- Feb 4, 2017 at 7:16 am #3448695
Ken LarsonBPL Member
@kenlarsonLocale: Western Michigan
Escaping artificial light even for a winter weekend can reset sleep patterns for the better, researchers say. One good place to do it: Heliotrope Ridge near Mount Baker in Washington state.
It’s tempting to keep the computer running late and promise yourself an extra 30 minutes of bed rest in the morning. It’s tempting to do it again the next night, too. But sleep inevitably loses out to getting up early for school or work.
There’s a simple way to combat this: End all artificial lights at night for at least a weekend and drench your eyes in natural morning light, says Kenneth Wright, a professor of integrative physiology at the University of Colorado, Boulder and senior author on a study on resetting sleep cycles. The most straightforward way of doing this is to forbid any electronics on a camping trip.
In the study, published Thursday in Current Biology, Wright reports on the latest of a series of experiments where he sent people out camping in Colorado parks to reset their biological clocks. Small groups of people set out for a week during the summer, an experiment published in Current Biology in 2013.
This most recent study shows the results of camping a week in winter and once over a winter weekend. Others stayed at home to live their life. Along with sleep, Wright kept track of people’s circadian rhythms by measuring their levels of the hormone melatonin, which regulates wakefulness and sleep.
Before each camping trip, Wright says that he noticed something odd about the study participants’ melatonin levels.
In general, melatonin makes us feel tired. Levels of the hormone rise a couple of hours before we sleep, and they fall right when we wake up. “In the modern environment, those melatonin levels fall back down a couple of hours after we wake up,” Wright says. “Our brains say we should be sleeping several hours after we wake up.” The participants’ sleep and wake times were slightly out of step with their internal clocks, like constantly being a little jet lagged.
But after people got back from a week-long camping trip, the jet lag was gone.
“[Melatonin] would go down at sunrise and right when people woke up,” Wright says. And people’s entire sleep schedules had shifted earlier so that they were going to bed and rising two or more hours earlier than they had been before camping. Those who had gone camping for just a weekend had their sleep schedules shifted by a little less than an hour and a half.
Why this happens probably has to do with how drastically different an environment lit by light bulbs and laptops is from one of sun and starlight.Outside, “you are pretty constrained by natural light-dark cycles and the intensity and light spectrum that you see in nature,” says Dr. Phyllis Zee, director for the Center for Circadian and Sleep Medicine at Northwestern University who was not involved with the study. Natural light, particularly morning sunshine, which is enriched with blue light, has a very powerful influence on setting internal clocks.
That bright light can affect our circadian rhythm is nothing new, Zee says. But this collection of studies make very clear how an artificially lit environment at night can push our sleep timing further back, while bright, blue-rich light can train our circadian rhythms to sync earlier in a way that is actionable. Sleep doctors will often suggest that people use a light box indoors in the morning to simulate dawn, but’s not always as effective as real dawn.
“I actually have used that [summer camping] study to treat some of my patients,” Zee says. “We see people who can’t fall asleep until 4 am. It can be very difficult to use this light box in the morning and avoid light at night. So you say, okay, there’s this camping thing.”
If camping is not your thing, Zee suggests trying to copy a natural light-dark cycle, at least on the weekend. “Over 60 percent of the shift can happen over a weekend. It’s pretty amazing,” she says. “We can on weekends or days off go out or sit by the window and just expose ourselves to a natural light-dark cycle.”
And in a perfect world, homes, schools and offices would have artificial light that could mimic the spectrum and the intensity of natural light. “As a new design philosophy, think about light as important as having clean air,” Zee says. “It’s possible. It’s totally possible.”Feb 4, 2017 at 7:44 am #3448700
MJ HBPL Member
That’s an entire copyrighted article reproduced in a comment. Wouldn’t a link to the source be more appropriate?Feb 4, 2017 at 4:44 pm #3448773
Paul MagnantiBPL Member
@paulmagsLocale: Colorado Plateau
One the reasons why I’ve grown to love winter backpacking and camping is that I tend to go to sleep very early and wake up refreshed.
As with many Americans, I have a large sleep deficit.
Figure ~10 hours of my day, if not more, is dedicated to working (that includes getting up, shower, brushing my teeth, commuting and then getting back).
If I want to socialize, pursue other hobbies, or use my time bank funds for something other than daily errands, I tend to withdraw from my sleep hours.
As a single person without children, I have some flexibility. But withdraw from the sleep funds too much and it catches up. Again, as with many Americans.
Some long winter slumbers while camping helps with this sleep deficit in the short term.Feb 9, 2017 at 5:20 pm #3449784
Eric BlumensaadtBPL Member
@danepackerLocale: Mojave Desert
Paul, Reading all of this has been enlightening. I think I’m allergic to morning. That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it.
As a retiree I feel any day that begins before 9 AM is a bad day. ;o)Oct 3, 2017 at 3:36 am #3494525
Mike BBPL Member
Winter Camping is a great time to catch up on the sleep deficit, nice long cold nights will drive you into a big puffy down winter bag for extended periods of time. It also gives me time to get away by myself since it is hard to find anyone to winter camp with and frankly I enjoy the solitude that is being at tree line on a clear night and seeing all the stars in the clear crisp air.Oct 3, 2017 at 4:57 pm #3494583
Paul MagnantiBPL Member
@paulmagsLocale: Colorado Plateau
I recently quit work to go traveling for a bit. Part of that is because those 10 hour days were turning into 12 or even 15 hr work days too frequently. :O
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