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How to sleep well when you’re camping

by Karen Ung

Are you a light sleeper? Try these camping sleep tips and let me know what worked best for you!

I have always been jealous of people that can sleep through anything, no matter where they are. As a light sleeper, getting enough sleep while camping has always been a challenge (unless I’m at a backcountry campground – bliss!). Babies, partiers, critters, and road noise seemingly conspire to ward off sleep. Since ample rest is essential to next day adventures, I’ve been testing different strategies to optimize camp sleep. These methods work well when I am consistent, but if I’ve forgotten my earplugs, just pour me another cup of coffee.

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1. Try White Noise

Camping near a stream, waterfall, or beach is one of the best ways to get a good night’s rest as the water sound drowns out all other noise. It is the best white noise! Natural white noise not an option? Bring a battery powered white noise machine (we’re partial to ocean sounds).

2. Enforce Quiet Time

In the event that fellow campers are being too loud after Quiet Time, don’t hesitate to call the Campground Operator. If you are being kept up, it is likely others are too so you’ll be doing them a service. Same deal if your neighbor’s generator is keeping you up (though if possible, ask them first).

3. Go to Sleep Early

At large and busy campgrounds, expect to be woken up by a murder of crows, chattering squirrels, or screaming toddlers. Since the noise is unavoidable and shooting the birds isn’t allowed, the best you can do is turn in early each night to maximize your zz’s.

4. Use Ear Plugs

3M Disposable Earplugs – available on Amazon

Traffic, barking dogs, trains, slamming outhouse doors, and car beeps can be muffled with a good set of earplugs. Get the waxy or soft foam kind that can be molded to fit your ears and test them out before you go. While they can’t eliminate all noise, they block enough that they minimize night wakings (I notice the difference when I forget to put them in).

5. Use an Eye Shade

An eye shade is fantastic for letting you sleep in past sunrise in the event that critters or kids don’t wake you first.

6. Plan for a cold night

The kids have 0C down sleeping bags and I have a -7C down sleeping bag.

Ensure you have the correct sleeping bag for where you are camping. If anything, err on the side of too warm as it’s easier to unzip than search for extra clothing in the middle of the night. Keep a down sweater near you just in case and consider wearing a toque and thick pair of socks to sleep in colder weather. Research shows you sleep better when your feet aren’t cold! To learn how to select a sleeping bag and sleeping pad/mat/cot, see this post.

7. Get Comfy

Therm-a-rest compressible pillow. Available at MEC and Amazon.

A poor sleep system is often to blame for a rough night. Try out different air mattresses or sleeping pads before your trip to make sure you are comfortable. My tips on selecting camp bedding are here. If you usually sleep with a pillow (who doesn’t?), bring one! There are all sorts of mini compressible pillows that will fit in a mummy bag but have enough loft to trick your head into thinking it’s at home. I love my Therm-a-rest pillow! My Sea to Summit Comfort Plus SI Sleeping Pad has been a gamechanger too.

8. Treat Injuries 

Stretch it out!

If you have an injury that is bad enough to prevent sleep, take care of it! Ice it, take a couple Advil (with a snack so you don’t irritate your stomach), massage it, and wrap it if need be. Sore and stiff muscles can benefit from gentle stretching. I like to do stretches for my lower back and hamstrings after a long hike.

9. Limit Liquids Close to Bedtime

Visit the can before you hit the hay!

I used to indulge in a late night drink, but kept waking in the night to use the loo. To avoid this annoyance, stop all liquids a couple hours before bedtime and always visit the bathroom before bed. If you or others in your family frequently wake in the night to use the washroom, purchase a headlamp/lantern with a red light on it. Red light is less disruptive to tentmates (and doesn’t suppress melatonin as much as white light so you can go back to sleep easier).

10. Tell soothing bedtime stories

While bigger kids may enjoy ghost stories, little kids may not be able to handle scary stuff before bed. Save the spooky stories for when they’re older.

11. Keep a bare site!

These little guys are cute, but loud. Don’t feed them!

Be bear aware and put away all food items, coolers, cookware, and items with a smell before bed and any time you are away from your site. We had a bear sniff around our tents last month and it was terrifying! I awoke at 4 am and never went back to sleep. We didn’t leave food out, but the people in the next site did. 🙁 To learn more about bear safety, please see this post. Crows and squirrels can quickly become habituated too. While they aren’t dangerous, they can sure be loud!

How to sleep on warm summer evening. 😉

Here’s to sleeping like a baby next camping trip!

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Playoutsidegal June 21, 2016 - 4:09 PM

Hope they can find some sleep strategies that work, Antonio!

Playoutsidegal June 21, 2016 - 4:08 PM

Thanks John!

Antonio May 25, 2016 - 6:48 PM

It is imperative to get a good night sleep. Ask my sibling, he's a specialist and can't sufficiently stretch the significance of an appropriate night sleep. sleeping is my most loved hang loose and I experience no difficulty getting an entire eight hours however my significant other hurls and turns throughout the night.

John M. Leong May 25, 2016 - 2:55 PM

great post. thanks

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