A new study from University of Colorado Boulder found that it only takes one week of camping out in nature to synch your internal clock to sunrise and sunset. That’s good news for night owls who want to shift back to being a “morning person.”
Particularly inspiring is that the synchronization happened in that short period of time for all 8 participants in the study, whether they were early birds or night owls during their everyday lives.
“What’s remarkable is how, when we’re exposed to natural sunlight, our clocks perfectly become in synch in less than a week to the solar day,” said Professor Kenneth Wright, who led the study.
Electrical lighting, which only became widely available in the 1930s, has impacted our body’s internal circadian clocks. These rhythms tell our bodies when to get ready to sleep and when to prepare for waking.
The capacity to turn a switch and fill a room with light let humans be exposed to light much later into the night than would be possible naturally.
And even when people are exposed to electrical lights during the daylight hours, indoor lighting’s intensity is much less than sunlight. The color range of electrical light also differs from natural light, which subtly changes shade throughout the day.
“When people are living in the modern world—living in these constructed environments—we have the opportunity to have a lot of differences among individuals,” Wright said. “Some people are morning types and others like to stay up later. What we found is that natural light-dark cycles provide a strong signal that reduces the differences that we see among people—night owls and early birds—dramatically.”
Sleep Pattern Solutions
The study points towards some possible solutions for people who are struggling with their sleep patterns. For instance, people who naturally drift toward staying up late may also find that it’s more difficult to feel alert in the morning, when melatonin levels may indicate they’re still in their biological nighttimes, at work or in school.
To counteract a person’s genetic tendency to later nights, exposure to more sunlight in the morning and midday could help nudge his or her internal clock earlier.
Also, dimming electrical lights at night, forgoing late-night TV and cutting out screen time with laptops and other personal electronic devices also may help internal circadian clocks stay more closely attuned with the solar day, Wright suggests.