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Backpacker Magazine – June 2009

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.

by: Grant Davis

Courtesy Jeff Beal
Courtesy Jeff Beal

Get Cozy
Find Your Perfect Sleeping Gear

Make Bedtime Routine

Still more research with the likes of Austin, Hahn, and Howe made me realize that I'd been making a critical mistake in my approach to camping: I was crawling into my bag soon after sundown with the tenuous belief that sheer exhaustion would translate into instant, deep slumber. Not so, my experts explained.

"We all operate on daily wake/sleep cycles that are set over months," explained Dr. Michael Zimring, director of the Center for Wilderness and Travel Medicine. "They don't change overnight. No matter how tired you are, you want to maintain your normal pattern." Hahn agreed: "Do whatever you can to stay up 'til your normal bedtime. Bring a headlamp and read, write in a journal, or sit around talking with friends." (But retire early for alpine starts.) Austin offered further counsel for the clueless like me. "Go to bed warm," he said. "If you go to bed cold, you'll stay cold for a while since your body needs to be giving off heat for the insulation in your bag to work. Jump up and down, do something to get your blood flowing before climbing inside your bag. You don't get into bed at home feeling chilled, so don't do it out there."

With gear, campsite, and nightly routine in order, it was time to dig into my experts' little bag of do's and don't's. First, the obvious: Lay off the caffeine and alcohol in the hours leading up to turning in–a fundamental sleep strategy the National Sleep Foundation has promoted for decades. This flies in the face of what I always considered two very good reasons to go backpacking: Eating copious amounts of chocolate (caffeine) and sipping bourbon after dinner. But Howe had a point: "Alcohol may knock you out at first, but you'll wake up in the middle of the night dehydrated, and good luck going back to sleep with that headache."

The last bit of wisdom came from Austin. "Don't go to bed thirsty," he said. "You'll only become more dehydrated–and sleep worse–during the night. Chug down half a water bottle and leave the rest in your tent in case you wake up in the middle of the night." But won't that lead to a full bladder and disruptive midnight pit stops? I asked. "You're likely going to be dehydrated by the end of your day, anyway," Jenkins said. "Drink up to get the body back to normal as best you can. Normal equals sleep."



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Mike O
Jul 23, 2010

Regarding the CPAP, I have a Resmed series 8. After doing some research, I came up with a system that works pretty good.

The batteries are the killer, but I found a 12 volt 9 amp hour battery weighing 6 pounds that gives me about 10+ hours of sleep (two nights) When you add it all up, I am carrying an extra 9 pounds, but this is doable.

My recommendation is to buy AGM Deep cycle batteries 12 volt and 9 am hours. The resmed with a converter is very efficient at .9 per hour.

Alex
Jun 28, 2010

Therm a Rest Neoair. 2.5 inches thick, 14 ounces, pure bliss. After a solid 4 years of backpacking with closed cell foam pads I'm a convert.

JDH
Sep 19, 2009

Hey, Chris. Not to sound sarcastic but there's some comments below that talk about it. Just scroll on down! ;)

Chris
Sep 12, 2009

My friend has sleep apena. She needs a CPAP machine to sleep safely. Can any one help me find a good portable machine that will allow to go camping together? As CPAP machines become more common, being able to go in the back country with one, plus make it through a power outage would make great reading. Thanks, Chris

Love my hammock
Sep 08, 2009

I've always had exactly the same experience as Grant, wondering why the heck I couldn't get a good night's sleep on the trail. Tried a hammock for the first time last month and slept better than I do at home. No more tents--my new Warbonnet Blackbird just arrived in the mail!

RichTL
www.dancinglion.us

swampfox
Aug 20, 2009

Like you Grant, I slept miserably for years so I could enjoy the beauty and solitude of the outdoors. Then I discovered the camping hammock. I have never in my life slept so well on a campout. They're also great for an afternoon nap or a chair. For the record, I have a Hennessy Expedition and my wife has a Warbonnet Blackbird. Both are great sleepers.

paddlin' dan
Aug 13, 2009

Hang! Just got a Warbonnet Blackbird hammock for a 10 day canoe trek in Maine. Hung for the first few nights, then spent two nights in a tent on a grassy point (too many skeeters in the trees and there was a nice breeze). OUCH! Back to the trees! Don't know if my tents will ever get used again, but the Blackbird? My wife wants me to take it down and sleep in the bedroom...

Jim
Aug 13, 2009

I learned alot from this article however I do feel for you all...I'm usually the snorer that you guys complain about.
Jim

Bob W
Aug 12, 2009

Skip the bourbon and you won't be hot and sweaty in the middle of the night. Take a couple prophylactic acetaminophin or ibuprophen an hour before sleep instead, with adequate water to dissolve them and keep you hydrated. I agree alcohol is esp bad at even medium altitude. I bring a little flashlite like a Princeton Eclipse with a low beam so I can read myself to sleep, or read myself back to sleep in the middle of the night, without disturbing my tentmate. If you pick the right book, reading programs your mind so you can sleep.

Dr. Steve
Aug 10, 2009

There is a dental appliance used for treating sleep apnea called the TAP appliance. It's often used when people can't tolerate the cpap machine. It opens an airway by advancing the lower jaw. I hope this helps you Randy.

Randy
Aug 06, 2009

I'm lucky enough to have my lodge set up for the whole summer and enjoy the comfort of a cot. My problem with the cot was freezing to death in my bag. I found that the thermarest pad I used backpacking worked great with the cot.

I have sleep apnea and now need a cpap machine. I lug around a 12 volt marine battery hat weighs 50+ pounds. I haven't figured out how to go backpacking and use the cpap with a small battery and solar charger. Any body have this problem? a solution?

Randy
Aug 06, 2009

I'm lucky enough to have my lodge set up for the whole summer and enjoy the comfort of a cot. My problem with the cot was freezing to death in my bag. I found that the thermarest pad I used backpacking worked great with the cot.

I have sleep apnea and now need a cpap machine. I lug around a 12 volt marine battery hat weighs 50+ pounds. I haven't figured out how to go backpacking and use the cpap with a small battery and solar charger. Any body have this problem? a solution?

James Hankins
Aug 03, 2009

I've found an adequate pillow is key to all-night comfort. My solution is a dedicated stuff sack in which I insert a down or fleece jacket. The other secret I've found is a change in approach to the turning and tossing issue: Rather than think in terms of turning inside the bag, my approach is to use a less-roomy mummy bag that tightly encases me so that when I turn, I turn bag and all. That eliminates the issue of cold pockets and drafts into the bag, and the flattened down quickly restores its loft after turning. That approach, on top of an 1 1/2" of Thermarest, does the trick for me.

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