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The Summer (Sleep) Slide

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“One must maintain a little bit of summer, even in the middle of winter.”  – Henry David Thoreau

With summer sadly coming to a close, we see the days getting shorter and the temperature starting to cool. For some climates, this translates into less time spent outdoors. What do these environmental changes have to do with our sleep? And how can we best adapt?

The importance of the natural environment for our sleep was recently highlighted in an article in Preventative Medicine. The authors examined to what extent characteristics of the natural environment, like access to natural amenities and greenspace, were linked to getting enough sleep. Access to greenspace, oceanfront or other bodies of water, sunlight exposure, and temperature (including low humidity) was hypothesized to directly or indirectly affect sleep.

A positive relationship with our natural environment could indirectly affect our sleep by affecting our well-being and activity levels, which are important for healthy sleep:

Graphic 1 - natural environment indirectly affecting sleep

Also, a positive natural environment could directly impact sleep by providing sufficient light and appropriate temperature for a healthy sleep-wake cycle:

Graphic 2 - natural environment directly affecting sleep

People with less access to natural amenities and greenspace were at a higher risk for feeling like they did not get enough sleep. This link was particularly strong for men and for adults age 65+.

The authors cautioned that the study had several limitations including measuring access to the natural environment, rather than actual use of the environment. However, the results have interesting implications for thinking about how seasonal changes may affect our sleep. We know that physical activity and outdoor light exposure is important for maintaining healthy sleep. Also, spending time outdoors is linked to better mental well-being, which is important for our sleep. As we gear up for fall, perhaps we can take heed of Mr. Thoreau’s suggestion and think about how to take a bit of summer with us so that we can maximize our natural environments.

Natalie Dautovich

Natalie Dautovich, Ph.D., is the National Sleep Foundation's Environmental Scholar. She is also appointed at Virginia Commonwealth University as an Assistant Professor of Counseling Psychology in the Department of Psychology. She received her doctorate in Counseling Psychology from the University of Florida and completed a post-doctoral research fellowship at the University of South Florida. Dr. Dautovich’s research focuses on behavioral sleep medicine and geropsychology. Specifically, she studies sleep and behavioral rhythms such as daily routines across the adult lifespan. She has published articles, book chapters, and a handbook on sleep and health and presented her research at national conferences.

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