HealthWellness
New Rules of Camping

Science Says Camp Sleep Is Good for You

Trying to improve your sleep quality? Get back to nature.

If you’re sleeping outside, you’re doing it right. (Photo: Trinette Reed/Stocksy)
Mixed Race Millennial Woman Sleeping In Nature

Forgive us for being predictable, but you’d do well to think of camping as the Paleo diet for sleep. That’s because, according to science, falling asleep quickly and deeply requires some conditions that are hard to find in modern life: peace and quiet, natural lighting, and fresh air. Here’s how pitching a tent outdoors helps you tap into all the benefits of nature—without having to give up that sweet freeze-dried stroganoff.

It reboots your internal clock.

When it comes to feeling awake or sleepy when you’re supposed to, it’s all about natural-light exposure, says Phyllis Zee, chief of sleep medicine at Northwestern University. The sun provides the short-wave blue light that rouses us in the morning and the long-wave reddish or orange light that signals the approach of bedtime. A 2017 study showed that a weekend of camping can shift your internal clock nearly an hour and a half closer to where your sleep-wake cycle should be.

Fresh air, fresh brain.

Carbon-dioxide levels outdoors are generally in the 400-parts-per-million range, about a third of what’s in a stuffy room. In a 2016 study, participants who slept in a bedroom with low levels of CO2 reported more restful sleep and showed better mental performance the next day. 

Limited screen time means better sleep.

You’re almost certainly using your phone less while you’re camping, and that’s good for your sleep hygiene: research links bedtime texting and scrolling to higher insomnia rates and more sleep disturbances.

Nature is the best noise machine.

In your tent, you’re likely drifting off to the rustling of leaves or a gentle breeze. This kind of steady, swishing sound is called pink noise, Zee explains, and it’s composed of more low frequencies than white noise, which represents all frequencies equally. White noise blocks sound effectively, but you may find the deeper tone of pink noise more soothing. It enhances deep sleep, says Zee, by giving you a faint awareness of an interesting sound.


Three Tips for a Cozier Tent Snooze

Always freezing? Here’s how to beat the cold.

  1. Wear only base layers. That allows your body heat to radiate outward, turning your sleeping bag into a warm sac of air. 
  2. Eat a snack before bed. This will kick the internal furnace of your metabolism into gear. Pick something slow burning and high calorie, like nuts.
  3. Don’t burrow your face into your bag. That creates chilly condensation, says Buck Tilton, coauthor of NOLS Winter Camping. Instead, we recommend wearing a neck gaiter and a beanie with a cuff, for a makeshift balaclava and eye mask.

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Lead Photo: Trinette Reed/Stocksy

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