As reported in the Telegraph, half of British people will experience insomnia. My guess is that even if that statistic is correct, the loose language “will experience” would easily enfold more than half of Americans. And, as published recently, an American researcher has some surprising answers for the sleepless.
Kenneth Wright, University of Colorado Boulder, jointly published a study that demonstrates that a single weekend of camping will reset the body’s clock. The study also demonstrated that a winter campout would be even more effective. (Anecdotally, I can affirm this aspect of the study: Once, after spending a sleepless January night in a tent that was initially effective against the falling snow but ineffective in the subsequent rain, I immediately went to sleep. Okay, perhaps this is beside the point!).
An early version of Wright’s study examined the effects of a week of camp by measuring changes in the melatonin levels in campers’ saliva. While both studies showed that exposure to natural light reset the bodies’ circadian clocks, the more recent study showed that a single weekend spent outdoors accomplished about 69 percent of what a full week accomplished. In other words, after a weekend camping, your body will “want” to go to sleep more than two hours earlier than on a weekend spent at home. So after a weekend at home, the typical Monday morning back to work is marked by what an earlier study by Wittmann, Dinich, Merrow, and Roenneberg calls “social jet lag.” To Wright, this is a “mismatch between biological (circadian delay) and social (awakening early for work/school) timing.”
The results of the study have been widely reported and are easily accessible. This is not why I have repeated them here. Instead, the study caught my eye because it fits perfectly with the caricatured American family that I hope to tickle off the couch. This family drives home from a climate-controlled office in a climate controlled vehicle. As they pull in the driveway, they push the button on their garage door opener so that they may seamlessly enter their climate-controlled house. Then, when they enter their climate-controlled house, they carefully check to make sure all their blinds are drawn—for privacy, of course — and they turn on all their lights. Until they retire for the night, using their smart devices, they watch other people compete, hunt, fish, cook, garden or renovate their homes or their bodies. And they might not sleep well. And they might not value the trees, plants and wildlife surrounding their vinyl-encased refuge.
I humbly suggest that sleeping at home with the shades open might quickly reset some circadian clocks. And, after a night’s sleep cooled by evening breezes, just before sunrise, gently you will begin to be wakened by the chatter of songbirds, nesting in the trees hopefully planted and maintained just outside your open windows.
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Joshua Arp is an ISA-certified municipal specialist, Clarks Summit’s municipal arborist and an operator of an organic lawn and landscape maintenance business.