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Sleeping Soundly in a Tent

Author imageThe Mattress Warehouse


In this article, I will examine the phenomenon of getting a good night’s sleep – in a tent. We will take a look at the biggest challenges and how to bat them aside with a combination of good sense, preparation, and getting the right gear.

Comfort vs Roughing It

Many people who go camping, view discomfort as part of the package. One can agree that camping is supposed to take us out of our luxurious urban or suburban environment to experience nature, but only up to a point. When they include sleep in their list of uncomfortable things to do, you can count me out. I do not see the point of this strange form of masochism.

If your camping trip includes a lot of physical exertion like hiking, fetching water or even chopping wood, chances are that you won’t have trouble sleeping. When you’re tired enough, you will be able to fall asleep in the middle of a heavy metal concert. If this sounds familiar, you won’t get much from this article. People who would rather be whipped in public than go camping should also find this info irrelevant. But if you like camping, or are thinking about trying it and are worried about getting enough restful sleep, read on.

Getting a good night’s sleep in a tent will take some preparation. I have learnt through bitter experience not to leave sleep preparations until the last moment.

Take the best bed along

When you can drive to your camping site and don’t have to carry your sleeping gear with you, as you would on a hike, you might as well go all out. Take the best bed you can fit into the car and the tent. As an experiment, I once wrestled a double futon mattress with crisp clean bedding and pillows into the sedan to take on such a camping trip, leaving the sleeping bag at home. It was some of the most glorious sleep I’ve had in a tent.

However, in most cases, people who go camping either do not have space for a luxurious mattress for everyone or have to carry all their gear. One is forced to limit the weight and size of the pack you are carrying. This is where it gets challenging and interesting.

In essence, when sleeping in a tent you should have four basic objectives.

The Four Objectives

Cushioning Your Spot
When you only have a groundsheet and a layer of sleeping bag material between you and the ground, mother earth could be hard as a rock. It’s even worse than trying to sleep on a tile floor because the surface is likely uneven.

Staying dry
Unwanted moisture can make it impossible to get a good night’s sleep. Water from above and below, caused by dew, rain or just muddy soil, will try to enter your tent from the outside. Ironically, the more waterproof your tent is, the more likely you are to get condensation inside the tent, dripping on everything.

Keeping warm
Less than a millimetre of tent canvas separates you from the elements. Even in summer, the temperature drops sharply at night and the wee hours can be most uncomfortable.

Minimising disturbances
You might be unpleasantly surprised by ants or snakes, or kept awake by the humble mosquito. The great outdoors could also be quite noisy, but in a different way than the city or suburbs. Without the audio backdrop of human activity, every little sound seems amplified. One is not used to these sounds, like those of different insects or other wildlife. Even leaves or grass moving in a breeze can make sounds that may disturb your sleep. Humans, the noisiest mammal, could also be a factor, especially if you’re camping in a large group of some sort.

These objectives are within anyone’s grasp if you follow a few simple steps below. However, you will need to pack the right equipment.

The List Of Essentials

A mattress

There is no way around this, you’ll need some padding. Your choice should reflect a balance between comfort and weight. It comes down to how much extra weight you’re willing or able to carry. Air mattresses are popular, as they provide considerable comfort for their weight and (deflated) size. Closed cell foam mattresses (like the ones people most often use for yoga) are also popular. They are light, relatively compact, and go a long way to smooth out a knobbly surface. Mattresses also function as insulation, to prevent the cold from creeping into your bones from underneath.

A sleeping bag

Sleeping bags are meant to preserve heat, by capturing a pocket of warm air around you. If they are filled with down, they do this particularly well. The size is all-important, especially the length. If you cannot stretch your legs completely and still have your shoulders inside the sleeping bag, you won’t get much sleep.

A tarp

Any sheet of waterproof material would do. You can get a purpose-made camping tarp, but any large plastic sheet works. Tarps assist in keeping you dry, especially inside the tent, if it is prone to condensation. Spreading a tarp over everything inside solves that problem. If the ground is wet, you can use it as an extra layer of waterproofing underneath the tent. You can also use it as a shelter in front of your tent’s entrance to prevent rain and dew from getting too close.

Insect repellant

Arrive at your camping spot already covered in insect repellant. Apply some more before you go to sleep. The stuff normally smells terrible to spiders and snakes too, so you will most likely be left alone to enjoy your night’s sleep.

A pillow

When was the last time you tried to sleep without a pillow, if ever? It doesn’t work. If you do manage to fall asleep, you will wake up with a stiff neck and in a miserable mood. An Inflatable pillow will do the trick, while also being light and small in size.


If you are sensitive to sounds waking you up, invest in a simple pair of earplugs. Those very affordable foam ones are just fine, and they’re fairly comfortable. You just need a barrier between you and mother nature’s noisier creatures of the night. Earplugs also work wonders when the source of the noise is of a humankind.

Six Steps To Sleeping (Soundly) In A Tent

Choose a good spot to pitch your tent

Look for a patch that is nearest to level, to avoid water flowing into your tent. Avoid obviously rocky or uneven patches. Long grass may seem tempting as it provides some padding, but it is not a good idea. A variety of rare or dangerous animals could be hiding there. It also hides important detail – you don’t want to realise that there is a bump in the middle of your sleeping spot after you’ve pitched the tent, or at night when you go to bed.

Prepare the surface

Get rid of all the obvious stones, sticks and thorns. If at all possible, level it out.

Cushioning Your Spot

When you only have a groundsheet and a layer of sleeping bag material between you and the ground, mother earth could be hard as a rock. It’s even worse than trying to sleep on a tile floor because the surface is likely uneven.

Warm up your sleeping bag

The easiest way to do this is to leave your sleeping bag in the sun in the afternoon. Warm it up next to the fire, but don’t go too near. Even a tiny spark from the fire can ruin your sleeping bag. A hot water bottle will work wonders; you can even use a plastic or aluminium water bottle and wrap it in a towel.

Ventilate your tent

Most tents have ventilation holes specially designed for this purpose. Use them, but don’t let them work against you. Close them in the late afternoon in order to trap some heat, and keep them closed until nighttime when you’ve been inside the tent for twenty minutes or so. Open them just before you fall asleep. The air and objects inside will be slightly warmer, but you’ll still enjoy the benefit of fresh air and avoid inside condensation.

Go easy on coffee and alcohol

Coffee and liquor are little luxuries that people find especially gratifying when camping. It would be wise to manage your intake. Do not have them later in the day. Apart from them affecting the quality of your sleep, they are diuretics and can keep you running to the toilet all night. This necessity is more complex when you go camping, and the process is likely to leave you wide awake, every time.

Retain part of your going-to-sleep -routine

If you have a set routine that you follow before going to sleep, bring some of these elements into your camping experience, if practical. Bring a book to read and a light to read it by, for example.

The Benefits Of Sleeping In A Tent Occasionally

Our sleep patterns are regulated by our circadian rhythms or body clocks. With the help of the chemical melatonin, which is secreted by the pineal gland, we feel sleepy or awake at the appropriate time. The secretion of melatonin increases in the dark and diminishes in the light.

We generally sleep better if our circadian rhythm is aligned with the natural cycle of day and night. It becomes easier to fall asleep and wake up, and our bodies make this happen automatically.

As anyone who has slept in a tent will attest, the mornings are very bright. There is nowhere to “hide” from daybreak. One cannot help but wake up early. In the evenings, away from our well-lit homes, digital devices’ screens and many distractions, we go to bed earlier.

It only takes two to three nights, and you’ve adjusted your circadian rhythm to fit the natural light / dark cycle – without even thinking about it. To benefit further, you can keep to this sleep pattern when you go back home.,

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