Ten years ago, author Richard Louv coined the term “nature deficit disorder.” He noticed that people today are spending less time outside compared to earlier times. James Davig, PhD, LP, a sleep psychologist at Regions Hospital Sleep Health Center, says being indoors means we are more exposed to electronics and artificial light. Exposure to these lights at night can interrupt your body’s natural rhythm.
All living things, including humans, have what’s called a circadian rhythm. This is made up of a group of biological patterns that are connected to a daily cycle. Your circadian rhythm is important for determining sleep and eating patterns.
“When the sun sets, your body produces melatonin. This is a hormone that helps us sleep,” Davig says. It also drops the body’s temperature, which makes it easier to sleep. When the sun starts to rise, melatonin levels drop and that makes us wake up.
Artificial lights disrupt this pattern. While any kind of light can decrease the production of melatonin, blue light does it more. Blue light is present in natural light. It boosts attention, reaction times and your mood. The problem is that when we are exposed to blue light after the sun sets, it makes us want to stay awake. And many electronics and energy efficient lights have blue wave lengths.
A recent study in Current Biology found that a weekend camping trip helped reset the body clock to the natural environment. And getting outdoors has host of other health benefits, too. They include staying more active, getting more vitamin D and fresh air, and boosting your mood and mental health.
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