I am the first to admit that I love sleeping outside. Tents, boats, the back of my car, the deck at my parent’s house, even just a meadow somewhere in the mountains—if I’m outside I sleep better and wake up happier. There are occasional less-than-stellar experiences, of course, like a windstorm on the north coast of Iceland where I spent the entire night holding my collapsing tent away from my face, but overall most of my favorite adventures involve sleeping outside.
Turns out scientists think sleeping outside is pretty great too. A slew of recent studies have found that sleeping under the stars has many health benefits, improving both short- and long-term well-being. So dig that sleeping bag out of the attic, find the nearest park or backyard, and borrow, beg or steal a tent: here’s five reasons you should sleep outside at least twice this year.
1. It resets your circadian rhythms.
A recent study from the University of Colorado Boulder found that even a single weekend outside can influence your circadian rhythm, shifting your sleep schedule to line up with natural light cycles. This helps you go to bed and wake up earlier, and even improves the way you wake up; the same study found that people who spent at least a weekend sleeping outside woke up more refreshed and tended to feel less tired throughout the morning after their outdoor experience. The natural morning light trains your system to wake up with the sun instead of an alarm, making for a far more pleasant early morning experience than the shrill of your bedside clock.
2. It gives your immune system a boost.
Spending just a few hours outside can strengthen your immune system. Studies show that just one day in a municipal park can increase immune system activity for a week or more; it works even better in a forest, like the ones that blanket the roots of the Cascade Range.
3. It helps your body and your brain function better.
Sleeping in the fresh air provides better quality oxygen than the stale, indoor air of a house. This means your brain works faster, your body feels better and your muscles break down lactic acid more efficiently. Your morning exercise session will be much more fun if you spend the night outside first!
4. It speeds up your metabolism.
A night outside increases the efficiency of your cells, which speeds up all of your systems—including your digestive system.
5. It’s good for your mental well-being.
A study in Environment and Behavior recently showed that spending time outside reduces stress and can lead to a more positive outlook on life. A night outside, with the stars and the dawn and the soothing rush of the wind, is certainly enough to lower your stress and bring you back to a happier perception of the world. People struggling with hardship or trauma can especially benefit from a night or two—or more—outside; a study from the University of Michigan found that one week of living and sleeping outside improved “psychological well-being, social functioning, and life outlook” in military veterans with PTSD.
Journal of Environment and Behavior, “A Dose-Response Curve Describing the Relationship Between Urban Tree Cover Density and Self-Reported Stress Recovery”
Environmental Health and Preventative Medicine, “The physiological effects of Shinrin-yoku (taking in the forest atmosphere or forest bathing): evidence from field experiments in 24 forests across Japan”
npr.org, “Not Getting Enough Sleep? Camping in February Might Help”
Current Biology, “Entrainment of the Human Circadian Clock to the Natural Light-Dark Cycle”
https://sleepjunkies.com, “7 Amazing Things That Happen to You When You Sleep Outdoors”
healthline.com, “The Health Benefits of Sleeping Under the Stars”
treehugger.com, “Sleepy Office Syndrome”