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Forest Bathing: The Secret To A Better Night's Sleep

Forest Bathing: The Secret To A Better Night's Sleep

As the weather gets warmer and people start spending more time outside, it's the perfect time to try forest bathing. This well-being practice improves your overall health and sleep quality through exposure to the natural environment. This is also why it's also known as shinrin-yoku, which means “forest medicine” in Japanese.

Whilst this practice has been around since the 1980s, it's gaining a lot of popularity online, with the #forestbathing having over 46 million views on TikTok and the number of people Googling ‘forest bathing' increasing by 132% in the last three months* alone.

So to help encourage Brits to take up the sleep-inducing practice, we've explained exactly what it is before sharing the top five sleep benefits of forest bathing. We've also uncovered the top 10 forests in the UK to practice this technique after analysing 13,631 TripAdvisor reviews, so you can see if you live near any of them, too!

What is forest bathing?

Whilst forest bathing may sound like you go to a forest to take a bath in a pond or lake, this isn't exactly true. Instead, it's the act of walking through a forest (or wood) and taking time to slow down and immerse yourself in nature. You soak up the sights, sounds, smells and textures of the environment which, in turn, lower your cortisol levels (otherwise known as the stress hormone) and create more positive emotions such as joy, vitality and peacefulness.

Forest bathing isn't just about spending time outdoors in beautiful scenery; it's about feeling it. Here are our top tips for igniting your senses:

  • Wear comfortable clothing and shoes that allow your feet to sink into the ground as you walk to feel more connected to the earth. If you plan on getting wet or going out on a rainy day, make sure you have waterproof shoes, too. This will prevent your mind from focusing on uncomfortable shoes or clothing.
  • Smell the air as you walk through trees and pass any plants. Think about which smells are strongest and take in the environment. Can you smell pine needles, wildflowers or others?
  • Notice the sounds of rustling leaves, birds and other animals. If you see any, try to identify them by size, shape, colour, and patterns. Or, if you spot an animal moving through the trees quickly, try to guess what it might be.
  • Touch your surroundings. As you pass a tree, brush it with your hand to feel its roughness, or reach out and touch the leaves of an overhanging branch to see its texture. Feel the texture of leaves, moss and other plants. If you see flowers, pick one (if it's allowed).
  • Stroll through the forest or wood until you find a spot where you feel comfortable sitting down. You may find a log or a rock ledge looking over some greenery. Next, take some deep breaths as you listen to the sounds around you - from the birds chirping, insects buzzing, or the wind rustling through the trees.

Forest with lake

Five sleep benefits of forest bathing

Springtime is the perfect time to try forest bathing, not just because it's a beautiful time to spend outdoors but because many people suffer from sleep-related problems during the change in seasons for several reasons.

Firstly, we get an extra hour of light which can make it harder to sleep at night as our internal body clock is confused about why it's no longer dark in the late afternoon. Then there are the added social pressures that come with spring - people make more plans and may drink more - both of which can negatively impact a person's sleep as it's no longer as much of a priority.

However, by making forest bathing a daily habit, you can overcome these sleep-related issues and keep your body clock in sync.

1. 17 minutes spent outdoors can reset your body clock

If you are short on time, just 17 minutes a day (or 120 minutes a week) spent in nature and the forest can reset your circadian rhythm, otherwise known as your body clock. A study found that this amount of time spent outdoors is associated with good health and well-being, leading to a better night's sleep.

Additionally, a separate study discovered that being outdoors can reset your internal body clock to be more in tune with nature. Those who spent more time outdoors discovered their sleep hormone (or melatonin) started to rise at sunset, around two hours earlier than their usual bedtime, meaning they got to sleep much faster. They also woke earlier the following day, alongside the sunrise.

2. It can help set a sleep routine for those with insomnia

Raise your hands if you struggle to sleep, and when you get to sleep, wake up multiple times during the night. If that's you, you aren't alone. Around 1 in 3 people is said to have insomnia worldwide. It's the most common sleep disorder and can be caused by stress and anxiety, as well as a poor sleep environment - among other things.

However, by immersing yourself in nature, you are exposing yourself to natural light that tells your brain when it is time to wake up and be alert. By ensuring your room is dark at night and you are away from electronics that emit blue light, you are telling your brain to sleep and helping it fall into a routine.

In addition, being in nature reduces the ‘fight or flight' response and allows you to calm down and decompress, reducing stress levels that stop you from sleeping. With that, you can focus your mind clearly, allowing you to sleep quicker.

3. Nature can reduce negative, repetitive thoughts

More than 50% of the world lives in urban areas, with that expected to rise to 6 billion people in the year 2045. A study highlighted the benefits of taking time in nature for those with negative, repetitive thoughts living in urban areas.

The researchers found that just a 90-minute walk in natural scenery reduced those thoughts compared to those who took the same length of walk through an urban area. The results show that taking time out in nature is essential as those thoughts can keep you awake throughout the night, affecting your mood and productivity the next day.

4. You are less likely to feel groggy the next day

If you feel groggy when waking after sleep or you feel that your quality of sleep wasn't right, you need to start heading outdoors.

Exposure to sunlight during the day will help to solve those issues. Not only will it make you feel more tired at night, but it will shorten the time it takes to get you to sleep and improve the quality of your sleep cycles. This is important because those sleep cycles will affect how you get up in the morning and your ability to concentrate throughout the day.

5. From just 17 minutes a day, you'll notice your stress levels will go down

Walking through nature will, ultimately, help your stress levels. Just short periods each day will help the stress hormone cortisol decrease. It doesn't matter if you walk through the forest or sit and enjoy the scenery - just try to get outdoors.

High-stress levels will prolong how long it takes to get to sleep - typically around 20 minutes - and when you do fall asleep, you will likely experience fragmented sleep cycles. Disruptions in those sleep cycles will significantly affect your mood the next day and even your falling asleep the next night.

Uncovered: The best places to forest bathe in the UK

To share the best places to start forest bathing this summer, we have reviewed the best-rated UK forests on TripAdvisor and analysed 13,631 reviews to calculate the number of times the word ‘peaceful' was mentioned. We then calculated the percentage of those that mention the word ‘peaceful' to reveal the top 10 forests in the UK for forest bathing in your spare time and even the sleep benefits you will see from doing this.

Forest bathing infographic

Anagach Wood is the best place to forest bathe in the Highlands

Overwhelmingly, the data suggests that Anagach Woods in the Highlands is the best place to forest bathe, with 1 in 8 (12%) of the total reviews of the forest mentioning the words ‘peaceful'.

The woods are a beautiful attraction, and several good trails throughout the forest even take in the River Spey. Plus, you can even get public transport there if you are unable to drive.

The second best place for forest bathing is Rendlesham Forest in Suffolk

Situated in an area of outstanding natural beauty, it's little surprise that 9% of the reviews for Rendlesham Forest mentioned ‘peaceful'. There are walking trails, facilities, and play equipment for children to get them outdoors and in a better bedtime routine for school.

Additionally, there are cycle trails and camping spots where you can switch off from the outside world and reset your circadian rhythm by sleeping when the sun sets and waking up when the sun rises.

The third most ‘peaceful' spot for forest bathing is Penllergare Valley Woods in Swansea

Boasting seven miles of woodland walks, over 500 hundred years of history, wildflowers, and birds, Penllergare Valley Woods takes the third spot in our list of best places to forest bathe. 8% of all reviews for the forest featured the word ‘peaceful', suggesting it is one of the greatest places in the UK to bask in the sights and sounds of nature before going to sleep.

The site is famous for its waterfall. And this should help you sleep with the sound of water being said to reduce your ‘fight or flight' response, which can alert your body and stop you from sleeping.

Top 20 UK Forests for Forest Bathing Location Mentions of 'Peaceful' in Reviews Percentage of Total Number of Reviews
1. Anagach Woods The Highlands 44 12.12%
2. Rendlesham Forest Centre Suffolk 26 8.81%
3. Penllergare Valley Woods Swansea 33 7.84%
4. Cardinham Woods Cornwall 18 5.37%
5. Wyre Forest West Midlands 20 5.36%
6. The Forest of Dean Gloucestershire 32 5.06%
7. Sherwood Forest Nottinghamshire 36 4.77%
8. Hamsterley Forest County Durham 19 4.56%
9. Sherwood Pines Nottinghamshire 34 3.98%
10. Glenariff Forest Park County Antrim 14 3.93%

Lavender

Three ways to bring forest bathing into your home

While we recommend spending at least 17 minutes each day in nature to reap the benefits of forest bathing truly, you can incorporate the sleep trend at home to further help you sleep.

1. Recreate the smells of the forest at home

We know that certain sounds can help you sleep by eliminating external noises, such as roadwork or even your partner snoring. But smells - specifically plant-derived smells - can enhance mood and calmness, helping you sleep.

You can recreate the smells of the forest with sage, lavender and rose scents sprayed in your bedroom or on your pillow specifically. Sage can help those with increasingly repetitive thoughts when attempting to sleep, while the smell of roses naturally relaxes and reduces anxiety during sleep. Lavender has also long been known to aid in lulling people to sleep due to its sedative properties.

2. Listen to the sounds of the forest when sleeping

The best sounds to fall asleep to depend on each person and their preference. However, previous studies have suggested that listening to sounds associated with nature can help you relax and even stop you from waking up during the night.

Start with the sounds of ocean waves, the woods and wilderness or raindrops to see if they help calm you and then introduce them into your usual nighttime routine. Before long, your brain will start associating those sounds with going to sleep, which can help you fall asleep faster.

3. Inject the colours of the forest into your bedroom

The colour green represents nature and, of course, forests. It's also one of the most recommended bedroom colours due to its calming properties. If you truly want to surround yourself with nature, transform your bedroom into a green oasis. Whether that includes painting your walls green, opting for green bedding or green bed, or even hanging green artwork in your room. Other paint colours that can lull you to sleep are muted blues, brown and white, associated with tranquillity and reducing stress levels.

If you want to replicate the outdoors, read up on the best bedroom plants to help you sleep or consider adding a wooden bed. And, if you now want to redecorate your bedroom, we can reveal how limewashing can help your sleep improve.

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Methodology

Google Keyword Planner and TikTok data sourced between March 2022 - February 2023. We then used TripAdvisor to find the top-rated 20 forests in the UK, calculated the number of times the word ‘peaceful' was mentioned and calculated the percentage of the total number of reviews to reveal the top forests for forest bathing.

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