Want to be a morning person? A new small study suggests taking a weeklong camping trip to reset your internal biological clock to both wake up earlier and feel more alert when you do.
The research from the University of Colorado at Boulder found that subjects who spent more time exposed to natural light and less time in artificial lighting shifted their bedtimes and rising times to up to two hours earlier, while the total number of hours they slept stayed the same.
Findings were published online Aug. 1 in the journal Current Biology.
After the camping trip, the night owls showed the biggest shifts in the timing of their internal clocks, said study researcher Kenneth P. Wright, Jr., an associate professor of physiology.
In the study, researchers took a group of eight adults averaging around the age of 30 to Colorado's Rocky Mountains for a week while wearing a wristband device that measures light exposure. Campers could use only natural sources of light, such as sunlight and a campfire, and abstained from using computers, flashlights, and mobile phones.
Prior to the camping trip, subjects also spent a week living their normal lives while wearing the wrist device. Also, both before the trip and after it ended, researchers measured levels of the hormone melatonin, which regulates sleep and wakefulness.
While camping, subjects were exposed to four times more natural light, on average, than those who lived their normal lives.
"After exposure to the natural light dark cycle, melatonin levels were low just before the volunteers woke up, suggesting our brain is starting to promote wakefulness after we have been exposed to these natural cues," Wright told the BBC.
Still, if you'd rather pass on tents and bug spray, the study does offer some useful advice for your everyday life.
"We can achieve earlier bedtimes by having people be outside more, especially in the morning," Wright told NPR. "You could start your day with a morning walk. Raise the shades in the house. Or if you read the newspaper, do it outside."
"On the flip side," he added, "reduce exposure to light at night by dimming the lights or computers. This is especially important within the hour prior before bedtime."
Access the study: http://www.cell.com/current-biology/retrieve/pii/S0960982213007641.