A week in the outdoors helps regulate sleep

Exposure to natural light and darkness helps reset our internal clocks, says a new study

outdoorsA week spent enjoying true dawn and dusk with dark nights [no lights except a campfire's glow] enabled late sleepers to manage to sleep well in the night so that they could manage their daily activities better.

"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," says Kenneth Wright of the University of Colorado Boulder.

Wright and his colleagues  studied  circadian rhythms  of eight adults for one week of routine work, school, social activities, and self-selected sleeping schedules. All of them were exposed to electrical lighting that is usually on at night.  Then the research team took the  same individuals  for camping in Colorado, with sunlight and campfires only[no flashlights or even smart phones allowed]. Also the participants could choose when they wish to sleep.

The  studies revealed that a typical, modern environment causes an approximate delay of two hours in the circadian clock.  People tend to stay awake long after midnight and to rise only by 8:00 in the morning. After their week-long outing in natural lighting, the internal clock shifted two hours back even though the total time spent sleeping remained roughly the same.

Of course, all of us can't  go camping every time we wish to sleep better.  But the researchers say some other strategies could help. "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," Wright says.

So, a morning walk helps because of the soft sunlight. Also if the windows have blinds, it's best to keep them open during the day to allow natural sunlight in. In the evening, dimming down the  lights  and keeping artificial light sources  such as  computers and TVs off also is a great option.

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