There’s a reason why people call it “the Great Outdoors.” Or why, when we meet a really friendly and positive person, we say they’re like “a breath of fresh air.”
It’s because getting outside is good for us. And even though sometimes I love nothing better than being cosy inside with my coffee and a great read, other times I need to get out there. To let nature kiss any anxious or tired cobwebs away. Getting my dose of fresh air in clears my mind, keeps me calm and gives me a more optimistic view of the world that day. It even helps me to sleep better at night.
And of course, getting a good night’s sleep is one of the very best – and cheapest! – ways in which we can improve our health. Sites like the Sleep Advisor say so. Physically, it strengthens our immune, digestive and circulatory systems while giving us more energy for whatever challenges life throws our way. Sleep also boosts our mental health – in fact, research shows that some kind of sleep deprivation is present in almost all anxiety-related disorders.
So it serves us well to sleep well; when we do, we improve our moods, our relationships, our careers and our lives. But where does Mother Nature come in, I hear you ask? Good question. Well, the lady of the leaves can help all of us get a better night’s sleep.
1. Nature respects our circadian rhythms
Our circadian rhythms form an internal body clock, which works in sleep/wake cycles throughout the night and day. They’re why we find ourselves getting sleepy in the evening, or sometimes after lunchtime when we crave a nap. If your circadian rhythms are working properly – by getting enough, good-quality sleep – you won’t really notice any dips and rises between sleepiness and alertness. In fact, usually the biggest dip occurs between 2am and 4am, when you should be sound asleep anyway!
The great thing about nature is, it works perfectly in time with this body clock. When the sun sets and darkness falls, we begin to get drowsy and should go to sleep soon after. Similarly, when the sun rises again, so should we. If you’ve ever been camping or trekking for a few days and noticed that you a) go to sleep a lot earlier and b) wake up a lot earlier too, you’ll know what this is like. And you probably felt much more alert that day, right? That’s because you teamed up with nature to follow your natural circadian rhythms. Good job.
2. Nature fosters exercise
Going for a refreshing swim, for an early-morning run or a sunrise beach yoga class are all amazing ways to start your day. They help you to shake off any fuzziness or grogginess from the night before (especially if wine has been involved) and to face the coming hours in a more positive way. Early-morning exercise gets the body stretching and moving, the blood and heart pumping and the energy flowing. And if it happens to take place outdoors, well, even better! Because whether it’s the cold slap of a winter morning or the gentle caress of the sun on your face, there’s nothing quite like waking up to the glory of the outside world. It motivates you to get moving, making you excited about your day instead of wanting to crawl back under the sheets. And getting daily exercise in isn’t just good for your body and mind… it’ll help you to sleep better, too. Win-win!
Of course, it doesn’t just have to be in the morning time. Any time you’re outside and enjoying your surroundings can be an opportunity to get some exercise in. Whether it’s a walk in the park at lunchtime or 5-a-side after work, get moving in the great outdoors… and sleep soundly that night as a result.
3. Nature operates a “no-screens policy”
At least, it should. Because one of the things I love most about nature is that it connects us with the real world, with the present moment rather than the screens and stresses to which our society is constantly tied. Without signal or phone reception, we find ourselves listening instead to the birdsong above our heads, watching the leaves dance in the wind instead of a YouTube trailer for the next blockbuster movie. For me, it’s a much happier and healthier way to be.
Editor’s note: check out GD Meg’s tech timeout meditation and strategies for unplugging!
And because of this removal from our screens, we can enjoy a better sleep, too. This is because our devices like laptops, smartphones and tablets emit what’s called blue light. It blocks the production of melatonin (which we normally rely on to relax) while stimulating a mind that should be settling down. The result? Anxious and stressed-out hours of tossing and turning instead of sweet, deep sleep. So next time you find yourself in nature, be well and truly there. Not Instagramming the moment; actually experiencing it fully. Not only will you enjoy the moment more, you’ll sleep better because of it.
If you’re having trouble sleeping, take my advice – go outside. Embrace all the glory that Mother Nature has to offer and have sweeter dreams as a result. Good night!
Green Diva Sarah Cummings Hey, sleepy heads! I’m Sarah. When I’m not writing about sleep, I’m getting plenty of it. In my waking hours I can be found hiking, practising yoga and trying to teach my dog new tricks. (Which doesn’t usually work. She’s pretty old). 😉