Field of Dreams
Often, when speaking to prospective field instructors or parents of new students, the subject of sleep comes up in some fashion: “How will my child sleep out there?” “Are there tents?” and “How do you keep the [insert name of big scary creature] away?” are all common questions. I always look forward to these sleep-related queries because they allow me to highlight our risk management, the natural beauty of the high desert at night (truly my favorite time of day out there), and talk about just how good the sleep in the field can be. The truth is that there are no scary monsters lurking out in our field area and the weather typically allows for us to sleep out under the stars without tents. (We teach our students how to create primitive shelters in case of inclement weather.) It is this last piece, the importance of good quality sleep, that I want to touch on in this post.
Sleep is the foundation of our waking existence, without it or without good quality sleep, we can be reduced to a mere shadow of our true self, shuffling about and groveling at the feet of our self-imposed captor. Unfortunately for us, and everyone around us, we (myself included) neglect this essential function of our survival all too often in the front-country and it can impact every aspect of our lives from our relationships, performance at school and/or work, and our own mental and physical well-being.
How can you blame us though? There is cable to surf, Netflix to binge, phones to scroll, substances to abuse, junk food to eat, etc., etc.! It is a wonder that anyone is able to get sound sleep in this brave new world at all!
In the field, all of those distractions are stripped away. Instead of Netflix to watch, there are stars to gaze at. Instead of substances to abuse or junk food to eat, there resides the seemingly endless expanse of the Milky Way to ponder. Satellites wiz across the sky and shooting stars burn up in the atmosphere. The temperature is often chilly, perfect for snuggling in a warm sleeping bag. And, however challenging the day may have been, there is always comfort in knowing that we will be awoken again, and anew, by the sun.
As romantic as all this is, the experience of rising with the sun and going to slumber with the stars is woven into our DNA. This biological wisdom is being validated by scientific literature more and more in recent studies on circadian rhythms, sleep hygiene, and the value of natural light exposure and deprivation from artificial light from phones and other devices. The National Institute of Health states, “School-aged children and teens need at least nine hours of sleep a day. Research suggests that adults—including seniors—need at least seven to eight hours of sleep each day to be well-rested and to perform at their best.” To me, there is no better place to get a great night’s slumber than huddled in a sleeping bag under the bright and beautiful Southwest Utah sky.
Find more information and helpful links from the National Institute of Health here.