We may not be abandoning our lights, phones and laptops anytime soon, but new research suggests we should considering letting the outdoors in a little more often -- if we want to sleep well at night.
The price of being able to choose our bedtimes and staying up after dark is losing our natural cues, says integrative physiologist Kenneth Wright of the University of Colorado, Boulder. Leading a study on insomnia, Wright found that the more we rely on artificial light, the more likely we are to feel out-of-sorts and tired.
The research team explored how our body's internal clock and the production of melatonin -- the chemical that makes us feel drowsy -- relates to our environment. In "natural" conditions, the hormone is produced as we ready for bed, and then decreases as we become more alert in the morning.
However, by keeping odd schedules, our internal clock shifts. So if we all suddenly lost artificial light, what would happen?
Wright and his team equipped eight subjects with activity trackers, light intensity detectors and motion sensors. In week one, the volunteers went about their daily lives before spending 24 hours in-lab where their melatonin levels were measured.
In week two, the group went on vacation to the Colorado Rockies -- able to sleep and wake up whenever they desires, but left without access to any type of artificial light, left with only the sun and campfire. After returning, the volunteers were once again tested.
The scientists found that while the subjects got approximately the same amount of sleep in both weeks, when removed from artificial lighting, internal clocks began to shift to align with the sun. Melatonin was produced right after sunset -- hours before modern-day cycles -- and shut off again after sunrise.
The research could pave the way for additional studies into the habits of "night owls," and potentially could be used to explore ways that we can cure our early-morning drowsy states.
The report can be found in the journal Current Biology.
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