Most of us are well aware that connecting with nature is important for our physical and mental well-being.
These days, however, being more tethered to technology than ever before means getting our adequate fill of nature-time is more critical than ever...
...particularly when it comes to getting a good night’s sleep.
There are countless medical treatments for insomnia out there, of course. But there’s also growing evidence that an alternative, entirely natural method might be significantly more effective: camping.
Gladly, this method is low-cost, side-effect-free, and very easily done. All you need is a tent, the best sleeping bag your budget will allow, and the ability to tolerate a few nights in a spot that’s quiet, wild, and, most likely, more than just a little bit wonderful.
What Is Insomnia?
An estimated 30% of adults are reported to suffer from insomnia.
Insomnia is a sleep disorder that’s characterized by two features. First, difficulty getting to sleep. Second, staying asleep for the number of hours required to function effectively during the day.
Sadly, the consequences of insomnia are not only long, insufferable nights tossing and turning between the covers.
Sleeplessness also impacts your blood pressure, memory, focus, energy levels, and mood. It has, in fact, even been linked to mental health conditions like depression and anxiety.
What Causes Insomnia?
The two most prevalent causes of insomnia are stress and lifestyle choices.
Stress is your body’s response to challenges encountered in its environment. Whether these challenges are work-related, relationship troubles, or problems at home, the result is a state of hyper arousal that leaves your body and brain too wired and active to get quality sleep come bedtime.
Lifestyle choices also affect the quality of your sleep. If you’re used to sleeping irregularly, your internal clock (aka “circadian rhythm”), can easily get thrown out of sync. When this happens, a reset is required before you'll start to feel anything like your best.
Similarly, any activities that stimulate your brain late at night (i.e. working or playing video games), not getting enough exercise, consuming excessive amounts of caffeine and/or alcohol, and a lack of exposure to daylight can all contribute to sleep deprivation.
How Does Camping Make You Sleep Better?
So, how can the simple act of heading for the outdoors help you catch more Zs? In two ways: stress reduction and restoration of your circadian rhythm.
Nature Lowers Your Stress Levels
Stress finds its kryptonite in the form of natural environments. A lofty claim, right? We thought so too. However, a 2009 Japanese study revealed that the practice of “forest bathing” (Shinrin-yoku) invoked feelings of calm in the study’s participants and also significantly reduced their levels of cortisol, the stress hormone.
Cortisol reduction has several benefits. The most notable as far as insomnia is concerned, however, is putting the body in a state of relaxation, which is an essential precursor to a long, deep, and satisfying night’s sleep.
Forest bathing is the Japanese practice of reconnecting with nature by exposing yourself to trees, fresh air, and natural settings for prolonged periods of time. While the old-school English equivalent—camping—lacks the glamor and mystique of the fancy name, the effects are the same.
It Resets Your Internal Clock
The most compelling evidence for camping’s ability to combat insomnia comes from research undertaken by the University of Colorado in 2013.
In this study, researchers used camping to demonstrate the detrimental effect of artificial lighting on sleep.
The study suggested that living in urban environments where we’re constantly exposed to harsh, artificial light pushes our internal clocks back by several hours. This makes us feel less tired and sleepy even when it’s well past our preferred bedtime.
After sending people on a week-long camping trip without access or exposure to artificial light, the study found that nature can actually re-calibrate our circadian rhythm by resetting our internal clocks and re-synchronizing them with nature’s light-dark cycle.
It also showed that downtime from screens and artificial light sources helped to boost levels of melatonin, aka “the sleep hormone”.
You can replicate these effects, of course, by going camping yourself. Just be sure to leave your cellphone, laptop, or any other potential stressors or sources of non-natural light at home!
Get Your Camp On, Get Your Sleep On
Tired of being tired? Looking for a natural, pharmaceutical-free way to get some long uninterrupted rest and cure your sleep deprivation?
Well, before you go splashing out on the latest “miracle cure” that’s popped up in your news feed or enlisting the services of your boxer friend to do things the more no-nonsense way, why not pack your things and see if nature will work its wonders on you?
With the scientifically-backed evidence for nature’s sleep-enhancing effects now stacking up, there’s every chance a night or two in the wild will help to make your sleep problems a thing of the past.
What sleeping accessories are available for the outdoors?
Eye masks, ear plugs, and mattresses are not just for the indoors. Camping supplies like specialty sleeping accessories that aid your time in the woods can be purchased easily online or at stores. Each item is important to create the same ambiance that helps you sleep through the night peacefully at home.
- Ear plugs: Block out rustling of leaves or brush and even a snoring friend that is your tent mate.
- Eye masks: Important for trips in the northern latitudes or if you plan to camp in an area where it is daytime all day.
- Mattresses and pads: Air mattresses can be blown-up without electrical outlets and pads can be purchased at different sizes and level of thickness. Hammocks are another option to avoid the need of a heavy pad since they can easily be carried and tied to two trees. Keep in mind that whatever your choice pick an easy to carry option for your backpack or to carry to a campsite.
- Sleeping bags: Depending on the climate and tent size, talk to a professional before purchasing a sleeping bag. You may need a warmer bag for some seasons or locations or a wider bag for car-camping. There are a lot of choices so do not get overwhelmed.
- Pillows: For some, the pillow is critical from a master bedroom to a hotel room to a tent. Once again, depending on your trip distance choose a pillow either inflatable, travel, or full-size based upon your trip.
- Netting: An important addition to a camping trip may require netting from mosquitos if you are traveling to a part of the world that may be prone to malaria. It can also help protect your sleeping area from flies, fleas, ticks, and other pesky insects.
What if there is no access to electricity?
It is 2021. Even without electricity, you can enjoy the great outdoors and still have a restful night’s sleep. A few options are available with strong battery life while traveling. And if backpacking or camping grants little space in your pack, the Z1 is the lightest CPAP machine on the market at only 10 ounces and 6.5 inches long. Purchasing the Z1 from Alaska Sleep Clinic grants customers a trained DME technician that will call within 24-48 hours of purchase.
A second option is the Transcend Auto Mini CPAP weighs less than one pound and is a fully-featured APAP with EZEX pressure relief technology providing more breathing comfort. Unique to this CPAP with a “military grade construction” is Transcend’s 14-hour battery and solar panel recharge ability.
Other options include a rechargeable portable power supply or utilizing your vehicle’s battery. The great news is the Transcend model is FAA approved so if plan travel is part of your destination, it is a safe accessory.
How can I keep my CPAP clean?
Sanitary CPAP masks and machines keep you healthier and extend the life of your machine. Depending on the size and model of your machine, you will need distilled water. Try and plan ahead how you can transport it in your pack in a travel bottle that can easily clip to the bag.
An extra filter may be a good idea since you will be in the outdoors where it can be dusty. Mask cleaning wipes are your best bet to keeping certain the machine is well taken care of. You can even purchase a travel, lightweight mask to easily travel with in your pack.
Best practices work anywhere
Overall, bring your best practices from home to the outdoors. Continue eating light meals prior to bedtime which will be earlier than normal without the distraction of electronics and may be exhausted from outdoor activities from the day. Raise the head of your sleeping pad or mattress to help sleep at a small incline.
Hopefully you are now inspired to travel more often, disconnect from the everyday while still resting comfortably at night. Don’t skimp on the necessities when camping. With modern technology and experts in the camping sections of stores, you can travel easily away from home with your CPAP machine and accessories to enjoy the great outdoors. It is not fair to limit your adventures to the conditions you suffer at night.
If you're needing any additional information on traveling with a CPAP machine where you may be disconnected from everyday modern accommodations, or would like to purchase a travel specific CPAP machine, feel free to contact the Alaska Sleep Clinic.