Get Your ZZZs in the Natural World

Sleep quality improved when men, older adults had access to nature


Getting out into nature may offer more benefits than just the scenery.

A new study from the University of Illinois (U of I) found that men and older adults slept better when they had access to nature.

"It’s hard to overestimate the importance of high-quality sleep," said lead study author Diana Grigsby-Toussaint, PhD, a professor of kinesiology and community health at U of I, in a press release. "Studies show that inadequate sleep is associated with declines in mental and physical health, reduced cognitive function, and increased obesity. This new study shows that exposure to a natural environment may help people get the sleep they need."

Dr. Grigsby-Toussaint and team used data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System to look at 255,171 US adults.

The geographical areas in which these participants lived were then matched with their sleep reports. In particular, these researchers focused on the number of natural amenities and hours of natural sunlight.

Sunlight is known to help regulate the body’s natural sleep rhythm.

In response to questions about sleep quality in the last month, most participants reported that they had slept poorly for less than one week.

Those who reported 21 to 29 days of poor sleep tended to have less access to green space and natural light than those who slept better.

Men of any age were more likely to show a link between access to nature and sleep.

Both men and women over 65 also reported better sleep if they had regular access to green space.

"If there is a way for persons over 65 to spend time in nature, it would improve the quality of their sleep — and their quality of life — if they did so," Dr. Grigsby-Toussaint said. "And, specifically, our results provide an incentive for nursing homes and communities with many retired residents to design buildings with more lighting, create nature trails and dedicated garden spaces, and provide safe outdoor areas that encourage outdoor activity for men and women."

This study was published online in the August issue of the journal Preventive Medicine.

The National Institutes of Health funded this research. No conflicts of interest were disclosed.