Published: June 1, 2017

The Light of the Great Outdoors 

American adults don’t sleep enough: On the average work night, we come up 30-90 minutes short of what our bodies need for long-term health, according to a poll by the National Sleep Foundation.

Maybe we should go camping more often.

Recent research by CU Boulder sleep experts Ellen Stothard and Kenneth Wright show that exposure to the natural light and total darkness available outdoors helps reset our internal clocks in as little as two days — a weekend camping trip. By resetting our clocks, we get a chance to establish a more satisfying sleep pattern back at home. 


  • 7-8: Hours of sleep adults typically need daily for long-term health
  • 6 hours, 31 minutes: U.S. average on work nights
  • 50-70 million: U.S. adults have a sleep disorder; insomnia is most common
  • Exposure to electric light at night delays narural sleep rhythms
  • A pattern of delayed sleep is associated with obesity, diabetes, mood disorders and other health problems 

“Modern environments can significantly delay our circadian timing, and late circadian timing is associated with many health consequences. But as little as a weekend camping trip can reset it.” — Kenneth Wright

The Camping Effect

  • One weekend of camping can reset our internal clocks
  • Two-day camping trips can jumpstart production of the sleep-regulating hormone melatonin, promoting sleep at an earlier time 
  • Camping is especially effective at resetting our internal clocks because it exposes us to far more natural light than we get in the typical built environment
  • Our bodies respond quickly to the natural light/dark cycle

Sleep Tips 

  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol and large meals near bedtime
  • Be regular: Go to bed and wake up at the same times daily
  • Get bright natural light, especially in the morning
  • Shut off smartphones and laptops two hours before bedtime

Fun Facts About Sleep 

  • 73% of U.S. adults watch TV before bed
  • 64% of Americans find lavender a relaxing scent before bed
  • 2: The average number of pillows per U.S. adult 

Information from: Kenneth Wright study, “Circadian Entrainment to the Natural Light-Dark Cycle across Seasons and the Weekend,” published in Current Biology; CDC; the National Sleep Foundation; the American Sleep Association