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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

4. Get used to your new home. “Most people sleep poorly for the first couple of nights in any strange location,” says Dr. Slamowitz. “It doesn’t matter if you’re in a hotel, in a tent, or at your sister-in-law’s.” When you’re backpacking, your surroundings technically change by 10 to 15 miles every night, but the inside of your tent looks and smells pretty much the same. So the night before you leave home for your next trip, try sleeping in your tent to acclimate your body to snoozing on the ground and in the new setting.

5. Face your fears. There’s little doubt that one of the biggest causes of backcountry insomnia has four legs and sharp teeth. “If you’re camping in grizzly country, it’s hard not to think that every noise is a bear coming to eat you,” Dr. Slamowitz says. “But have a realistic understanding about animal-related dangers.” In places that haven’t seen ursine visitation in 100 years, don’t waste perfectly good fear. In bona fide bear country, take simple precautions, such as camping away from water, hanging your food and sweet-smelling toiletries, and cooking 100 yards from your tent.

If the thought of bedding down with rattlers and scorpions makes you anxious, by all means bring a tent. Much as I like sleeping under the stars, my wife spends the entire night assuming that if she nods off, the inside of her sleeping bag will immediately resemble the herpetology display at the Denver Zoo. Thus, we (read: I) carry a tent on almost every trip.

6. Stick to your at-home sleep schedule. According to Dr. Dement, a frequent cause of poor sleep is a change in schedule. The average American adult hits the hay between 10 p.m. and midnight, yet backpackers often slither into the sack between 7 and 9 p.m.

Even if you’ve accumulated a large “sleep debt” (a cumulative lack of slumber, built up over a long period), you may not be able to fall asleep earlier than usual. That’s because your inner clock, or circadian rhythms, override your desire for 12 hours in Dream Land. The good news is that there’s no commute in the morning, so you can sleep late.

To pass the time before you hit the sack, pack a book, cards, or other tent games, plus extra headlamp batteries. Also, avoid afternoon naps, since they make it tougher to fall asleep at night. If you must catch midday shut-eye, opt for a 20-minute power nap.

7. Follow your nighttime rituals. Dr. Ancoli-Israel believes that one of the best ways people can deal with unfamiliar surroundings is by maintaining bedtime rituals. “A lot of people read,” she says. “If you do, carry a book or magazine. If you brush your teeth right before bed at home, brush your teeth before bed in the woods.”

Here’s another good precrash ritual: Take a mellow 30-minute stroll. Backcountry ranger Holly English, a proponent of this sleepy-time habit, says walking just before bed lets your mind flow clear and stretches achy muscles one last time before a night’s worth of inactivity.

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