Having access to natural environments in the form of a park, ocean vistas or sandy beaches is linked to significantly better sleep quality in men and seniors, according to a new study led by the University of Illinois.

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Researchers suggest preserving the natural environment may be important for improving sleep quality.

In the journal Preventive Medicine, the team explains that while they found a positive link between sleep and exposure to natural amenities for all adults in their sample, it was much stronger for men, and for both men and women 65 and over.

Senior author Diana Grigsby-Toussaint, professor of kinesiology and community health, says their findings suggest exposure to natural environments could help people get the sleep they need to maintain good heath.

“Studies show that inadequate sleep is associated with declines in mental and physical health, reduced cognitive function, and increased obesity,” she explains.

For their study, the researchers used data on 255,171 adults recorded in the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The team correlated self-reported data on sleep quality from the BRFSS with data from the US Department of Agriculture about the natural amenities in the vicinities of the respondents.

What the team found suggests poor quality sleep is linked to having fewer natural environments nearby.

Specifically, their analysis shows that BRFSS respondents who reported having insufficient sleep on 21-29 days in the previous month had consistently lower odds of access to natural amenities compared to those who reported insufficient sleep on 1-6 days.

Speculating on reasons behind the link, Prof. Grigsby-Toussaint says living near green spaces is linked to higher levels of physical activity, and this in turn could result in better quality sleep.

She suggests one reason why men appear to benefit more than women could be because women may venture less into natural amenities – perhaps through concerns about safety – but she says more research is needed before we can say this is the case.

This is an important observation, since the study did not investigate whether the respondents actually made use of the natural spaces – just whether they were available.

One message that does appear to come out of the study is that seniors who have trouble sleeping may benefit from access to green spaces. The study also underlines the importance of preserving our natural environment for improving sleep quality. Prof. Grigsby-Toussaint expands on this:

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.”

Meanwhile, Medical News Today recently learned that sleeping on one’s side may reduce the risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. In The Journal of Neuroscience, researchers describe how experiments in rats revealed this position was best for removal of brain waste.