For those who have trouble sleeping, consider taking a walk in a park, or at least looking out a window.

People who live close to green spaces and bodies of water are less likely to report having bad sleep, according to a sample of 245,000 Americans. The research, led by community health professor Diana Grigsby-Toussaint of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, found this effect was strongest in men and people over 65 years of age.

“Studies show that inadequate sleep is associated with declines in mental and physical health, reduced cognitive function, and increased obesity,” said Grigsby-Toussaint in a statement. “This new study shows that exposure to a natural environment may help people get the sleep they need.”

People who live near parks and natural green spaces are more likely to engage in moderate and vigorous physical activity, and even light exercise helps people sleep better. Research suggests that people who take walks are also reaping mental health benefits like less depression and lower stress levels – things that can aid in getting a good night’s sleep. Spending prolonged time outdoors helps align the body to natural day- and night-time, which helps strengthen the hormone signal melatonin that’s responsible for those feelings of sleepiness you get in the evening.

The analysts found that people who reported having the worst sleep – 21 to 29 days of restless nights out of 30 – also had the lowest odds of being exposed to natural green spaces. The effect was especially strong in men and people over 65 years old, but the relationship was weak in women.

“We speculate that women might have more safety concerns compared to men when engaging in outdoor activities, but more research is needed to explore this hypothesis further,” said Grigsby-Toussaint.

Not everyone is lucky enough to live in beach communities, or near national parks. For urban dwellers, Grigsby-Toussaint recommends that they be intentional about seeking encounters with nature, no matter how small the scale. And, she hopes that community planners take these findings and use them to develop neighborhoods that emphasize walking through parks and other green public spaces.

In Minneapolis, city planners are investing $50 million into the 12-block Nicollet Mall in order to make it more green and pedestrian friendly.

“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,” said Grigsby-Toussaint.  August 25, 2015

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