For this study, researchers out of the UK focused on a group of people who are notoriously lacking in sleep: college students. They instructed 104 students who reported occasional trouble sleeping to take mindful 30- to 35-minute walks every day for a week. About half of the students were told to stroll through a lush public park, while the other half were directed to walk through a busy urban area in Edinburgh. Each student filled out a questionnaire about their sleep habits and quality before and after the week of walks.
Spending time in nature reduces stress and cognitive fatigue, so researchers were curious to see if these benefits would also extend to better sleep. Stressful thoughts, after all, have a way of keeping people up at night. Sure enough, the data demonstrated that the sleep quality of the nature group improved more than it did in the urban group on average—though it improved in both groups. As for why these walks promoted sleep, it could be the healthy movement, the introduction of a steady routine, the dose of vitamin D, the stress reduction—or, more likely, a mix of all these factors.
Both groups also reported better moods and increased levels of mindfulness after the week was up. So while it seems that taking a mindful walk anywhere regularly will deliver serious psychological benefits, doing so in a natural environment will pay off even more for your rest.