How Sleeping Outside Might Boost Your Health

Healthy Living

May 21, 2020

You have a perfect bed with a great mattress and all the linen trimmings your heart desires. So why would you bother sleeping outside?

It turns out that there are plenty of valid reasons to stretch out under the stars. That’s because sleeping outside offers a host of health benefits for your mind and body. 

Whether you prefer to pitch a tent, curl up in a hammock between two trees or spread your sleeping bag on a screened-in porch, a night outside can help you recharge in more ways than one.

How so?

It resets your circadian rhythm.

Like many others, you may find yourself squeezing in “just one more show” night after night. That habit throws off your natural circadian rhythm. When you stay up too late and rise too early, you cost yourself precious hours of sleep each day.

Not only that, but research also indicates that night owl behavior can have long-term ill effects. Shifting your natural sleep cycle can leave you more vulnerable to heart disease and other chronic conditions.

It’s easier to maintain a healthy sleeping pattern when you sleep outdoors. Without electronics to distract you, you may find yourself turning in within a few hours of sunset and rising again when the sun does.

Tip: Try sleeping outdoors for a few nights in a row. That gives your body a few days to adjust to new habits and increases the likelihood that you’ll keep up this new schedule after returning to indoor sleeping.

You get a full dose of natural light.

By now, you may have heard warnings about the dangers of blue light. While blue light from electronics may not actually damage your eyes as some people claim, it can throw off your melatonin production. Staring at screens in the hours before bed can keep you from getting a good night’s sleep.

Also, studies suggest a relationship between losing weight and exposing your body to morning light. Although the mechanisms are still up for debate, it seems that people who get 20 or 30 minutes of sunlight before noon seem to have an easier time controlling their weight. By waking up in the great outdoors, you won’t miss your daily opportunity to soak in those early-morning rays.

Tip: It might be great to rely on natural light during your outdoor adventure, but don’t forget to pack a flashlight in your overnight gear. It will come in handy for finding your misplaced glasses, checking out the source of a strange noise or taking a late-night trip to the bathroom.

It’s the perfect sleeping temp, depending on time of year.

Most people sleep best in rooms that are between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit, but you may not want to not crank your overnight thermostat that low. Instead, at the right time of year, you can come by those temperatures naturally when you sleep outdoors. You’ll benefit from deeper sleep, and you won’t have to pay the power company a dime for that privilege.

Tip: It can get chillier at night outside than you’re used to. Bring along more blankets than you think you’ll need. If the temperature drops overnight, you can pile on an extra layer. Using a sleeping pad is another smart idea. Whether you’re camped out on the forest floor or your backyard deck, lying on a hard, cold surface can be disruptive to a good night’s sleep.

Sleeping outdoors may give your body a natural boost.

Connecting with nature has the potential to boost your immune system and ward off chronic conditions. Being outdoors exposes you to microbes. And as your immune system responds, it becomes stronger.

Some experts also believe that natural chemicals emitted by plants have the potential to contribute to your overall health as you spend time among the trees. The practice of hanging out in nature for health reasons is often referred to as forest bathing. An overnight camping trip allows you to forest bathe all night long.

Tip: When possible, incorporate camping and other back-to-nature activities in your outdoor sleeping plans. Parks and campgrounds usually offer more opportunities for forest bathing than urban rooftops or suburban backyards.

A natural lullaby will sing you to sleep.

Sound machines allow the cadence of chirping crickets or babbling brooks to lull you to sleep — and for good reason. Research suggests that, for people with high stress levels, nature sounds have a calming effect. As you listen, you’re able to trade in your fight-or-flight feelings for a sense of rest. In that case, why not forgo artificial nature sounds in favor of the real thing?

Tip: For those who prefer total silence, don’t let nature sounds deter you from a night in the great outdoors. Earplugs provide an easy fix.

You’ll breathe better air in the right locales.

The same air may circulate through your house all night long. Sure, it works fine for everyday life, but it might not meet your definition of “fresh.” In fact, each breath you take may be contaminated with indoor pollutants from the products and chemicals in your home.

In many places, outdoor air is cleaner and less polluted than indoor air. Sleeping in wide-open spaces lets you take in fresh outdoor air all night long.

Tip: Thanks to oxygen’s ability to reduce lactic acid buildup in the muscles, sleeping outside might even help you feel less stiff in the morning.

It’s a great bonding experience.

Whether you go camping in the woods with your friends or spend the night with your family on the roof of your building, sleeping outdoors presents countless opportunities for making memories. Away from screens and other distractions, you may find yourselves singing, telling stories or discussing the deeper things of life as you drift off to sleep.

Tip: Even if things don’t go perfectly on your overnight adventure, it’s okay. Your kids’ favorite memory might be the time that Dad got tangled in the tent while setting it up. Mishaps and bloopers often lead to stories that your crew will laugh about for years to come.