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September 2001

Guide To Sound Sleeping

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

8. Choose tentmates carefully. I have two hiking chums, Brad and Robert, who are so indoctrinated in the “travel light” mentality that they would share socks and toothbrushes even while car-camping. When we venture so much as 12 inches into the backcountry, Brad and Robert think we ought to carry only one tent. For several years, I acquiesced and slept poorly beside my two snoring, stinky, tossing-and-turning compadres.

“Sleeping a few inches from people you don’t know well represents a complete change in your sleep environment,” says Dr. Ancoli-Israel. You have three options if you want quality shut-eye: 1. Get to know your hiking partner before taking that big trip; 2. Sleep solo; 3. Convince your spouse to go camping with you.

These days, I carry my own tent and pitch it far from my friends. Otherwise, I share my sleeping space only with my wife, which brings me to the great benefits of hiking with an intimate partner: You can exchange preslumber massages and engage in other sleep-enhancing activities.

9. Nip not at the flask. To some, it’s a backpacking tradition to carry a small flask of spirituous fluid. A shot of peppermint schnapps in your hot chocolate helps you pass out, right? “Many people believe that,” Dr. Dement says, “and they’re probably right. But even a small amount will result in a poor night’s sleep.” The reason? There are half a dozen stages of sleep, and they’re all needed in the proper proportions and sequence in order to get a good night’s slumber. Alcohol and caffeine disrupt transitions between those phases, resulting in-you guessed it-less-than-optimum sleep.

10. Cure sleep problems at home. “If you have problems sleeping in your bedroom,” says Dr. Ancoli-Israel, “it’s unlikely you’ll overcome them simply by hiking out into the wilderness, pitching a tent, and lying down on the ground.” In such cases, consult your doctor. She may recommend simple strategies that resolve your problems quickly.

On the trail, as a last resort, some hikers carry prescription sleeping pills. “There are several kinds that work well, with few if any side effects,” Dr. Dement says. “I don’t recommend over-the-counter pills, though, because of potential side effects, plus I don’t want people relying on pills.”

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