If you’re a man – or over 65 – and having trouble sleeping, spending a little more time in natural surroundings may be the fix you need. A new investigation from the University of Illinois explored the influence of natural settings on sleep and found a clear benefit for men, regardless of age, and on seniors of both sexes. The natural setting could be a nearby park, beach, or area with an ocean view, the researchers found. They reached this conclusion by first reviewing data from a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) survey of 255,171 representative U.S. adults, to determine whether there was a link between days of self-reported insufficient sleep and access to green space. They then conducted their own survey, which revealed that men and women reporting 21 to 29 days of insufficient sleep had less access to green space and natural amenities than those who reported less trouble sleeping. Study leader Diana S. Grigsby-Toussaint noted that living near green spaces is associated with higher levels of physical activity, a contributor that predicts sleeping well. She suggested that men more than women benefited from the activity, perhaps because older women took less advantage of natural surroundings out of safety concerns.
My take: I can testify to the beneficial influence of spending time in natural settings. As I’ve gotten older, I have found that I need regular time in quiet outdoor spaces – my mood suffers if I don’t take a nature break. In recent years, we’ve been learning more from scientific studies about the benefits to health associated with natural settings. I’ve written on this site about “forest therapy”, the physiological impact of spending time in the woods being studied in Japan. Research there indicates that this interaction with nature can lower levels of cortisol, the hormone that rises when we're under stress. It can also lower blood pressure and pulse rate and trigger a dramatic increase in the activity of natural killer (NK) cells, which are produced by the immune system to ward off infection and fight cancer. I’m not at all surprised to read that natural settings – and associated physical activity – have beneficial effects on sleep.