One of the things I love about camping is the chance to relax and not have the responsibilities that never go away when I’m at home. But one thing that I find impossible to do while camping: sleeping late in the morning.
No matter how much outdoor activity I got the day before, no matter how late I stayed up telling ghost stories to the kids, sunrise always acts like an internal alarm to rouse me from the [discomfort] of my sleeping bag.
Why can’t I wake up that easily when I’m at home and have to work early in the morning?
Artificial light is the guilty culprit.
Our bodies operate according to a circadian rhythm. It’s like an internal clock that tells our brains when to wake up and when to produce melatonin so we can fall asleep. The photo sensors in our eyes and even on our skin send messages to a tiny location in our brains that sets it all in motion.
When the sun goes down, everything around us in the modern world works against that internal clock. The street lights come on and headlights from oncoming traffic shine straight into our eyes. At home, we flip on the switches for the lights throughout the house, all to defy the onset of darkness that wants to help us sleep.
To make matters worse, most of us enjoy unwinding in the evening by watching a movie or scrolling through our phones. These devices emit a blue light that confuses the brain’s photo receptors and inhibits the release of melatonin.
Not only does this contribute to sleep disturbances and disorders, including insomnia for some, it also causes other serious health problems. This includes obesity, depression, diabetes, breast cancer and more. Melatonin provides us with several protective benefits including boosting the immune system, lowering cholesterol, and helping the function of the thyroid, pancreas, ovaries, testes and adrenal glands. Exposure to artificial light at night suppresses melatonin.
Here are a few things you can do to limit your exposure to artificial light at night:
- Keep the lights down low. Use fewer lights and put them on dimmers.
- Change your bulbs. Install warmer temperature lights instead of the cooler blue temperature lights that inhibit melatonin production.
- Control the screen. iPhones come with a built-in Night Shift that you can schedule. For other devices, download a free app that removes the blue tone from your screen at night. (See f.lux and Twilight)
- Black out. Turn off all lights and use blackout curtains in the bedroom if artificial light is able to enter.
Do you need to reset your circadian rhythm? Go camping. It only takes a couple of days for your body to return to its natural settings. Check out this video for the details of this great research: https://youtu.be/BKQH6T1DZvI