We even have research to prove it: A pair of studies out of the University of Colorado–Boulder sent people on a weeklong camping trip during the winter and summer. Participants measured their internal clocks (via saliva samples that showed melatonin levels) before and after the excursion, and sure enough, after a week of sleeping under the stars, these clocks more closely matched the natural cycles of light and dark.
“The system is flexible. It can shift, and it can shift quite quickly,” Lockley tells me. This is important because the way society is set up right now really doesn’t do our clocks any favors. Late-night screen time and days spent in dark rooms separate us from the light-dark cycles of the sun and moon, causing our internal clocks to go a bit haywire. These clocks—housed in the hypothalamus region of the brain—serve as essential timekeepers for the entire body. If they’re irregular and out of sync, you can bet that other important processes are too; from sleep to digestion to immune function.
For this reason, Lockley says we “really need to encourage people to reduce the variability in their circadian clocks. And the way to do that is to keep a very regular light-dark schedule.” Ditching artificial light and heading to the woods is one way to do so. But it’s not the only one. Here, Lockley shares how anyone can regulate their circadian rhythm for the sake of their health, from the comfort of their own home: