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Want To Sleep Better? Go Outdoors

New research reveals a link between access to parks and better shut-eye.


by Sarah Mahoney

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If you’re looking to improve the quality of your sleep, one solution might be as simple as trying to spend more time outdoors. New research from the University of Illinois reports that people who have greater access to parks and beaches sleep better than those who don’t. And the finding holds especially true for men.

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Why women don’t seem to get quite as much benefit as men isn’t clear yet, says Diana Grigsby-Toussaint, Ph.D., a U of I professor of kinesiology and community health. For her, the interest is personal: How well people rest became extra-fascinating to her after she had a baby. “Let’s just say I developed an appreciation for the importance of sleep,” she says. After studying the connections between lack of sleep and its effect on everything from childhood obesity to cognitive decline, “I thought it would be interesting to see if there was a link between sleep and green spaces.”

Working with data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which surveyed more than 255,000 adults on their sleep in the past month, the team found that people who said they hadn’t gotten enough sleep for 21 to 29 days were consistently less likely to have access to green space than those who reported insufficient sleep on fewer than seven days.

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Because there is plenty of evidence linking higher levels of physical activity with better quality sleep, she expected that see a similar impact on everyone. “We thought yes, the more green spaces available to them, the more active they’ll be, so the better they’d sleep.” It was surprising to find that while this held true for men, women like her typically miss out on the benefits.

One theory: Grigsby-Toussaint says it’s possible that women may take less advantage of green spaces because of safety concerns. But she says the research has convinced her to spend more time outside. “I’ve always loved being outdoors, and it’s especially easy now that I have a four-year-old who loves to go to the park. So it’s nice that my research has given me more incentive to do what I like doing anyway."