The idea of sleeping under the stars amidst the musical backdrop of nature sounds like a magical experience with your very own all-natural white noise machine. But the reality of sleeping on the ground while camping is that it’s much louder than you expected and a whole lot less comfortable than you’re used to.
However, it is possible to get a good night’s sleep while camping. Just read on for our top tips.
10 tips to sleep well while camping
1. Buy a high-quality sleeping bag.
Not all sleeping bags are created equal. If you’re going to be camping for several days, you can’t just go to the store and buy any old sleeping bag. There are two main kinds of sleeping bags:
- Car camping sleeping bags: These are wider and can typically be unzipped to transform into a blanket. These give you more wiggle room but they won’t retain heat as well, so they’re a better choice for campers who tend to sleep hot or those camping somewhere warm.
- Backpacking sleeping bags: These have a mummy shape, and the snug fit helps them retain body heat. They’re also usually lighter weight and easier to carry around, making them a good fit for campers who will be on the move or anyone camping somewhere cool.
Before you choose a sleeping bag, read the online reviews to see what others have to say. Is it super noisy? How true is its temperature rating?
You want to buy a bag with a cooler temperature rating than what the weather forecasts for your trip. This way you won’t be too cold while you sleep.
2. Get comfortable tent bedding.
There’s more camping sleep gear you can buy besides your sleeping bag, such as sleeping pads, pillows, and air mattresses for camping.
Camping sleeping pads come in a few varieties – self-inflating, air, and closed-cell foam, which all have their use cases and benefits. Air pad and closed-cell foams are usually lighter weight and easier to transport, while egg crate mattress pads take up more room. Simply place the pad beneath your sleeping bag to help even out the ground and provide a plusher sleeping surface.
As for pillows, you can bring one from home if you have the room. But if you’ll be travelling from campsite to campsite, you may be better off with an inflatable camp pillow that you can easily compress and tuck into your backpack.
If possible, test your tent bedding before your camping trip. Fully inflate your air mattress before your trip to make sure it still works. Try sleeping on it for a night to ensure it doesn’t lose air while you sleep, so you know ahead of time whether you need to find another option or get more cushioning to stay comfortable.
Bring a tarp to avoid sleeping in a wet tent in case it rains or gets damp during the night.
3. Bring earplugs.
While many white noise machines do feature nature sounds, the real-world wilderness is much noisier and not calibrated to a steady volume. With bristling trees, crunching underbrush, and random movements of the great outdoors, it will be louder than you expect. Bring earplugs to help block out the noise.
You can also download a white noise machine app for your phone or iPod. Many of these feature timers so you won’t drain your entire battery in one night. Blocking out the noise not only helps you fall asleep faster, it prevents you from getting alarmed by any strange noises that are actually nothing to worry about.
If you’re camping during a full moon, you may need to block out light too, so bring along an eye mask as well.
4. Find a strategic spot to pitch your tent.
Choose a space that is as flat as possible, free of rocks and on soft grass if possible. You want to free yourself from physical discomforts that could wake you in pain, as well as noisy terrain that may rouse your ears. Feel free to wriggle around on the ground first to see how noisy and comfortable it is before setting up your tent.
If you’re in a shared campsite, set up your tent on the edge away from potentially noisy tent neighbors. If you have to sleep on a hill, orient your sleeping bag so your head is higher than your body. This will keep the blood rushing to your head.
It’s very possible you’ll wake up in the middle of the night and have to use the restroom. Minimize the haswell by planning ahead – pitch your tent near the bathroom facilities and sleep with a flashlight nearby. Try to pee one extra time before bed to avoid this scenario.
5. Warm up your sleeping bag.
Nothing’s better than getting into a cozy warm bed at night. Bring this luxury to your campsite by boiling a pot of water an hour before bed. Let it cool a bit, then pour it into a heat resistant water bottle, seal it tight, and place it in your sleeping bag.
Sleeping bag liners can also add warmth, as can stuffing in extra clothing to fill any pockets between your body and the bag. Adjustable sleeping bags allow you to unzip individual layers of insulation.
For additional warmth, pack a blanket, a beanie or warm hat, and some socks to warm your extremities.
6. Fend off mosquitos and pests.
Make sure there are no holes in your tent or the screens of your RV. To doubly protect yourself, get some mosquito netting. Lavender, bug spray and citronella can help, too. A solar-powered charges during the daytime, fighting off mosquitos and cooling down your tent at night.
Safely store and dispose of food. It’s good campsite etiquette, but it will also keep the bears away. You’ll sleep better knowing you’re safe and sound.
7. Drink some sleepytime tea by the campfire.
Opt out of s’mores for your late night snack and go for some chamomile or lavender tea instead. It’s still just as warm and cozy, but it’s proven to help you sleep better instead of waking you up from an overload of sugar and caffeine.
Beyond the soporific effects of the tea ingredients themselves, drinking a warm beverage preps your body for sleep. After the heat, your body cools down, and in response to the temperature change, your brain recognizes its time for sleep.
8. Avoid heavy meals late in the evening.
If you get peckish, eat a small snack before bed of nuts or cherries. These are easy to pack, don’t require refrigeration, and best of all – are shown to promote sleep.
While you’re at it, avoid alcohol and caffeine after the late afternoon, too. Many campers like to bring along their favorite adult beverage in a trusty flask. Save this for daytime sipping only. While alcohol initially makes you drowsy, it interferes with your sleep during the latter half of the night.
9. Follow your normal bedtime routine to the extent possible.
A regular bedtime routine primes your body and mind for sleep. Camping is an exciting change of pace, and even with darkness all around you, your brain might not be ready to wind down. Help it understand it’s still bedtime by following your normal activities like brushing your teeth and doing some deep breathing exercises.
Stick to your normal sleep schedule, or at least go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day during your trip. Irregular sleep hours disrupt the body clock and make it tougher to fall asleep when you want to.
10. Stay calm.
Even if you come prepared and diligently follow all of these tips, be aware that sleeping in a strange place is unsettling, so it’s totally normal for you to have trouble falling asleep the first few nights, or find yourself waking up from any little noise.
When that happens, stay calm and distract yourself with deep breathing, meditation, or progressive muscle relaxation exercises. If you’re sleeping alone in your tent, consider bringing along a book and a lantern to read by.
Of course, give it a few days, and you’ll probably see your internal body clock synchronize to the day-night circadian rhythms, according to one 2013 study. You’ll naturally start falling asleep as the sun goes down and rise more easily in the morning.