Guest post by Emma Williams
Longing for a camping trip? A journey into the wilderness or even a short trip to a not-so-remote state park will rejuvenate you and give you a great opportunity to get some much-needed fresh air. That’s not all: As it turns out, sleeping outdoors comes with some pretty amazing benefits.
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Being one with nature decreases stress.
Out of necessity, boredom, or tech addiction, most of us spend far too much time indoors, staring at screens. We type away on our computers, we gaze into our phones’ screens during our breaks, we watch movies on our tablets while we mindlessly slurp our lunch, and once we arrive home, we zone out with games or marathon TV-watching sessions. We scroll through our social media feeds just one more time before we hit the sheets, mentally exhausted and longing for something more.
As it turns out, all of this screen time – an average of 11 hours per day for most adults, according to a Nielsen report – can wreak havoc on health. Eye problems, headaches, neck pain, and shoulder pain brought on by poor posture are just the beginning. Blue light from our devices interrupts our normal sleep cycles, and as you might imagine, all of this can greatly increase stress.
Getting out into nature is the perfect antidote. Spending time outdoors gives us the opportunity to get away from the constant pull of technology and the rest of our daily stressors. As exposure to fresh air, sunlight, and the peaceful sounds of the outdoor world stimulates the body’s natural parasympathetic response, our blood pressure drops and the heart beats a little slower. The stress hormone cortisol is reduced at the same time.
You’ll enjoy far more stress relief when you spend several hours or even days at a time in nature. Good news, though, in case your next vacation is weeks or months away: Harvard Health notes that spending as little as 20 minutes connecting with nature while avoiding social media and other distracting stimuli led to a measurable drop in cortisol and lower stress for study participants.
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Sleeping outdoors can reset circadian rhythms.
Have you ever noticed that a long camping trip leaves you feeling mentally refreshed and ready to take on whatever life happens to throw your way? You’re not imagining things. Sleep expert Kenneth Wright of the University of Colorado, Boulder, joined colleagues in studying circadian rhythms under different circumstances. During an average week spent working, engaging in social activities, going to school, and more, participants woke up around 8 a.m. and stayed up until after midnight.
Subjects were treated to a week-long camping trip in Colorado, leaving flashlights and smartphones behind and being exposed only to natural daylight and firelight. With no exposure to bright artificial lights, their circadian timing was soon reset. Participants in the study fell asleep an average of two hours earlier with no encouragement from the sleep experts.
As the study’s authors explain, “If human circadian and sleep timing was in synchrony with the natural light-dark cycle, the circadian low point in brain arousal would move to before the end of the sleep episode, making it easier to awaken in the morning.” No wonder you might feel like more of a morning person when you’re camping!
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Exposure to the outdoors can improve your health overall.
Long before the benefits of recreational camping were studied with much seriousness, the Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku (forest bathing) was implemented as a means of encouraging people to get out into nature and improve their health. Since 1982, Japanese citizens have been spending more time in nature. At first, the program based its claims solely on the perception that being outdoors was good for body and mind alike. That changed in 1990, when Chiba University’s Dr. Yoshifumi Miyazaki and colleagues conducted a series of studies to compare the benefits of outdoor forest walking with walking in city settings as well as indoor walks in laboratory setting.
Not surprisingly, subjects who spent time in nature had lower cortisol levels, lower heart rates, and lower blood pressure than the laboratory control group. Subsequent tests conducted as part of the same group of studies on forest bathing showed healthier blood sugar levels, reduced depression, less anger, and lower fatigue. An increase in NK (natural killer) activity was detected in participants as well, suggesting enhanced immune system activity along with measurable physiological responses.
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Breathing fresh air improves cognitive function and enhances mood.
You’re not imagining things: When you’re in a pristine outdoor environment breathing fresh, clean air, your brain processes information better and you feel happier. When we spend time in tightly closed, artificially ventilated spaces with recirculated air, oxygen levels are lower and our bodies build up CO2. This can lead to decreased cognitive functioning, with symptoms that include lethargy, sleepiness, or even a simple inability to concentrate. As reiterated by Bedroom Critic, spending time outdoors lets your body release built-up carbon dioxide and improves your ability to think.
There’s a little more to the story. Since oxygen levels in the brain have a direct impact on serotonin levels and serotonin is essential for feelings of overall well-being, spending a night sleeping under the stars helps your brain produce more of those “happy” chemicals so you really do feel better.
In case you’re not able to camp out anytime soon, you’ll be glad to find that spending time outdoors can boost your mood, too. In the previously cited Harvard Health article, Dr. Jason Strauss of Cambridge Health Alliance explains that simply focusing on natural features such as trees and green spaces can distract the mind from negative thought patterns. In some cases, interacting with nature has been effective in countering mood imbalances – so much so that doctors are now prescribing nature to patients as an alternative or complement to medication.
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Whether you can get away for twenty minutes or spend a few nights sleeping under the stars, making outdoor time a priority is the ideal way to counteract many of the not-so-nice effects that come along with our many modern conveniences. So grab your sleeping bag, lounge out in a hammock, or simply take a walk in the nearest park. Your body and mind will thank you!
This guest post was written by Emma Williams, a lover of the great outdoors. When not camping or jogging with her pets, Emma is blogging for https://www.wwwallaboutcats.com.