2 Free Issues and 3 Free Gifts!
Full Name:
Address 1:
Address 2:
Zip Code:
Email: (required)
If I like it and decide to continue, I'll pay just $12.00, and receive a full one-year subscription (9 issues in all), a 73% savings off the newsstand price! If for any reason I decide not to continue, I'll write "cancel" on the invoice and owe nothing.
Your subscription includes 3 FREE downloadable booklets.
Or click here to pay now and get 2 extra issues
Offer valid in US only.

Also on

Enter Zip Code

Backpacker Magazine – Online Exclusive

How to Sleep Soundly In a Sleeping Bag

On your next camping trip, be sure to heed these 10 tips for sleeping like a log

by: John Fayhee

PAGE 1 2 3

My buddy Mark loves the backcountry. Sadly, though, he has given up backpacking for daytrips and even makes the occasional foray into cushy car-camping. The problem? Backcountry insomnia.

Mark's situation is far from unusual. Many backpackers have found the journey to the Land of Nod fraught with obstacles. Some folks even argue that having trouble sleeping is the number one complaint uttered by backpackers. Why all the tossing, turning, and Dall sheep counting? The new surroundings, your altered metabolism, and a host of other factors affect how well you saw logs. But besides turning you into a backcountry zombie, going sleepless can be dangerous, says William C. Dement, M.D., Ph.D., coauthor of The Promise of Sleep. "A person may think he feels fine, but reflexes can slow and he is less coordinated," says Dr. Dement, the Stanford University professor who founded the American Sleep Disorders Association. "Adrenaline temporarily overcomes sleepiness, but the more sleepless nights you experience, the more suspect your decision-making abilities become."

So how do you get enough shut-eye on the trail? We put that question to Dr. Dement and other sleep experts.

1. Chill out. "There's a certain amount of tension that comes from getting ready for the trip," says Sonia Ancoli-Israel, Ph.D., author of All I Want Is A Good Night's Sleep and a psychology professor at the University of California-San Diego. You can't find a piece of gear or it takes longer to pack than you planned. You get caught in traffic, then it starts raining when you hoist your pack. "You get into your tent not so much fatigued as tense and exasperated," says Dr. Ancoli-Israel. "That doesn't translate to a good night's sleep."

The remedy is simple relaxation. "When you get to camp, find a quiet spot to sit, and make yourself let go of all the things that are bothering you," she says. "When you get up, think only about the fact that you're camping in a beautiful place."

2. Get in shape, stay up late. "Exercise can make you feel good and sleep well," but only if you do it regularly, say Peter Hauri, Ph.D., and Shirley Linde, Ph.D., in their book No More Sleepless Nights. In other words, if you haven't hiked in months, doing so all day won't make you sleep better that night. Hike for a week or so, however, and the repeated exertion will lower your blood pressure and help you crash at night.

Drs. Hauri and Linde also recommend that instead of hiking until dark and then crawling into the tent after a quick dinner, wait and hit the hay about 3 hours after making camp. Otherwise, all those exercise-produced endorphins-plus that double helping of chili-will still be swishing around in your system.

Finally, if you're not in decent backpacking shape, 10 hours on the trail might translate to sleep-inhibiting soreness. Counter the aches with aspirin or ibuprofen an hour before bed.

3. Pick the right site. Things that keep you awake at home will do the same in the backcountry. For instance, my wife is light-averse, so she looks for campsites with moon-blocking trees. I hate constant noise, so we avoid babbling creeks. Others like white noise, says Dr. Dement, and find a gurgling stream the perfect cure for insomnia.

Camping at altitude also can disrupt sleep, says David Slamowitz, M.D., of the Sleep Health Centers of National Jewish Hospital in Denver. "People can experience altitude-induced sleep apnea at elevations as low as 5,000 feet." The only remedies, according to Dr. Slamowitz, are to descend or take medicine prescribed to alleviate apnea.

PAGE 1 2 3

Subscribe to Backpacker magazine
Sign up for our free weekly e-newsletter
Address 1:
Address 2:
Email (req):
Reader Rating: -


Mike Purcell
Mar 19, 2010

Interesting, I always sleep like a baby after being exhausted on-trail. Even at 12,000 feet when we hiked Mt. Whitney I had no trouble sleeping (with altitude-induced headache and nausea to boot). The only thing that is bad is if you're cold. Always get a warmer bag than you expect. For freezing (~30F temps, get a 10 degree bag and you'll be perfect even if it dips into the 20's. My 2 cents.

Mar 05, 2009

What can you take to help with apnea?? The only thing I know is to sleep facing a good breeze so you get more oxygen.

Sep 22, 2008

I take two T-PM's about 1 & 1/2 hour before bedtime. This helps easy all of soreness from that days hike, and helps me fall asleep fast.


Your rating:
Your Name:


My Profile Join Now

Most recent threads

Posted On: Sep 01, 2014
Submitted By: CajunHiker
Trailhead Register
New random photo thread.
Posted On: Sep 01, 2014
Submitted By: Echo

View all Gear
Find a retailer

Special sections - Expert handbooks for key trails, techniques and gear

Check out Montana in Warren Miller's Ticket to Ride
Warren Miller athletes charge hard and reflect on Big Sky country, their love for this space and the immense energy allotted to the people who reside in Montana.

Boost Your Apps
Add powerful tools and exclusive maps to your BACKPACKER apps through our partnership with Trimble Outdoors.

Carry the Best Maps
With BACKPACKER PRO Maps, get life-list destinations and local trips on adventure-ready waterproof myTopo paper.

FREE Rocky Mountain Trip Planner
Sign up for a free Rocky Mountain National Park trip planning kit from our sister site

Follow BackpackerMag on Twitter Follow Backpacker on Facebook
Get 2 FREE Trial Issues and 3 FREE GIFTS
Survival Skills 101 • Eat Better
The Best Trails in America
YES! Please send me my FREE trial issues of Backpacker
and my 3 FREE downloadable booklets.
Full Name:
Address 1:
Zip Code:
Address 2:
Email (required):
Free trial offer valid for US subscribers only. Canadian subscriptions | International subscriptions