Throughout much of history, humans have gone to bed shortly after sundown and woke up in the morning at sunrise, and it seems that this is the best way to keep to a sleeping pattern that’s good for us.
I know that personally, I can go with not much sleep for quite a while and I deal with it, however I recognise that it’s not a healthy thing to do which is why this study from scientists saying that artificial light sources can negatively affect circadian rhythms; the 24-hour cycle in the humans functional processes is of interest, I know that i’m not the only one that burns the candle at both ends, as they say.
Early on there were candles, and later there were oil lamps, but those lights was not very bright so people routinely still went to bed early because working and general activities were still hard in low light.
Then along comes Thomas Edison, the light bulb and everything changed, including our sleeping patterns. So, if you have problems falling asleep at night or you are miserable to be around in the morning, you have Edison to blame.
A study at the University of Colorado Boulder found that if your daily schedule goes by the sun’s schedule, you are more likely to go to bed about an hour earlier, wake up an hour earlier and be less sleepy because your body’s internal clock and your exterior reality are more in tune. Scientists found that the sun adjusts your body clock to what should be its natural state, negating the impact of light bulbs.
The disconnect today between sleep and the environment is even very obvious among Alaskan inhabitants that have problems sleeping in the ‘Land of the Midnight Sun’; the nearly never-ending days of daylight during the Arctic summers overwhelmed them and then, on the other hand, they become depressed during the long winter nights.
The subjects in the Colorado study lived more normal lives in a more regular environment than the Alaska natives.
The study wasn’t about people with difficulty sleeping. The quantity of sleep the subjects got did not change. What did change was the timetable of their sleep and the timing of their body’s internal clock compared to when they actually did sleep.
The test subjects were eight adults, approximately 30 years old. The scientists shadowed them for a week observing the normal pattern of their lives. The subjects spent most of their time indoors while they were eating, studying, working, and sleeping. Most of the light they encountered was artificial. For the next phase of the experiment, the same subjects were sent out camping.
The researchers measured sleep and light daily and the hormone Melatonin was measured every hour for one day across the full 24 hours; measured once after the week of living at home and then measured after a week of camping.
Continue reading on next page
Melatonin is known as the hormone of darkness, it’s a hormone used to measure the physical response that humans have to the recurring sequences of daylight and darkness. Melatonin rises at night naturally and drops during the day, suppressed by light. The hormone also reduces the body’s internal temperature, making it easier to sleep. People often take Melatonin pills to help them go to sleep.
After completing the week’s indoor experiment, the Colorado subjects went camping in the Rocky Mountains. The only lighting available was sunshine during the day and campfires at night and they weren’t exposed to any artificial lighting. It is estimated that the light from the sun, while they were camping, was four times as intense as what they were subjected to indoors.
The researchers measured the subjects’ Melatonin levels again after their week of camping.
The study showed that the start of Melatonin shifted two hours sooner and the subjects’ actual sleep shifted more than an hour earlier. In simple terms, their bodies were in the midst of recalibrating themselves.
In the first experiment, when they woke in the morning indoors, the Melatonin shift and the external body time were in conflict. They were waking up, but the Melatonin in their body was letting them know they should still be asleep, which probably accounts for why they still felt sleepy.
When they were camping outside, the Melatonin levels and the sunlight cycle were more balanced – their hormone levels went down as the sun rose and, more importantly, before they woke up. They were subjected to more light – non-artificial light – for the majority of the day.
There have been several typical studies trying to define the relationship between light and sleep and how much sleep a person needs. One such experiment involved placing subjects in a deep, totally dark cave for weeks at a time. This led to the discovery that the 24-hour-day is almost exactly perfect for our bodies. The average amount of time our bodies consider a day during this experiment was 24.3 hours.
The Colorado scientists agree that the experiment was limited, with only eight subjects, which restricts what conclusions are derived; nonetheless, the findings validate pursuing more experiments like this.
At Outdoor Revival HQ we love the science stuff, but sometimes I think we can go on experience and common sense, all of us that go out camping know that it’s much better for us, we go to bed earlier, get up earlier and feel better all round, we get in contact with our natural cycle and feel more energised and eager to get on with the day.
If we hear that they’re doing more camping experiments we’ll let you know, I’m sure there’s the opportunity to do the study with thousands of you!
More power to camping!
Outdoor Revival – Reconnecting you to the Outdoors