Turns Out, Sleeping Outdoors In A Tent Is Good For You

6 Min Read | By Gemma Curtis

Last Modified 15 September 2023   First Added 23 May 2017

This article was written and reviewed in line with our editorial policy.

Camping outdoors – it certainly isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Some people love being woken up gently by the sound of birds and the cosy feel of the tent. But, others couldn’t think of anything worse than sleeping outdoors. If you suffer from sleep problems, however, sleeping in a tent could be the cure you’ve been looking for. We take a look at why and how you should go camping in nature.

The benefits of sleeping outdoors

Sleeping in a tent in the fresh air can have many positive implications on your health and well-being. Let’s explore them…

1. It can reset your circadian rhythm

A group of US scientists recently studied the effects of the natural light-dark cycle on the body’s circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm, also known as the ‘body clock’, is what’s responsible for letting your body know when it is time to sleep. In the study, the scientists, led by Director of Sleep and Chronobiology at the University of Colorado, Kenneth Wright, investigated sleep improvement of participants who spent a week camping on the Rocky Mountains. Sleeping on the side of a mountain they had no artificial light and relied on sunlight, moonlight, and campfire for illumination.

The campers managed to sleep for an average of 10 hours and went to bed roughly two hours earlier than they would at home. Wright also reported they had increased activity during the day. The participants’ melatonin levels were tested after the study and the scientists found it increased two and a half hours earlier than before the trip. Melatonin is the hormone produced when our body is getting ready to sleep, which is a strong indicator that the sleep cycle was improved with natural light.

Wright and his team completed a second study in which they sent participants to the same mountains for a weekend. He compared these to people who spent a weekend at home. Though the time spent camping was a third of the previous study, the results were not too dissimilar. The campers still went to bed around two hours earlier than those at home. They were also exposed to four times more natural sunlight than those at home, due to their time outdoors.

How To Reset Your Body Clock Infographic

2. It can help to reduce stress

Spending time in nature has been proven to reduce psychological stress in research. The study shows that people who are exposed to the natural environment report considerably lower stress levels than people who visited an indoor space or outdoor urban area. The relationship between nature and stress has been closely researched over time. Another study published in Environment and Behavior looks at how individuals can reduce stress just by looking at trees. Next time you’re feeling overwhelmed and stressed, why not try stepping out into the beautiful outdoors.

3. It improves your brain function

This is because the oxygen quality is better in outdoor air. While sleeping in the fresh air your brain is then able to work faster and this can help you concentrate. Next time you have a task where you need to focus, take a step outside, and enjoy the fresh air.

Tips for camping outdoors

If you think a camping trip would be the perfect thing to improve your sleeping pattern, we have some tips on how you can make outdoor sleeping extra comfortable.

  • Keep dry – if you’re wet and cold, you won’t sleep well. Bring a waterproof tarp for extra rain protection. Active.com says, ‘Tarps can be made into a canopy, used as a footprint under your tent to keep water from seeping through the seams, and can even be thrown over top of the tent for added rain protection.’
  • Camp on a level surface – you don’t want all your belongings at the bottom of the tent or a banging headache from a blood-rushed skull. Keeping a level surface will also lessen the chances of puddles or weather damage around your tent.
  • Get comfy – bring an air mattress or comfortable sleeping pad along with sleeping bags and pillows. If you get too hot, sleep outside of the covers.
  • Cover your eyes and ears – in the summer, the sun rises early, which may wake you up. If you’re planning on sleeping in a tent invest in an eye mask and some earplugs to block out your surroundings. REI.com says, ‘Earplugs block out, or at least dampen, noises ranging from your tent mate’s snoring to rustling sounds in the bushes.’

Tips from wildlife filmmaker Doug Allen

What is it like to sleep in the wild in a tent? We asked wildlife cameraman Doug Allan who spends a disproportionate amount of time in remote places to share his thoughts and experiences sleeping outdoors. He said: ­­­­­­­

‘The trick is to stay warm! When sleeping in bags rather than beds, the secret is to stay warm. Cooling down in your bag and poor sleep is a certainty. If you’re out camping on the ice, get layers beneath you. The Inuit starts with a sheet of plywood for insulation as the ice doesn’t melt underneath it. For a mattress they lay down a double layer of musk ox skins with caribou on top, then a sleeping bag. I prefer a generously sized bag rather than the tapered ‘mummy bags’ that some use. I find mummies just too tight, and also tricky when you want to pee.’

The Bear Encounter Experience

Spending the night outside in nature also means you’ll need to watch out for the wildlife. Doug tells us about his encounter with a bear…

‘On one memorable trip, I was travelling with Andrew, my Inuit guide. It was early March and still very cold. I was on assignment for National Geographic, looking for bears. We’d camped for the night on the sea ice in Lancaster Sound north of Baffin Island. I woke to the sensation of something repeatedly touching my feet. For a few seconds, I lay quiet. Andrew was snoring on his side of the tent. Who was it then outside? Slowly I emerged from the depths of my bag and looked down to the far end of the tent.’

‘Silhouetted through the back-lit canvas was the unmistakable profile of a very big bear. A tiny corner of my caribou-fur sleeping mat was twitching as he pawed at it. I wouldn’t say I was scared, but I did feel rather concerned. I nudged Andrew awake, who was remarkably laid back. His suggestion was ‘Stick your head out the tent flap. He’ll go away.’ To which I could only reply, ‘How about you stick your head outside the tent, Andrew.’ As ever, he was right. This bear was so wary that, in the time it took us to pull our boots on and look outside, he was ambling across the ice away from the camp. Time for us to go back to sleep.’

Camping checklist

Before you sleep outdoors make sure you are prepared. Here are some of the essentials you’ll need to pack when planning a camping trip…

  • Tent and tent pegs
  • Sleeping bag
  • Sleeping mat or air bed
  • Pillows
  • Cooking equipment, utensils, and food
  • Water and a water bottle
  • Torch and batteries
  • First aid kit
  • Camping chair
  • Binbag

Make sure you don’t leave any rubbish behind and respect the beautiful outdoors.

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