Maybe it’s Time to Get in Contact with Nature

The electric light has its charms, but it could also be keeping you up late. A new study suggests we lose our connection to circadian rhythms by extending our waking hours with artificial light. But the researchers seem to have found an unusual way to correct the problem. Perhaps a solution to not being able to sleep at night means that you need to spend some time with the great outdoors and some of nature’s perfect lighting.

"We find that after exposure to only natural light, the internal circadian clock synchronizes to solar time," write the authors.

Those who are more likely to catch late-night talk shows than get their sleep could benefit from some fresh air, getting more exposure to natural light and leaving the smartphone at home.

The study, by Kenneth Wright and colleagues from the University of Colorado, used a small sample of eight people that were sent camping in the Rocky Mountains for two weeks. They wore wrist monitors to track their activity and filled out questionnaires about their wakefulness.

Before the trip, researchers checked out the sleep habits of the participants over a week, as they went to work and school (the average age was 30). How they chose when to sleep and wake, and were exposed to artificial and natural light.

Then they compared the circadian timing of the participants after a week in the woods with no flashlights or electronic devices and no lamps, just campfires.

As the week went on, researchers found the participants' circadian rhythms synced up with natural exposure to light and dark, and it was easier to wake up in the morning.

These findings have important implications for understanding how modern light exposure patterns contribute to late sleep schedules and may disrupt sleep and circadian clocks, that authors wrote in the journal titled: Current Biology.