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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Sleeping Outdoors: 15 Tips and Tricks

One of the difficulties of backpacking is outdoor sleeping. Let’s face it, we are used to our comfy beds and our electronically-regulated sleeping environments.
Outdoor sleepingImage via Wikipedia
Here are some tips for improving your nightly snoozing in less than ideal sleeping environments – to wit – on the trail.
Tip #1: Don’t lose too much sleep over not sleeping. On the trail you’re not going to be sleeping in the Hilton – not even in your own bed. Even when I travel and sleep on what may be a technically “comfortable” bed, sleep comes with difficulty if the bed is not my own. Well, sleeping in a tent, on a slope and on a thin mattress just might not be as comfortable as sleeping on a bed designed specifically for such an activity. Though your slumber may be a bit fitful, it still provides regenerative help to your body.
Tip #2: Let your cortisol levels subside before you sleep. Cortisol is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands in response to exercise and exertion. As long as blood levels of this hormone are high, your body tends to stay awake. So, give yourself plenty of time between the moment you take your backpack off in the late afternoon and the time you hit the sack (the bag).
Tip #3: Eat supper 2 to 3 hours before turning in. As long as your stomach is still working, the rest of your body is going to have a hard time resting.
Tip #4: Drink to your slumber. A cup of caffeine-free hot cocoa or warm milk may just do the trick in inducing drowsiness. Tryptophan, found in dairy products, is recognized by some as a hormone that produces drowsiness. Even though some experts might not agree, we know that to be true. Just ask mama.
Tip #5: Leave the caffeine for the morning. Caffeine keeps you awake by blocking adenosine, a brain chemical that promotes sleepiness. Give your system plenty of time, up to six hours, to build up adenosine.
Tip #6: Take a nap, but not after 3 p.m.
Tip #7: Maintain your regular circadian rhythm. Keep your regular sleep schedule.
Tip #8: Make your bed before you sleep in it. Find the most level and most sheltered spot, and clear away any branches or rocks that may poke you in the middle of the night.
Tip #9: Get familiar with your gear. Buy a sleeping bag with a temperature rating that works for you. Practice sleeping in it in your backyard for a couple of nights before you hit the trail.
Tip #10: Indulge in the luxury of carrying a pillow. This could be one that you inflate or one that you stuff with your fleecy jacket.
Tip #11: Pack a couple of pairs of earplugs. They weigh next to nothing and can be an incredible sleep aid.
Tip #12: Buy gear to fit your sleep style. If you squirm during the night, for instance, make sure you have a bag that will accommodate your nocturnal activity. If you are tall, make sure your bag is long enough.
Tip #13: Hop on one foot just before you go to bed. Oh yes, don’t forget to hop on the other one as well. This little exercise is designed to get your blood flowing just before zipping your mummy bag shut around your face and assures that you will be warm before you sleep. If you climb into your sleeping bag while you are cold, it’ll take you a long time to get warmed up.
Tip #14: Avoid alcohol before bedtime. It may knock you out initially, but you you’ll wake up later in the night with little chance of going back to sleep.
Tip #15: Don’t go to bed thirsty. Rehydrate your body before bedtime, and take a bottle of water to bed with you. If you calculate correctly, you won’t fill up your bladder, but only your dehydrated cells.
I can’t guarantee that following these 15 tips will make you an expert at outdoor sleeping, but they definitely should help. Any help in the area of sleeping is welcome.
By Richard Davidian, P.D.
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