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Sleep Better Now: Improve Your Backcountry ZZZ’s

Our restless guinea pig snooze-tested the latest science and gear to bring you a simple plan that's guaranteed to improve your backcountry ZZZ's.
Sleep BetterCourtesy Jeff Beal

Pop a Pill?
The truth about sleep aids

Sleeping pills (hypnotics/sedative-hypnotics, such as Ambien, Lunesta, or Sonata)
Effective? Very, especially if you don’t take them regularly. Aim for the lowest dose possible to limit potential side effects.

Pros Work well for occasional insomnia
Cons Require a prescription; some can be habit-forming; side effects include headaches, diarrhea, vomiting, and hives; pricy
Cost $130-$165 for 30 pills

Melatonin
Effective? Maybe, if you’re dealing with jet lag (studies show synthetic melatonin pills help about half of the people who try them)–it helps sync sleep with changing light patterns. But it isn’t great for occasional sleepless nights.

Pros Available over the counter; cheap
Cons Not FDA-regulated (check with your doctor first); side effects include headache, stomachache, and feeling hungover
Cost About $5-$10 for 30-60 pills

Valerian root
Effective? Not really. Some studies suggest this herb helps people fall asleep if it’s taken over a period of several weeks, but its use hasn’t been rigorously studied.

Pros Can’t hurt to try it (it’s not federally regulated, but it is on the FDA “Generally Regarded As Safe” list); natural
Cons Little data behind its effectiveness; side effects include headache, dizziness, and feeling hungover
Cost $5-$20 for 60-100 pills

Hot toddy
Effective? Alcohol, a depressant, will knock you out. But it’ll also cause disturbances as you metabolize it later, preventing you from reaching restorative, deep-stage rest.

Pros Fast-acting (and fun)
Cons Actually makes sleep worse
Cost Varies, depending on tonic of choice

Warm milk
Effective? Surprisingly, yes. Dairy products contain tryptophan, an amino acid that aids the production of melatonin.

Pros Cheap; natural
Cons Not so tasty; try hot cocoa with powdered milk instead.
Cost $1 per serving (Backpacker’s Pantry Whole Milk), plus $5 for a four-pack of Hershey’s Goodnight Kisses hot cocoa (which is 99.9 percent caffeine-free)

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