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Make Like a Nordic Baby and Take a Nap Outside

In adults, sleeping outdoors can improve your sleep, may give your eyes a break and reap more health benefits.

Jessica Rendall Wellness Reporter
Jessica is a writer on the Wellness team with a focus on health technology, eye care, nutrition and finding new approaches to chronic health problems. When she's not reporting on health facts, she makes things up in screenplays and short fiction.
Expertise Public health, new wellness technology and health hacks that don't cost money Credentials
  • Added coconut oil to cheap coffee before keto made it cool.
Jessica Rendall
4 min read
A man taking a nap outside with a book on his face
J.A. Bracchi/Getty Images

A common practice in some Scandinavian countries slipped into central focus earlier this year when a TikTok video panning covered strollers lined up neatly outside on a Norwegian sidewalk went viral.

"Another day in Norway, another group of babies left out in the cold," the video creator, Olly Bowman, joked, alluding to the babies presumably asleep in those strollers.

While the practice may induce some gasps and pearl clutching in the US and other countries, parents setting their infants outside for a quick nap is common in many Nordic and Scandinavian homes. (Note: This story is not a recommendation for putting babies to sleep outside or in their strollers. For sleep safety, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends moving babies to a firm sleep surface on their backs if they fall asleep in a stroller or a car seat.) 

But if you pivot the trend to adults instead of babies, you may uncover some health benefits. Let us explain. 

Benefits of being outdoors for myopia control 

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In an interview for another story on how nearsightedness (myopia) and farsightedness (hyperopia) develops, Dr. Viola Kanevsky, a past president of the New York State Optometric Association, said that more time outdoors and in daylight can't be proven to slow or correct myopia in adults. But research shows that is the case for school children, and those who spend more time outdoors may get a head start in one of the simplest measures researchers know of that staves off myopia risk.

"We think that's actually what has to happen," Kanevsky said of the early and frequent outdoor exposure. Researchers aren't sure whether, or in what balance, children get some degree of myopia control from focusing on objects at a distance or from exposure to full spectrum light.

But while being outside or gazing at the sky won't have the same effect on eye health for you as it would for a child, that doesn't mean it's not useful to you. As an alternative to measures with sparse evidence supporting their use, like blue light glasses, Kanevsky suggested taking breaks from the computer and going to take a walk outside -- if only to reduce symptoms of eye strain in a more fun way than practicing the 20-20-20 rule, for example.

Perks of sleeping outdoors as an adult (or at least, spending time outdoors)

We know the benefits of limiting sources of artificial light before bedtime (at least two hours), and it's possible that peaceful elements of nature may make those benefits even stronger. A small study from 2013 followed eight campers for two weeks and found that they eventually started going to bed about two hours earlier, correcting to a more "natural" circadian rhythm pattern for humans, in line with sunrise and sunset.

Other benefits of sleeping outdoors, according to CNET's sister site Healthline, include psychological improvements, such as easing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. 

If you're not much of a camper or an outdoor napper, research has also found that getting sunlight soon after waking up in the morning helps rev our energy up for the day, even if it's just stepping outside for 20 or 30 minutes.

How to sleep outside safely as an adult 

Choose a safe and quiet area 

You're not as vulnerable as an immobile baby in a stroller without neck support, but still, scan your environment and assess the risk before you voluntarily choose to go unconscious. It may be best, for these reasons, to stick to napping in your backyard or other private space. 

Protect yourself from the sun 

If you've ever fallen asleep at the beach, you know what kind of sunburn may be there when you wake up from a nap outside. If you're planning a quick nap outside, protect the more vulnerable parts of your body with a hat and sunglasses to block UV rays. 

And always, make sure you're freshly lathered and have recently reapplied sunscreen, on both your face and body

Follow other sleep hygiene tips, like not napping too late in the day  

So you don't disrupt your nighttime sleep schedule and throw yourself off track, keep your nap around 20 minutes long and make sure you're not sleeping too late in the day (an early afternoon nap may be key). 

You can try to time your Nordic baby nap with the time most people naturally start to feel the weight of the day and get drained, usually around 1 to 3 p.m. But this will depend on individual sleep factors, such as your sleep chronotype or language

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.