Could You Sleep Better Without Clocks?

Would You Sleep Better Living Without Clocks?

I’ve tried nearly every trick imaginable to get more restful sleep. For a long time, nothing worked: not a regular bedtime, herbal supplements, turning computers off before bed, or even a weekend away from work.

Then I found unexpected bliss at a famous device-free “Summer camp for adults” retreat in Mendocino, California’s Redwood forest, where I enjoyed one of the best nights of sleep I can remember.

Unlike other fun filled vacations, Camp Grounded employs an innovative trick that the founder, Levi Felix, learned from living with the Bedouins: no clocks. No time is kept or displayed anywhere. Instead, campers are told to show up for lunch “around midday.” Or, say, A camp singalong may start in “about the length of a Simpsons episode.”

At first, I didn’t think much of this unusual clockless feature. In fact, I found the lack of rigorous scheduling a tad irritating. But as the weekend went on, I felt awash with unusual calm—a calm I didn’t experience elsewhere. Something was different.

Indeed, after I left the loving embrace of a clockless existence, my fatigue returned. I tried in vain to replicate my bliss, but couldn’t even on weekends vacationing in other natural environments.

Here’s an explanation behind the science of what I experienced, Camp Grounded’s approach, and how I retested the experiment.


To investigate my pleasant discovery, I turned to science and every imaginable healthy quantification technology I could find. The first and most obvious choice, sleep trackers, such as the Basis Watch, were a dead end. All the wearable trackers suggested I was getting a perfectly normal night’s sleep (about 50% light sleep, 25% REM and 25% deep sleep). Yet everyone morning I woke up wasted.

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