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How do I get and stay asleep on the trail?
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Michael Skwarczek
(uberkatzen) - F

Locale: Sudamerica
relax and rest on 09/21/2009 10:13:32 MDT Print View

Ugh, I used to wrestle with this too. Tried weed, but I was just laying there high. With PM's if I don't fall asleep immediately, I instead start fretting. Whiskey is a nice conversation around camp, and it helps me chill out.

But I came to deeply appreciate that rest is a physical and mental state. So, simply lying prone and mentally relaxing, was a greater part of what my body and mind needed, which led to sleep. And I stopped struggling toward sleep. Honestly, I don't even really focus on it, I just lay there and appreciate where I am.

I really discovered this when I started sleeping out in the open, without a tent, in full connection with the place I was in. It sounds corny, but when I'd wake up in the night, I could smile at the expanse of stars, smell the earth and the wind. Enjoy everything that comes with that sense of peace. A tent sort of disconnects me from that.

So, connect yourself with the place you've chosen and relax there.

And, hey, use some truly relaxing bed time herbs. Get some chamomile, sleepy-time teas. They work if you let them. Once again, just relax.


Edited by uberkatzen on 09/21/2009 10:25:25 MDT.

Art Sandt
(artsandt) - F
Re: relax and rest on 09/21/2009 11:25:01 MDT Print View

I did a lot of backpacking before I could really fall asleep on the trail too, but eventually I learned how. It's probably different for everybody, but here's how it was for me. What did it for me was my first solo trip longer than 2 nights. On overnighters--which have always been the majority of my trips--I was always thinking about the drive home the next day, errands I'd have to run once I got back in town, projects left unfinished, people to meet, places to be, etc. In other words, on an overnighter for me, my mind is still connected to my home-life.

The first time I could truly let go of all that was on my first 3 nighter solo hike. It forced me to focus on my goal: my car that was some 50 miles down the trail from where I started. To get there, I could rely on no one but myself. Insubordination in the form of restlessness could not be tolerated. I went to sleep the second night of the trip, 45 minutes after sunset, with a unique feeling. I thought to myself, "last night I woke up on the trail and tonight I'll go to sleep on the trail." No thoughts of "city-life" entered my mind and I was able to relax in this new context.

I'd also agree with Michael's sage advice: "Simply lying prone and mentally relaxing, was a greater part of what my body and mind needed, which led to sleep."

Even if I'm unable to fall asleep--maybe I'm still on city-time and have been getting to sleep at 2am for the past month, maybe I just can't let go of a concern that's worrying me--what it all boils down to is that even if I'm fully awake all night long, the more relaxed my body is and the more calm my mind, the more refreshed I feel in the morning. Tossing and turning, fretting about not falling asleep: these things will only tire me out, not refresh me.

Edited by artsandt on 09/21/2009 11:27:34 MDT.

te - wa
(mikeinfhaz) - F

Locale: Phoenix
How do I get and stay asleep on the trail? on 09/21/2009 11:26:16 MDT Print View

what the hangers are saying: "i sleep great in a hammock."
(maybe there's some stock to take in them there words)

i support your effort in trying a reliable hammock as a solution to your problem. ive been b'packing for 12 years, went UL without the help of forums or magazines, and transitioned to hanging 2 years ago. Ive watched about a dozen groundlings make the switch, and ALL of them (not to mention the tens that switch every day, around the world) that i personally know and hike with, report the immensely satisfying results.
the Mayans were right.

i also think the "solution" of drugs is both crass and rediculous.

Edited by mikeinfhaz on 09/21/2009 11:37:48 MDT.

Lynn Tramper
(retropump) - F

Locale: The Antipodes of La Coruna
Re: How do I get and stay asleep on the trail? on 09/21/2009 13:49:06 MDT Print View

For me I find that I needed to adopt trail habits into my home life. This means going to bed at 8pm and sleeping on the floor with a quilt and a fan blowing on me....seriously. Also agree that if you CAN'T fall or stay asleep, just accepting it and relaxing and enjoying the moment is the next best thing. That, or read a book.

"i also think the "solution" of drugs is both crass and rediculous."

Medication...sometimes helps for me due to osteoarthritis pain in my ankle. This can flare up majorly if I'm doing long days or tricky terrain, the very days after which I most need a good night's sleep. "Drug" on the other hand, is a very loose term. Herbal teas, coffee and cocoa could be considered "drugs" (substances with no nutritive value taken to make you feel better). Marijuana is just a herb as are many other naturally occurring sedatives and sleep aids (valerian root, skullcap, camomile etc...). Alcohol may help you get to sleep, but won't keep you asleep after it wears off, and like antihistamines and sleeping pills, alcohol disrupts your sleep structure. Melatonin is really hit and miss. Works great for some folks and not at all for others. Herbal teas are really bad for my sleep quality as too much liquid at bed time means too many trips outside the tent in the middle of the night!

A hammock would be the worst solution I personally could imagine. Aside from the fact that half my nights out are well above treeline and most of my nights out are as a couple, hammocks make me really truly nauseous! But I am so sensitive in this respect that a 4" Stephenson's DAM can make me queasy. A NeoAir is about as high off the ground as I can stomach. But one woman's poison may be another man's treasure, especially if you go solo.

Piper S.
(sbhikes) - F

Locale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
Getting to sleep on 09/23/2009 16:39:35 MDT Print View

Sometimes a little pain reliever is needed. You may have pains you aren't really noticing since your senses are kind of wired from the excitement of being out there.

Other than that, a full belly, an empty bladder and warm snuggliness and I'm good to go.

Brad Groves
(4quietwoods) - MLife

Locale: Michigan
Re: How do I get and stay asleep on the trail? on 09/24/2009 10:50:08 MDT Print View

Use a comfy pad. Seems obvious, yet as UL people we tend to eschew the comfort for less weight. My pads are at least as comfortable as my bed at home. Deep, deep winter an Exped Downmat9. Early/late shoulder season, women's Thermarest Trail Pro (about 35% warmer than the men's version), summer & tail end of shoulder season Neoair. Even with the two heavier pads I'm still right around 10 or 12 pounds base.

Have enough of something to make a decent pillow. If you're with a tent partner, carry some foam ear plugs (I could never sleep through the snoring before). I do take Benadryl at night, partly for the sleep effect, but more so because I have severe allergies and can't take the Benadryl during the day... extension of that thought being that if you have allergies, post-nasal drainage and such can interrupt good sleep. I also would encourage incorporating some kind of bedtime ritual that you follow both at home and on the trail. In other words, regardless of where you go to bed, you brush your teeth, get your final drink of water, take your final bathroom break, etc in the same order. Part of good "sleep hygiene." If you have a night-time appropriate beverage that really makes you happy, make having some of that part of your pre-bed ritual.

As to the pad and actually sleeping, make sure you can comfortably sleep in the backcountry the same as you sleep at home. In other words, if you sleep on your side at home, make sure you can comfortably sleep on your side in the woods (both pad and enough pillow support). Get a sleeping bag that'll keep you plenty warm, but not too hot... depends on how you tend to sleep...

Edited by 4quietwoods on 09/24/2009 10:52:14 MDT.

jim draucker
(mtnjim) - MLife

Locale: Shenandoah Valley VA
Sleepy nite-nite time on 09/24/2009 11:06:31 MDT Print View

Hello all

Meds for pain/swelling management are Ok. Meds or anything
to make you fall out.Not so good. I still want to have my wits in tne middle of the night. My trick is to think about nothing, except for my breathing. I breath slowly and deeply while counting my breathes. If another thought enters my mind I start the count over. I am usually snoring in no time.Stomach breathing is used when I do this.


Tom Caldwell
(Coldspring) - F

Locale: Ozarks
How do I get and stay asleep on the trail? on 09/24/2009 11:45:37 MDT Print View

As far as hammocks go, I actually think I sleep more hours on the ground, BUT, I feel more rested and fresh after a night in a hammock. I think it has to do with the quality of the sleep, maybe 3 hours in a hammock is as good as 6 hours in a tent. Or it could have to do with the fact that laying on the ground is so miserable that the only solution is to sleep through it. I do know that I'm ready to get off the ground at daylight, and hammocking can make me lazy about getting up, er, I mean down. People tell me that herbs keep them awake if taken before bedtime, and they hear a lot more noises. Bourbon helps me, but I have such a tolerance that it would be impractical, weightwise, for more than a two-nighter.

Hikin' Jim
(hikin_jim) - MLife

Locale: Orange County, CA, USA
Re: How do I get and stay asleep on the trail? on 09/24/2009 14:21:02 MDT Print View

Normally, I stick with the basics:
-good pad (yes, even if it's a few ounces more)
-good pillow
-full belly
-comfortably warm
-hot decaf tea an hour or so before bed
-get into camp early enough to have a little down time
-advil or the like if I'm sore

I've read that sleeping pills are the LAST thing you want to take if sleeping at altitude.

I also sleep in capiliene (tops and bottoms) and socks so if I roll over in the night, a cold spot won't wake me up.

100% agree that taking anything that diminishes mental sharpness is a bad idea.

David Neumann
(idahomtman) - M

Locale: Northern Idaho
Falling asleep on the trail on 09/24/2009 14:48:46 MDT Print View

Interesting thread. I had great difficulty sleeping on the final 3 days of a 10-day JMT thru-hike because of the pad and the fact I had lost weight and body fat and I couldn't find a comfortable position to sleep in.

I agree with the post that sleeping pills are not recommended at high altitude (above 10,000'). Tylenol PM is simply Tylenol with a decongestant. I refrain from taking it at altitude, although I'm not convinced under normal circumstances it would be problematic, but below 10,000' I have no qualms with taking the pain reliever plus "sleep aid." I buy the generic brand and it works just as well.

In addition to the chemical, a reasonably comfortable pad goes a long way toward a better nights sleep but you have to balance the pack weight versus the benefit of the heavier pad. On a weekend trip I might take my BPL TorsoLite and another 1/4" full length pad to go under my quilt but on a thru-hike I usually use the torso length Gossamer Gear NightLite. It works better providing structure to my pack and adequately insulates from the ground AND I find it more comfortable than other pads such as the Z-rest and the like.

Obviously being well fed and warm is important and I have also found that listening to a lightweight MP3 player with soothing music helps as well. I imagine everyone is different and you have to experiment to find what works best for you.

te - wa
(mikeinfhaz) - F

Locale: Phoenix
stay drunk on 09/24/2009 15:48:56 MDT Print View

"Bourbon helps me, but I have such a tolerance that it would be impractical, weightwise, for more than a two-nighter."

Tom, thats awesome! I like me a little (ok a big) nip of Jack Daniels with some of the hangin buddies around the fire. I dont do it to sleep better. I do it to get a buzz.

two points id like to make if you'll let me..
1) i used to take advil pm/benadryl to help me fall asleep when i slept on the ground. i used a prolite 3 and later a ba air core. they never worked well.
b) switched to hammock, no need for pills. i did not like them. and fwiw, Lynn - marijuana may be an herb but THC is most definately a drug. not that i have a problem with that!

Lynn Tramper
(retropump) - F

Locale: The Antipodes of La Coruna
Re: stay drunk on 09/24/2009 16:51:34 MDT Print View

"marijuana may be an herb but THC is most definately a drug. not that i have a problem with that!"

I have not met anyone who takes purified THC for recreational/sleep effects. However, THC HAS been developed as a medicinal pharmaceutical to help some sick folks. Marijuana, tobacco leaves, coffee beans, teas, coca leaves, peyote, cocoa beans and thousands of other "herbs" have chemicals in them that may act as "drugs" when isolated and purified. Think of the advances in medicine alone due to the ancient use of willow bark for pain and fever...add some coffee beans to your willow bark tea to potentiate the analgesic effects! Modern addiction researchers now consider many foods to be "drugs" (and very addictive ones) in the sense that people will often eat them in quantities well above their nutritional needs. Other foods are consumed purely for their alleged 'medicinal' effects, eg foods rich in anit-oxidants or fibre....the term drug has become almost meaningless unless you specify its effects as either therapeutic or recreational, and with or without addictive potential. Marijuana and many other herbs can clearly act as all of the above depending on how they're used. Use marijuana occasionally to help with sleep, pain control or appetite and it is considered therapeutic. Use it a lot just to get a buzz and it becomes a recreational and potentially addictive drug.

Gordon Smith
(swearingen) - MLife

Locale: Portland, Oregon
Ambien CR on 09/26/2009 00:36:34 MDT Print View

I don't care what anybody says or thinks. I have a lot of trouble sleeping on the trail and the only thing I've found that works really well for me is Ambien CR. It works amazingly well. A good night's sleep makes ALL the difference.


Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: How do I get and stay asleep on the trail? on 09/26/2009 03:49:49 MDT Print View

Hum. By the time I have made camp, got water, cooked dinner, and washed up, keeping my eyes open is the only problem.
I used to use a 2" Therm-a-Rest, but recently I found the 1" ProLites were just as comfortable.


Hikin' Jim
(hikin_jim) - MLife

Locale: Orange County, CA, USA
BP'er Mag Articles on 09/30/2009 17:35:24 MDT Print View

Someone mentioned the recent BP'er Mag article on sleep. It's got some good ideas, but some ideas are to my mind impractical. FWIW, here's a link:

Here's a link to an older article which has some good ideas.

Jamie Shortt
(jshortt) - MLife

Locale: North Carolina
re: How do I get and stay asleep on the trail? on 09/30/2009 18:02:19 MDT Print View

I've found that long days on the trail stopping just at dusk helps tremendously. I only use a short 3/8" thinlight to sleep on so this isnt adding too much to comfort. Until recently I would finish the night off with a shot of bourbon or some everclear mixed with crystal light. As this added weight and dulled my senses I recently tried a new sleep aid. It is Yogi Tea - Bedtime. It is an all natural tea to help you go to sleep. For me it works extremely well.


Brad Fisher

Locale: NC/TN/VA Mountains
Re: re: How do I get and stay asleep on the trail? on 09/30/2009 18:11:25 MDT Print View

Over the counter Simply Sleep works great for me. Basically same ingredients as benadryl.

Lynn Tramper
(retropump) - F

Locale: The Antipodes of La Coruna
Re: Re: re: How do I get and stay asleep on the trail? on 09/30/2009 18:32:09 MDT Print View

Time of year makes a big difference to me...winter days are too short, and when it's too cold to do anything other than go to bed, I'm guaranteed to wake sometime in the middle of the night and not get back to sleep until early morning. Reading a book is about all I can do to pass the time. I'm getting enough sleep, but can't sleep 14 hours straight no matter how tired I am. :(

Lori P
(lori999) - F

Locale: Central Valley
re: to sleep, perchance to dream on 09/30/2009 19:48:02 MDT Print View

I had a rough re-entry into camping/backpacking after years of ... well, not. I had a tent and thermarest. I got no sleep. I tried, oh how I tried, to get used to it. It wasn't noise, or fear of things that bump in the night. The pattern, time after time, was lying awake allllll night, staring at the ceiling of the tent. Tossing, turning, falling asleep for a few minutes, waking to find a limb off the pad or the mummy bag twisted up again, or the hood in my face, or I'd rolled against the side of the tent. Around 6 am or so I fell asleep out of sheer exhaustion only to wake again as the sun heated up the tent. My joints were killing me. My hips got sore from trying to sleep on the pad. My claustrophobia wasn't liking it AT ALL. Hate mummy bags. No ipod or meditation will change that.

I got a Hennessy. At first I used the good ol' blue ccf, then got an underquilt. Absolutely solid sleep. For a while I had trouble getting the actual hang figured out - some of the time, it wasn't so comfy. But my joints didn't ache. My hips didn't bottom out, and I was warm and off the ground.

I got a Blackbird. Not a single hang has been less comfortable - less than ideal, yes, I've put the suspension to the test with crazy hangs, extending one strap all the way and cinching the other up to the whipping to avoid underquilt-tearing branches, or shoving the straps up trees high over granite boulders. But I feel even less claustrophobic in it than in the Hennessy, and eight to ten hours of sleep are my new norm.

Figuring that I'd get to spend at least 2/3 of the time in the hammock, I got a NeoAir to go with me on the JMT just in case my group ended up camping in areas inconvenient for hanging. For the first time since getting a hammock, I slept on the ground - it worked, I slept about five hours or so - not ideal but better than before. The NeoAir is 2.5" thick, which I guess is enough. Still going to hammock whenever and wherever possible, as I go out to relax and rest, not death march through the wilderness.

I don't know why the OP can't sleep - he hasn't responded to any appeals for more info on the forums he's posted to (there are two others I'm aware of). Hopefully he's found some help in what we've posted.

Hikin' Jim
(hikin_jim) - MLife

Locale: Orange County, CA, USA
Re: re: to sleep, perchance to dream on 09/30/2009 21:01:17 MDT Print View


I don't know why the OP can't sleep - he hasn't responded to any appeals for more info on the forums he's posted to (there are two others I'm aware of). Hopefully he's found some help in what we've posted.
Maybe he picked up on some of our tips ... and fell asleep. ;)