spending time in nature, their body clock - and sleep pattern - shifted back two hours, even though the number of hours of rest remained the same.
The study found that levels of melatonin, the ‘body clock’ hormone that regulates sleep and wake cycles, only dropped off two hours after the participants woke up when they were exposed to artificial light.
The findings suggest in a modern living environment, our biological night extends past our wake time and may explain why many feel sleepiest soon after waking in the morning.
With exposure to natural light, the decrease in melatonin shifted to the last hour of sleep time, helping people feel more alert in the morning.
Although camping is not a viable option for everyone, the scientists suggest other strategies to better synchronise our body clock and wake more refreshed.
A morning walk, sitting near a window at work, or going for a walk at lunchtime will help boost exposure to natural light. And in the evening, they recommend keeping the lights down low and turning the computers and TVs off.
“Our findings suggest that people can have earlier bed and wake times, more conducive to their school and work schedules, if they were to increase their exposure to sunlight during the day and decrease their exposure to electrical lighting at night,” said Professor Wright.
A previous study by Oxford University found that sitting next to the office window on a sunny day can help double an individual’s alertness compared to those stuck in the middle of a room under artificial lights.
They also found that for those who have trouble sleeping, a 30-minute walk in the bright morning sunlight could be the answer.
This effect is particularly marked in older people suffering early signs of dementia, with research showing that exposure to plentiful light during the start of the day improved sleep patterns and boosted their mental abilities by 10 percent. - Daily Mail
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