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Camping may reset your body clock (but leave your flashlight at home)

Do you stay up late and wake up groggy? Then consider getting a tent and a sleeping bag. A week of camping may help reset your body's internal clock, a new study suggests.

Researchers from the University of Colorado-Boulder recently took eight people on a weeklong camping trip in the Rocky Mountains to see what would happen to their sleep cycle if they were exposed to nothing but natural light for seven days.

Campers were told to leave flashlights, cellphones and other light emitting electronics at home. Nighttime campfires were permitted.

By the end of the week, the study participants were all going to bed and getting up around the same time--despite having different sleep patterns at home.

On average, most people fell asleep and woke up one hour earlier than they did when they were not camping.

The researchers also looked at when the campers' bodies started and stopped releasing the hormone melatonin, which is one of the main ways our brain signals our bodies that it is time to go to sleep or wake up.

When the participants were camping, their bodies started to release melatonin around sunset, and stopped releasing melatonin around sunrise--an average of two hours earlier than at home.

Additionally, the campers weren't getting up for an entire hour after their bodies stopped releasing melatonin, making it easier for them to wake up in the morning.

Many of the participants woke up before melatonin offset at home, which is related to feeling sluggish in the morning.

The researchers are not suggesting that camping is a cure-all for sleep problems. The study was small, and the participants were all healthy, active adults with no sleep issues. The researchers would like to see additional testing on a larger number of subjects, across different age groups and cultures.

In the meantime, lead author Kenneth Wright, director of CU-Boulder's Sleep and Chronobiology Lab, says there are ways we can all start to reset our internal clocks even without sleeping under the stars.

"The key is to get more morning sunlight, and less exposure to electric light at night," he said.

Wright suggests starting your day with a walk, or drinking your coffee outside; making yourself take a walk outside during your workday; and dimming electrical lights at night, and trying to stay away from computer screens.

"These behaviors can help us shift our clocks earlier," he said.

The results of the study were published in the journal Current Biology on Thursday.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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