‘Editorial: Reset your clocks — by camping’



By Max R. Weller

Read the commentary in the Times-Call here. Copied below in its entirety:

The clock on your phone says it’s 10:15 p.m., but does your brain know what time it is?

A new study from researchers at the University of Colorado in Boulder say that in today’s electronic screen-filled world, the answer likely is no. Luckily, however, the cure to resetting the internal clock in each of us — and getting better sleep because of it — lies just outside our door.

The study published in the scientific journal Current Biology outlined the results of a study conducted on a group of test subjects who were able to reset their internal clocks — and get better, deeper sleep — merely by spending a week camping.

The caveat: Time spent camping had to be away from the electronic leashes that often keep us connected to the hustle and bustle of city life. No phones or laptop computers, no e-readers or handheld video games allowed. No headlamps or flashlights were allowed, either. What researchers found is that the harsh and bright lights of modern America inhibit the production of melatonin, which helps us fall asleep near sunset and wake up with the sun.

A full week in the woods might be a bit much for many of us, but researchers noted the benefit of a camping clock reset can occur even over a weekend, if not to the same degree. A couple of days camping resulted in 69 percent increase in melatonin production, noted Kenneth Wright, the CU researcher who led the study.

If ever the national parks, state parks and county parks that allow camping needed a sure-fire sales tactic, this would be it.

However, park managers should also be more aware of the limitations that many families face regarding camping: It can be an expensive, gear-driven leisure activity. To help address those needs, many parks offer cabins, yurts or other shelters, and some even help with gear. They might consider going a step further and offer camping areas that are away from lights or — gasp — don’t offer wireless Internet. The teens (and some adults) might hate it the first evening, but their better sleeping habits would likely be welcomed by all after a couple of days.

This study seems to imply that the equivalent of Ambien grows on trees — the trees of the deep forest where Americans can camp themselves back into a healthy sleep cycle.


The Homeless Philosopher, who has spent most nights during the past nine years sleeping outside (and away from the knuckleheads who give all homeless campers a bad reputation), is delighted to learn that he is dripping melatonin from every pore. It’s true, I almost always sleep well when camping, going to sleep early and waking before dawn . . . However, I attribute this to the complete absence of what must be dealt with by anyone staying overnight inside Boulder Shelter for the Homeless and similar facilities:

Noise from other residents talking and wandering around all night

Body odor, foot odor, and the stench of unwashed clothes

Anxiety that your belongings will be stolen, or that you will be assaulted


Constant coughing and sneezing by other residents, who seldom cover their mouths

The ridiculous posturing of scumbags in so-called transitional living programs

Petty rules strictly enforced by staff, while more serious wrongdoing is ignored


I love watching for meteors in the night sky, as I enjoy a cold can of Hormel Chili with Beans and either saltine crackers or corn chips.

*Yes, I have many wild critters visit my campsite, but these are NOT to be confused with what is found in any homeless shelter. I find the company of my animal friends — rabbits, owls, foxes, deer mice, mule deer, magpies, and others — to be quite enjoyable. I often share the human food they find tasty, and I don’t begrudge their (usually) unsuccessful attempts to raid my food cache.


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