Camping outdoors is a lot of fun. The only downside (and at the same time thrill) of it is that for spending a night outdoors you must give up comfort. And because we are not used to it, we often sleep a lot worse in a tent outdoors than in our own comfy bed. So I asked myself: How to sleep better in a tent?
In this article, I’ll share my tent experience with you (the last time I camped was just yesterday) and tell you how you’ll be able to maximize your sleep quality and duration, even though you’re in an environment you are not that familiar with. After reading this, you’ll have an exact recipe of the stuff you’ll need to prepare to be able to get a good night of sleep while camping!
Quick answer: To sleep better in a tent, you’ll need to have a suited pillow and mattress with you. They need to isolate you from the cold ground and give you some basic comfort. You’ll definitely need to bring a pair of earplugs and if you like, a sleep mask. After you’ve packed all your stuff, you’re ready to go out. Outdoors you want to try to keep your usual sleep rhythm and use the other tips (like the quick tent sleep preparation guide) I’m going to mention later on.
Here are the contents:
- The big stuff: Mattress and Pillows for Camping
- The small stuff: Why using Earplugs and Sleep Masks is a Must for Camping
- Your Body: How to fall asleep naturally while camping
- Quick Guide: How to quickly prepare your tent for sleeping
As I was camping with some friends just yesterday and had a rough night, I learned so much about sleeping in a tent that I didn’t realize before. I made some mistakes and did some things right. I’m going to tell you about everything you need to know, so your night(s) camping will be awesome!
Mattress and Pillows for Camping
We are all used to sleeping in a warm and comfortable bed. Unfortunately, you can’t bring it for camping. But we humans have built strong habits. And if we move just a little step away from our habits, everything seems to be uncomfortable and impossible.
What I mean is that you simply can’t sleep in a tent because the environment drastically differs from your bedroom. Everything is made of other material, fog from outside forms water drops on your tent wall, it’s cold… and the mattress you sleep on is often noisy and annoying.
There are two options for you now: Either you sleep on a big airbed or on a thin sleeping pad.
Which one is better: Airbed or Sleeping Pad?
An airbed is best suited if you have a big tent and enough room to store the mattress. Oftentimes, you’ll need not only the mattress but also an air pump which also takes up some extra space. Airbeds are usually more comfortable, but they are also difficult to fit into small tents (I had a friend destroying his tent by inflating the airbed inside it).
Also, airbeds are often risky to use because you feel like every time you really need it, something breaks. Either all the air escapes through some tiny hole you accidentally poked into it. Or the air pump decides to stop working. Every time I’ve seen someone use an airbed, I’ve seen him getting problems within just a few minutes.
Sleeping pads are smaller than airbeds and better suited if you can’t bring too much stuff with you. Also, they are mostly made for just one person, whereas an airbed can often be used by couples. They inflate automatically, so you don’t need to bring an air pump with you (yeah!) and also you can easily roll them back up, so you don’t need to know any complicated folding origami technique that you sometimes need for airbeds.
Sleeping pads are not that comfortable to sleep on, because they are not as soft as your bed at home which you are used to. But they do a great job in insulating you from the cold ground so you don’t get sick, which is really important outdoors.
Which Pillow should you bring for camping?
You have two options to chose from. Either you bring a special camping pillow. And if you have one, that’s fine and great. However, if you are (like me) not camping that often, why not bring your own pillow that you use at home?
Protect your home pillow from the fog and moist outside
Last time camping, I brought the pillow I sleep on every night and it was great. However, pillows that are meant for your bedroom can gather a lot of moist and get wet during a day outside. Especially if you plan to camp near a river or a lake. If you don’t want to sleep on a wet pillow, you need to store it in a place that protects it from humidity. For example, you can leave it in your car during the day. Or store your pillow in your backpack.
If that’s doable for you, just bring your home pillow.
When should you get a camping pillow?
If you are limited in storage space, you’ll definitely need a camping pillow. Mostly, they are inflatable, so they can be compressed to a small size if you pack it up in your backpack.
Another point is that camping pillows don’t tend to gather moist and humidity as regular pillows do. The reason is, that there’s no stuffing inside which can store humidity. If you plan to camp in a foggy place this is definitely worth considering.
Actually, where I live, most places become foggy in the night, even if your camping spot is far away from any water. Fields and trees will always cause fog to come up at some point during the night.
But still, as long as you are camping just one or two times a year, you probably are well served with the regular pillow from your bed.
Why using Earplugs and Sleep Masks is a Must for Camping
When you are out camping, you are in a completely unfamiliar environment. It’s not only uncomfortable and a little cold, but you can also face some sleep preventing problems that you wouldn’t get when you were in your bedroom at home.
Two of the biggest sleep preventing factors while camping are light and noise.
Why blocking light makes you sleep better in a tent
When your eyes are exposed to daylight, your brain will stop producing melatonin. Melatonin is the hormone that makes you fall asleep. Therefore, if you are sleeping outdoors, your body is forced to wake up when the sun rises. In case it’s summer, your body will slowly start waking up at sunrise time which is often already at 4 or 5 am. You’ve probably already wondered about why you wake up so early when you are sleeping outdoors.
When you are sleeping in a tent, the tent wall mostly does not block a lot of light. Therefore it doesn’t protect you from being woken up by the sunlight. But when you somehow block off the light you’ll sleep much deeper and better. Here’s how you do it:
Using a sleep mask for better sleep in a tent
Even if you don’t use sleep masks at home, they are absolutely great for camping! A sleep mask is a simple and comfortable silk or cotton mask that you can put on to cover your eyes. Therefore, no light will reach your eyes and prevent your sleep. You’ll sleep much longer and deeper than anyone else camping. I use sleep masks regularly in such situations, so you should too! They are a great tool for helping you sleep better in a tent.
I’ve written a huge sleep mask guide with absolutely everything (and even more) that you need to know in case you have no idea about sleep masks yet. They can completely transform your sleep.
Using a sleep mask for sleeping is stupidly simple. Just put it on when you go to sleep and you’re set. You don’t need to worry about anything else. Even when you are traveling with just one backpack and little storage room, bringing a sleep mask is no big deal. It can be rolled up to about the size of your thumb. There’s always space for a sleep mask.
Why you should use earplugs when sleeping in a tent
The second tool I want to suggest is earplugs. Earplugs are just incredible. Maybe you’ve already noticed it in all my other articles about them.
Earplugs are small foamy things you can put in your ears. They do a great job blocking noise. Actually, you will not be able to hear anything while sleeping. They are incredibly helpful for traveling, sleeping at home with noisy neighbors, studying in a noisy place … or sleeping in a tent.
Because there’s much more noise outdoors that can prevent your sleep (see this study), like chirping birds, campfire sounds, your friends snoring and wild animals, you can support your sleep a lot by using earplugs.
Personally, I wouldn’t have been able to fall asleep without them on my last camping trip as there were just so many distracting factors. By using a sleep mask together with earplugs, you really feel like you are sleeping in a dark and quiet place. Even though the sun already rises, birds chirp and your friends wake up and start talking.
Just like sleep masks, they need very little storage room so you can fit them anywhere.
If you want to get into more details about earplugs, here is my complete earplugs guide that will teach you everything you need to know to start using them. And also I’ve included a lot of situations where earplugs come in handy that you wouldn’t think of in the first place.
How to fall asleep naturally while camping
Using earplugs and sleep masks already does a lot for improving your sleep in a tent. However, when you are out with friends, you also tend to do some sleeping mistakes that you wouldn’t do at home.
Go to bed at reasonable times to maximize your sleep duration
The first one is you are going to bed later than usual. Enjoying the campfire, some music and chatting with your friends is awesome. However, you want to give some attention to your sleep schedule. The best time to go to sleep is when you actually feel you’re getting tired. Instead of fighting against your bodies urge to sleep, you should simply give in to have enough energy the next day. It’s okay if you go to sleep at 1 am or 2 am. However, please don’t stay up until 5 am. That’s a massive difference.
Keep the sunrise in mind – it acts as an alarm clock
The second sleeping mistake when you are sleeping in a tent is underestimating the wake-up power of sunlight. When you are outdoors, you wake up a lot earlier. When the sun rises it acts as a natural alarm clock for your body and slowly wakes you up. That’s the reason I recommended sleep masks in the previous section. By using one, you can avoid being woken up by the sunrise. If you are not using one, make sure you get enough sleep (7-8 hours) before the sun rises.
Don’t drink and eat too much before sleeping in a tent
Third, you should avoid heavy drinking and eating at night. Food will bloat your stomach and activate the digestive system which causes difficulties falling asleep. Also, don’t drink too much so you won’t need to wake up and go to the toilet. Alcoholic beverages, in general, are a bad idea before going to sleep. The situation might be suitable for enjoying some drinks with your friends. However, alcohol generally decreases your sleep quality and it increases the chance of bad mood, grogginess, and weakness and the next day.
My personal biggest mistakes before sleeping in a tent
My biggest camping-sleep mistake was a combination of everything I mentioned above. I was going to bed when the sun has already risen at 5 am. The time was totally unreasonable because we were just sitting there doing nothing. We could have spent the time sleeping as well.
On top of that, too much food prevented me from falling asleep. Luckily I still had my earplugs with me so I could at least block off all the noise.
My natural sleep rhythm was completely destroyed and I didn’t have a sleep mask with me to block off the sunlight.
After half-sleeping for about 3 hours, I gave up. I’ve never felt more tired at any point in my life than after that night.
How to quickly prepare your tent for sleeping
You want to make sure you get as good sleep as possible. By lowering the hurdles of bad tent preparation you can help yourself a lot for sleep.
Set up your tent before the sun sets
Yes, I’ve seen people trying to set up their tent in the middle of the night in complete darkness. Just because they were lazy during daytime, they had to deal with stress and torture at night. Set up your tent before the sun sets to avoid pain.
Prepare your tent for better sleep
Set up your camping mattress, roll out your sleeping bag and prepare a pillow. That’s important to always be ready to go to sleep whenever you start feeling tired. Doing all of that right before you go to bed delays your sleep because your body was stopped from calming down.
Set up your tent-sleep boosters
On top of that, you should prepare a fresh pair of earplugs and a sleep mask next to your pillow. Using a fresh pair is important because old ones usually start making your ears feel itchy and are not that comfortable. When you are out in the wild, you should maximize your comfort wherever possible. Using a fresh pair of earplugs instead of already worn ones is already a good step.
Also, set up a water bottle in case you get thirsty at night. Place a small flashlight in some place you can easily find it. Everything should be within an arm’s reach.
Tent light blocking hack for maximized sleep improvement
I’ve found this extremely helpful: When you don’t have a sleep mask at hand or you use your tent together with others who also don’t have sleep masks, you need a way to block off light. Tents are usually light-transmissive. To avoid being woken up you should place one blanket on the outside of your tent. Of course, use something old that you don’t need like old bedsheets for example. This however only works when it’s dry outside as you don’t want to have wet bed sheets all over your tent.
The basic idea you should follow is that if your tent does not completely block off light, you can help yourself by covering it with an extra layer from the outside.
Make your tent a dark sleeping-cave.
The Outline – How to sleep better in a tent?
To sleep better in a tent is actually not that difficult. All you have to do is to follow some simple rules that we’ve just discussed.
Set up your tent before the sun sets. Prepare everything you need to sleep so it’s within an arm’s reach. Go to bed at a reasonable time so you won’t regret it the next day.
To give yourself an extra sleep boost, bring a sleep mask and earplugs with you. The right pillow that suits your sleeping style and a good mattress are also important.
Camping is an adventure. But for all adventures, you need the energy to tackle it. Especially if you are sleeping in a tent for more than a single day, you’ll need to get sufficient sleep. Otherwise, your camping trip might become a nightmare. Oftentimes, not sleeping enough will even make you sick because your immune system is weakened.
If you, however, pay close attention to your sleep schedule you’ll be able to have the best camping trips you’ve ever had. You’ll be able to hike more, you’ll have more energy and you are way less likely to become sick.
Doesn’t that sound convincing?
If you generally struggle with your sleep, you can check out the sleep improvement guides section here! You’ll get a lot of useful tips. Even if most of them aren’t about sleeping in a tent, I’m sure they’ll help you!