Spending some time in the woods can do wonders for how well you sleep. And it’s not just because hiking or camping allows you to breathe in some fresh air and get closer to nature. While these well-known benefits of spending time outdoors do contribute to overall relaxation, the great outdoors can do so much more to help you fight insomnia and regulate awry sleeping patterns.
Hiking Promotes Exercise and Healthy Exposure to Sunlight
You can’t go camping without a little bit of hiking and you can’t go hiking without getting some exercise. Regular exercise or physical activity of any sort is one of the most recommended methods of practicing good sleep hygiene (regular habits that can help you attain and maintain healthy, consistent, and uninterrupted sleep). In a past study conducted by the NSF or the National Sleep Foundation, sleep experts found that people who spent more time doing moderate to vigorous exercises slept better.
In fact, according to the study’s results, doing 150 minutes of moderate to highly strenuous exercise every 7 days (or a week) may improve how well you sleep on a regular basis by as much as 65%. And apart from running, yoga, martial arts, and weightlifting, another good way to attain 150 minutes of weekly exercise is (you guessed it:) hiking.
Outdoor exercise also comes with the added benefit of healthy exposure to the sun. Letting your skin get sun-kissed from time to time is a good way to facilitate your body’s natural production of vitamin D, a chemical that contributes to different processes in the body, including keeping you energetic in the daytime. The more energetic you are in the day, the easier it is to get to sleep during the night.
Even just a bit of sun every day contributes greatly to this effect. Imagine the benefits if you had more time to expose yourself to natural light…
Camping Can Normalize Your Sleeping Pattern
We sometimes forget how much the sun affects how we sleep. Solar movement is one of the most consistent factors throughout humanity’s millennia of evolution. Combine this with the fact that most of the information we receive and process is through our sense of sight, and it’s no surprise that natural light (and the lack thereof) greatly influences how we go about our daily lives, especially in terms of our natural sleeping patterns.
Through exposure to natural light in the day, our biological clock knows that it’s time for us to move, work, and hunt. And through the lack of sun and light at night, our biological clock knows to prompt the onset of sleep. For a long time throughout human history, solar movements alone dictated our natural sleeping patterns, at least until the advent of electronic light.
From the early 1900s cafes that started the trend of going out and socializing at night to the smartphones that we take into our beds today, electric light has been sabotaging how our body responds to solar sleep regulation. Because we regularly expose ourselves to bright, electric lights at night (especially those who work the night shift), our biological clock gets confused, leading to delayed sleep onset and sleepiness during the daytime, both of which can hamper both a person’s quality of life as well as their ability to function at 100%.
The good news is that there are several solutions to this problem: decreased exposure to bright light at night, minimal exposure to electronic screens, lots of sunlight, and outdoor exercise – all of which can be experienced through camping. A couple days to a week of camping is a really good way to fix awry sleeping patterns and reacquaint your biological clock with its natural regulator: natural light.
Just make sure that what you’re doing is actual camping and not ‘glamping’ (luxury camping with all the modern amenities including electronic screens and devices). You can bring hammocks, books, or even a radio, but leave the big screens at home; only look at your phone and other electronic screens when absolutely necessary. If you do it right, even just a couple days of real camping can result in more energy during the day and more readiness to sleep during the night. Bonus points if you also go on a couple of hikes.