7 Ways Camping Improves Health & Circadian Rhythm

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Wellness Mama » Blog » Health » 7 Ways Camping Improves Health & Circadian Rhythm

In today’s fast-paced world of screens and schedules, we often miss the importance of reconnecting with nature and its many benefits. Outdoor activities in nature like hiking, canoeing, rock climbing, biking, or even just sitting outside can be beneficial. Yet, the most pronounced benefits come from longer exposure to nature’s beauty. Today we’re going to explore the health benefits of camping.

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

Camping … for Health?

A camping trip 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. Plus, the research backs up this simple and fun activity:

1. Light Therapy for Circadian Rhythm

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

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 camper’s melatonin levels rose two hours earlier when camping than on regular nights around artificial light.
  • Study participants’ sleep schedules all normalized in their natural settings. 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 cycles and improve health.

2. Forest Bathing Stress Relief

The Japanese have a national practice called “Forest Bathing” or shinrin-yoku. It’s 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 increases the presence of natural killer (NK) cells in the body. This increase lasted for up to a month after a single weekend in nature.
  • Forest air contains phytoncide, a natural compound from plants and trees. Some research shows inhaling phytoncide can improve immune system function.
  • Forest bathing also helps with stress reduction. Another study found cortisol, blood pressure, and other health markers improved with just 30 minutes a day in nature. Compared to spending a day in the city, a day in the forest helps us de-stress and have more parasympathetic nerve activity. Nature time also helped lower sympathetic nerve activity, meaning less stress levels.

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 get deeper and more restorative sleep in nature. One factor may be that people aren’t staying up as late watching TV while camping. This alone improves sleep and increases melatonin production.

You’re also getting 8 hours of grounding in to reset your body’s natural electric field. It might not be as comfortable as your mattress at home. However, you’re likely getting biologically better sleep.

4. Time to Unplug & Family Time

One of my favorite parts of the camping experience is disconnecting from technology and spending time with family members. Sure, we all know we should put down the phone and spend more time with loved ones. But this can be hard to do when we’re wrapped up in the business of daily life.

Each of my kids has a good quality hiking backpack with their own gear. If it’s your first time camping or you’re just looking for some ideas, here’s our gear checklist. My kids 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 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 fresh air’s benefits. Areas with a lot of trees have a higher oxygen concentration in the environment. This makes it 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 actually want to explore. This naturally leads to physical activity in a high-oxygen, natural light environment that makes movement even more beneficial! This has a net positive effect on our physical health and overall health.

And if you’re doing camping activities like swimming or kayaking in the sunshine, you’ll get vitamin D too!

7. Mental Health Benefits

Camping not only helps relieve stress, but it can also improve mental health. When we’re tired and our circadian rhythms aren’t working well, it takes a toll on our mental health. As a society, our frequent social media and electronic device use also have their downsides. Then there’s the stress and busyness of everyday life.

Camping benefits our mental health by giving us a break from many of the stressors and distractions. You can learn new skills like foraging and making shelters. These problem-solving activities help foster creativity and nurture our brain cells. Now you just have to worry about getting that campfire started!

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 of 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. Smartphones: It’s so easy for us to pull out electronics, especially when they’re portable and easy to grab. Ditch the social media scrolling, videos, and unnecessary smartphone use while you’re out.
  3. Cook natural foods: Don’t use camping as an excuse to eat s’mores. Unless they’re made with homemade marshmallows and healthy ingredients 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. Here’s a whole list of healthy camping food ideas.
  4. Stay for the long haul: Studies showed the most benefits from three or more days of camping. Plan a week-long family trip and enjoy all of the benefits!
  5. 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. They 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 camping benefits.

  • Reduce artificial light: One of the biggest benefits of being outdoors is the break from artificial lighting. Even if you aren’t ready to sleep in the woods, you can still manipulate the blue light in your home for better health. We use orange spectrum light lamps at night. I also wear blue light blocking glasses after dark to reduce blue light exposure.
  • Clean the air: Another benefit to being outside is the abundance of fresh air. Keep your indoor air clean with these tips.
  • Get enough sleep: Many of the benefits attributed to camping come from sleeping more! This is one health tip every expert seems to agree on. Plus it’s free for the most part. Make sleep a priority and make time to get enough of it. Here are some tips to improve sleep.

Does your family enjoy camping? Any favorite camping spots? Leave a comment and share below!

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

About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. WellnessMama.com is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.


16 responses to “7 Ways Camping Improves Health & Circadian Rhythm”

  1. Carrie Beth Baranoski Avatar
    Carrie Beth Baranoski

    Do you know where the picture at the top of your article was taken? It looks amazing.

  2. Anubhav Avatar

    Basically, and to summarize it, you will be in the outdoors and that has many types of therapeutic effects. That is the summary of how camping solo or with family really works.

  3. Candace Avatar

    We are planning on camping this summer (IF the snow ever melts – and it’s snowing today – April 4th!) and love all things camping BUT what to do about light? Your blog on camping equipment talks about using bright LED lights. While I understand the problems with the blue light, etc., using a kerosene lamp in a tent doesn’t sound safe – either the fire or the fumes. Any other ideas? Really hard not to use a flashlight!

    Thanks, Candace

  4. Candace Avatar

    We are planning on camping this summer (IF the snow ever melts!) and love all things camping BUT what to do about light? Your blog on camping talks about using bright LED lights. While I understand the problems with the blue light, etc., using a kerosene lamp in a tent doesn’t sound safe – either the fire or the fumes. Any other ideas? Really hard not to use a flashlight!

    Thanks, Candace

  5. Scot Mills Avatar
    Scot Mills

    Thanks for some great insights, and for another excuse for me to get away to the woods!

    I have noticed the difference in sleep quality not only when I am camping, but also when I do as you suggest and reduce the artificial light around me in the evenings at home. I try to turn off the computer as long before bedtime as I can, and then try to read until it is too dark to see, which means time for some of the best sleep ever!

    Thanks again, not only for this post, but for a super informative blog in general. I am currently starting out as a natural blogger/freelancer, and your posts give me something to aspire to (as well as to thoroughly enjoy reading).

    Best, from a Wellness Papa!

  6. Tuukka Avatar

    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.

  7. Laurali Star Avatar
    Laurali Star

    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

  8. Crystal Avatar

    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 😉

  9. Aimee Avatar

    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’!

  10. Mary Avatar

    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.

    1. Katie - Wellness Mama Avatar

      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.

      1. Mary Avatar

        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

  11. Peggy D.... Avatar
    Peggy D….

    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!

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