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Feeling Tired? Go Camping!

By Bill Greer

Scientists (yes, those enemies of the people) have long known about the circadian rhythm.  This cycling of our hormones influences when we feel rested and refreshed and when we feel sleepy.  They have also known for a long time that our plentiful artificial lights and computer screens can get this rhythm out of step with our waking and sleeping periods.  Dr. Kenneth Wright, a professor of integrative physiology at the University of Colorado says it’s “like constantly being a little jet lagged.”  Several hours after you get up your internal clock is saying you should still be asleep.

Recent research by Dr. Wright has uncovered a simple fix for this problem.  A weekend camping trip where you see only natural sunlight and starlight can reset your circadian rhythm by 69% of the mismatch.   This means you must leave the technology at home!  A weeklong trip gives a complete reset.  But a weekend trip can shift the rhythm as much as an hour and a half.  Dr. Phyllis Zee, director for the Center for Circadian and Sleep Medicine at Northwestern University, says that natural light, particularly morning sunshine, has a very powerful influence on setting internal clocks.  Dr. Zee says "We see people who can't fall asleep until 4 am.   So you say, okay, there's this camping thing."

The summary to Dr. Wright’s research concludes “We demonstrate that earlier circadian timing can be rapidly achieved through natural light exposure during a weekend spent camping.”  Again, this means you don’t spend the evening staring at your cell phone!

Now I know why I’ve always felt so rested and refreshed after a backpack trip.  In addition to the camaraderie, great scenery, and wonderful exercise, my internal clock was back in sync with the busy schedule.

I know I’ve never felt more rested and refreshed than I did after an 18-day river trip in Grand Canyon.  We went to bed at sunset and got up at sunrise.  Aside from an occasional headlamp the only light was from the sun.  But you don’t need 18 days!  Just a weekend will do wonders for you.  If you needed another reason to go on a Sierra Club outing, here it is.  So, go on over to the Sierra Club website and pick out your favorite clock resetter.  You’ll find weekend backpack trips, a 3 day river trip, a 4 day bus trip, and a 5 day backpack trip.  If you’ve never done anything like this before, check out our beginner backpack class this fall and the beginner trips that will follow it.

Web Resources:
Current Biology sleep study
Dallas Sierra Club Outings List


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