6 Ways Camping Improves Health & Circadian Rhythm

6 Ways Camping Improves Health & Circadian Rhythm

Albert Einstein famously said: “Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.”

In today’s fast-paced world of screens and schedules, we often miss the importance of reconnecting with nature and its many benefits. A few minutes in nature on a hike or even just sitting outside can be beneficial. Yet, the most pronounced benefits come from longer exposure to nature’s beauty, and camping is one of the best ways to get them.

Camping … for Health?

Camping may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of ways to improve your health, but perhaps it should!

The Benefits of Camping

Besides being a great budget-friendly family activity, going camping offers a unique way to reconnect with nature. Surprisingly, research has now found several proven benefits to this simple and fun activity:

1. Light Therapy for Circadian Rhythm

A 2013 study from the University of Colorado Boulder examined how camping affects circadian rhythm. They found that participants who camped for a week noticed major improvements in sleep patterns in circadian biology.

In fact, sleep researcher Dr. Michael Breus explains that camping for one week (away from artificial light) resets circadian clocks. More specifically, the study found that:

  • The melatonin levels (of subjects of the study) rose two hours earlier when camping than on regular nights around artificial light.
  • Study participants sleep schedules all normalized during the camping week. In fact, early birds and night owls all adjusted to the same schedule.

Major health problems (from heart disease to cancer) are often linked to poor sleep quality or lack of sleep. A simple activity like camping may help the body normalize sleep patterns and improve health.

2. Forest Bathing Stress Relief

The Japanese have a national practice called “Forest Bathing” or shinrin-yoku which has been a national public health practice for them since the 1980s. The Japanese have spent millions of dollars studying the effects of this time in nature with surprising findings:

  • A weekend in the woods naturally increased the presence of natural killer (NK) cells in the body. This increase lasted for up to a month after a single weekend exposure to nature.
  • Forest air contains phytoncide, a natural compound from plants and trees. Some research shows that inhaling phytoncide can improve immune system function.
  • Another study found reduced cortisol, blood pressure, pulse, and other measures improved with just 30 minutes a day in nature. In fact, comparing metrics from a person spending a day in the city and a day in nature, it found: “Forest environments promote lower concentrations of cortisol, lower pulse rate, lower blood pressure, greater parasympathetic nerve activity, and lower sympathetic nerve activity than do city environments.”

3. Improved Sleep

As mentioned above, camping away from artificial light improves the circadian clock. Logically, it also improves sleep.

Sure, sleeping on the ground in a thin sleeping bag doesn’t sound like the perfect way to relax, but studies show that people achieve deeper and more restorative sleep in nature. One factor may be just that people are not staying up as late watching TV while camping. This alone improves sleep and increases melatonin production.

You may not be the most comfortable while camping, but you are likely getting biologically better sleep.

4. Time to Disconnect & Family Time

One of my personal favorite parts of camping is just the time to disconnect from technology and spend time with family. Sure, we all know we should put down the phone and spend more time with the real people we live with, but this can be hard to do when wrapped up in the business of daily life.

We got each of our children a good quality hiking backpack with their own gear (here’s a good list if you are interested) and they love going camping and getting a chance to use it all.

5. A Breath of Fresh Air

Another tangible benefit of camping is the abundance of fresh air. Experts warn that indoor air is often more polluted than outdoor air. They encourage opening windows and ventilating our homes often. Spending time outdoors, especially overnight, is a great way to get the benefits of fresh air. Areas with a lot of trees have a higher oxygen concentration in the environment, and therefore it’s easier to breathe and relax.

6. Exercise in Natural Beauty

One of the best things about camping? The natural boredom. Without TVs, video games, and the many distractions of home, we naturally tend to want to walk around and explore. This naturally leads to exercise in a high oxygen, natural light environment that makes movement even more beneficial!

Tips for Camping

Ready to spend some time in the great outdoors? Here are a few tips to get the maximum benefits:

  1. Ditch the artificial light: The studies all noted the biggest benefit from camping away from all artificial light, including flashlights. Stick to natural light sources like a campfire, candles, and natural lanterns to avoid the bright LED flashlights.
  2. Cook natural foods: Don’t use camping as an excuse to eat marshmallows (unless they’re made like this, of course 😉 ) and other junk food. Campfires are wonderful for roasting natural foods like meat, vegetables, and even fruit. (My kids love roasted apples on the campfire.)
  3. Stay for the long haul: The studies all showed the most benefits from three or more days of camping. Plan a week long family trip once a year and enjoy all of the benefits!
  4. Get good gear: Few things are worse than being caught in a tent that leaks during a rainstorm. Invest in some good camping gear and it will last for years.

Ways to Get (Some) of the Benefits of  Camping While at Home

Despite all of the benefits, I know a few people who adamantly refuse to camp and even hate the idea of braving the great outdoors! If a team of wild horses couldn’t tear you away from the comforts of home, there are a few things you can do to get some of the benefits while at home.

What do you think? Are you the next Bear Grylls? Or anti-outdoors? Share below!

how-camping-improves-health-circadian-rhythm

Sources:

Article: Could Camping Help Your Insomnia?
Study: Entrainment of the Human Circadian Clock to the Natural Light-Dark Cycle

Camping can help reset circadian rhythm by removing artificial light. The abundance of fresh air also helps improve sleep and other health markers.

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Reader Comments

  1. My husband and I love to camp. We are newly retired and spent 7 weeks in our motor home this winter. Sleeping in a tent on the ground isn’t so fun in your mid-60’s! We will make an effort to use candles for evening light instead of the rv lights. What else would you suggest? I think you said ‘natural’ lighting. We love campfires also. So relaxing but most nights it was too cold even with a fire and we played cards or games inside and needed light. I love your website Katie! Thank you!

  2. You mentioned natural lanterns. What do you mean?

    • Ones that use fire and not LED or blue spectrums of light. We have an old one that my parents had when I was young that is kerosene.

  3. I have been following you for a few years now and honestly you have become my go to search for any natural queries. Thank you for that.
    But what’s up with the ads? Awhile back I visited and there were ads for Clorox and I thought, lol Katie wouldn’t use that. Next there was an ad for Preperation H and again I thought, lol I don’t think she would use that either.
    But today there was an ad for modernag.org. I had to click it to confirm what I couldn’t believe to be true.
    But it is MONSANTO!!!
    What the hell??
    I actually feel very let down on a personal level. I know we all have to eat, I get it. I’ve clicked on Amazon links you’ve provided and I’ve made some purchases and felt ok, even good about that small support for you. But advertising what I believe to be the biggest threat to the health of our people is beyond acceptable. You cannot promote yourself as wanting to help families be healthy and lead healthy lives while being financially supported by this monster. I’m so disappointed.

    • Hi Mary, thanks so much for letting me know about this. All the ads on the site are run through a network, and while everyone sees different ads based on their browsing history and things they’ve searched for, companies and products that I disagree with are not supposed to show up on the site… ever! Needly to say, I just contacted AdThrive, the company who runs the ad network I use and demanded they pull those ads immediately. So thank you for letting me know about your experience, as the feedback helps me to monitor what others are seeing and I can have them tweak the settings accordingly.

      • Thank you for your response and for allowing my slightly harsh comment to stay lol. I’m happy we can still be friends and I will continue to trust your guidance in my on going quest towards a healthier lifestyle

  4. We have spent the past years living in our tents for extended periods-taking a house over winter or for birth of a baby only. We&our children almost always therefore follow a natural circadian rhythm&I can only attest to the benefits described.Maintaining it in a house proves much more difficult&we find ourselves drawn into the cycle of business that artificial light creates however thankfully we often pass out with the kids anyway!! Highly recommend getting into the outdoors for strong,resiliant&balanced children who know how to creatively entertain themselves with nothing but sticks for days on end&are miles ahead of their peers in all academic areas despite minimal focussed ‘teaching’!

  5. All I’ve had on my mind since I moved back home in 2001 is camping. Out of this time I’ve missed a total of 6 years due to my own health and taking care of my mother. This morning I was just figuring out how much vacation time I will have and trying to decide when to take it.
    I’ve camped the same area in the Ozarks since I was born. There’s rivers and creeks with gentile rapids I float down (on a tube) and lots of fossil rocks to hunt. I pitch my tent and take my cushy fold up chase lounge. This year I think I’ll use my zero gravity chair. I like to go in August so I can watch the Persieds Meteor Shower.
    I’ve done much traveling and seen many things in the USA, been to Mexico and Canada. Just give me my old stomping grounds and I’m the happiest camper you’ll ever meet 😉

  6. Great post! So happy to see a fellow nature lover. I love camping and I used to be a girl scout troop leader for my oldest daughter. To me, this is the stuff dreams are made of. Camping is more like real life to me. It’s raw, rugged, and serene. Love your blog so much!

    ~Laurali Star

  7. Nice post, but may I add one thing. Qi gong stretching for your legs just before bed (or lying in bed) before falling a sleep it pretty good. There are some videos on Youtube about it.

    You mentioned about japanese habit of going and walking in the forest for health reasons. The same is common in Finland too:) Many people have their summer cottage somewhere in the forest or at lake.

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