I live just over an hour north of the glittering shit-pile that is Los Angeles. It’s quiet at my house. Coyotes howl in the hills above me at night while frogs croak from their dry creek bed, and birds sing to each other in the morning. During the day, there isn’t much sound except the wind in the trees. No traffic, no sirens, no horns–none of the usual racket that bangs into your ears in Los Angeles. I moved here after spending three months in a van around Venice. If I could describe that three months in one word, it would be loud. Constant noise. The first few nights when I moved here was strange–the silence after the sun went down was so quiet it was loud. You know what I mean; a silence so deep you can hear the ringing in your ears. Now, of course, I’m used to it. I grew up in a very quiet place, and I think that’s had a hand in my hatred for big city racket, especially at night.
I’m lucky at my house. The internet is terrible and there is no cell reception to speak of. This means, of course, that (although I work from home 90% of the time and get incredibly frustrated with crawling internet speeds), when I’m done working, I’m basically forced to spend a lot of time doing things that are a million times better than trawling the internet for the useless garbage that makes up the brunt of it.
In the summers here, I sleep outside a lot. It’s warm enough on the porch, and I sleep very well in the open. I wake up feeling immeasurably better than I do when I sleep inside–and the more I do it, the better I feel. Waking up with the sun and actually feeling like getting up makes dawn patrol a hell of a lot more enjoyable. Late nights and long sleep ins are bad, I think. I was interested in whether there was any research on why I felt so much better sleeping outside… and as it turns out, there is tons. So here’s a challenge for you: spend a few nights sleeping outside this summer, if you have a place to do it. If you don’t, spend a few nights a week camping. Go about your daily business–work, school, surfing, whatever–but spend your nights away from your television, your phone, and your computer, and do it with the sky for a ceiling. I promise, you’ll feel really, really good. Here are five reasons why:
1. Your internal clock is probably messed up.
“By increasing our exposure to sunlight and reducing our exposure to electrical lighting at night,” says Kenneth Wright, a sleep expert at the University of Colorado, “we can turn our internal clock and sleep times back and likely make it easier to awaken and be alert in the morning.” Your body has a natural circadian rhythm that tells you when you should be tired, and it’s dependent on natural light. Going to sleep at night is a day-long process: the rising sun triggers your body to release hormones that wake you up, and a lightbulb, while it wakes you up, doesn’t make our bodies do exactly what they’re meant to. Natural light throughout the day triggers your body to release melatonin when the light starts to disappear, and melatonin, for those of you who’ve tried the pills, can knock you out.
This is probably something you’ve noticed. It’s 3 am, and you’re wide awake. You’ve been staring at your screen for hours, scrolling through the rabbit hole of the internet, wondering why you’re not getting tired, feeling slightly panicky about waking up for work the next day. Although it’s probably something you already know, a little bit of sunlight and a little bit of exercise go a long way to a good night’s sleep. If you sleep outside, do it without a screen in front of you. Bring a book and a headlamp, if you have to. Count stars. Just stay off the screen.
2. It’ll make you lose weight.
Seriously. If you’re a little on the pudgy side, sleeping outside will help you lose weight, especially if you do it when it’s a little colder outside. We’ve got something called brown fat, and according to studies, brown fat plays a role in regulating body temperature. Sleeping outside in cooler weather kickstarts the brown fat. Surprisingly, a few nights a week outside in cooler temperatures can make a difference in regulating your temperature all year around. Obviously, though, I’m not talking about sleeping naked in a snowstorm. That will kill you. And while death is also a good weight-loss solution, you should try and avoid it.
3. Stress’ll kill ya.
Stress is bad for you. I’m not talking about stress in every sense of the word–a little stress here and there is good for you. Get scared, do things that make you uncomfortable. But the stress that you feel from everyday life isn’t good. You’ve seen the studies about stress and heart-disease and blah blah blah. You know it’s bad for you. But simply spending time outside makes stress go away. You don’t have to do anything at all. Just go look at a tree. Go sit in some grass. Go float around in the ocean. Go sleep outside. A whole night of fresh air will do you a world of good. It’s exponential, too. Wake up feeling good, have a better day, go to sleep feeling better, wake up feeling even better, and so on and so on.
4. Simplify, simply.
“Our life is frittered away by detail,” said Henry D. It’s strange how much having constant distractions can make you forget about what’s really important. It’s hard to concentrate on your goals when you’re staring at butts on Instagram or a monkey riding a pig on Youtube. Sleeping outside is a good way to force yourself to shut off all those distractions. Leave your phone somewhere else, pack your computer away, and spend the evening just simply thinking about shit. If you get bored, keep doing it… that’s just your internet-riddled brain talking. Tell it to shut up and get back to normal.
I can’t find any evidence to back this up, but I swear to God, sleeping outside makes hangovers so much better. Last night, I drank a half a bottle of bourbon. I should feel like shit. But I woke up feeling like one of those chipper assholes that bursts in your door, yelling some annoying form of “wakey wakey eggs and bakey.” I want those people to drop dead.