How to reset your body clock — and get better sleep — with hiking boots and a tent

Are you sick of going to bed late and waking up tired? Then grab your hiking boots and a tent. A new study suggests that a couple days of camping in the great outdoors can reset your circadian clock and help you get more sleep.

The circadian clock is an internal clock that tells your body when it’s time to go to sleep and when it’s time to wake up. Scientists track this clock by measuring the amount of melatonin circulating in a person’s blood at any given time.

In a healthy sleeper, melatonin levels rise a few hours before bedtime, stay high through the night, and then settle back down to daytime levels when it’s time to wake up. The span of time when melatonin levels are elevated is known as biological night.

In our modern society biological night does not usually coincide with night in the natural world. Most of us stay up many hours past sunset and would probably sleep in many hours after sunrise if we could.

Researchers recruited 14 physically active volunteers in their 20s and 30s. Nine went on a weekend camping trip, while the other five stayed home. At the end of the weekend, the authors monitored the volunteers’ melatonin levels to see if there had been any shift in the timing of their biological night.

The researchers report that in just two days, the campers’ circadian clocks shifted so that their melatonin levels began to rise more than an hour earlier then they did in the days before they left on the trip.

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