I’m a nationally published sleep expert, journalist, and the mom of three young kids. I’ve been helping tired families sleep since 2007 (more about me here). Subscribe to The Well Rested Family for fresh news and tips on keeping your bunch happy and healthy. Thanks for stopping by!


Find Me Here!

Tag cloud
10 month old sleep 11 month old 2 year old can't fall asleep 2 year old nap 3 year old stops napping 4 month old 45 minute naps 8 month old adults adults sleep alarm clock babies baby baby bedtime baby doesn't nap baby fall back baby nursing to sleep baby rolling at night baby short naps baby sleep baby sleep positioners baby sleep routine bad bedtimes bedroom too loud bedsharing bedtime bedtime baby bedtime books bedtime child bedtime for teens bedtime problem bedtime routine bedtime snacks bedtimes bedwetting best bedtime stories for kids big boy bed blackout curtains boost breastfed baby sleep through the night bsby cosleeping bumpers caffeine child child bedtime child can't sleep child sleeping in a tent childcare childhood fears and sleep children cosleeping cover story creativity crib cry it out cultural intelligence daycare daylight savings time Daylight Savings Time kid bedtime daylight savings time sleep DHA does exercise help kids sleep dropping a nap DST early waker early waking ebook education energy equality equally shared parenting exercise and kids exercise and sleep fall back falling back families family five month old naps five month old short naps five month old sleep five year old bedtime food getting baby to bed getting dad to help with bedtime Getting kids to bed getting kids to bed during the summer getting kids to bed when it's light out getting rid of the pacifier giveaway green Harvey Karp Hawaii health heart health tips help helping kids adjust to daylight savings time helping kids get to sleep after vacation Helping kids sleep in the summer helping kids sleep through the night helping twins sleep holiday how long should babies nap how long should bedtime take how much sleep do adults need how to get rid of nightmares how to help a preschooler nap how to stop nightmares humor immune system infant sleep insomnia kids kids always get sick kids and daylight savings time kids sharing bedrooms kids sleep questions Kindle king 5 large family late bedtime learning leg cramps light math Moms moving child to his own bedroom nap nap routine napping in arms naps new sibling newborn news night terror night waking nightlights nightmare nightmares nighttime dryness nurse to sleep association nutrition one year old overtied kids overtired overtired child overtiredness pacifier pajamas nightmares parenting parentmap pediatric restless legs syndrome potty training pregnancy and newborn preschool Preschooler problem problem solving product productivity pull ups putting kids to bed questions raising a boy robotic safety safey separation anxiety setting a bedtime for kids shared bedroom shared bedrooms Shopping short naps short sleeper six month old sleep skipped naps sleep sleep and learning sleep coach sleep coaching sleep consulting sleep expert sleep for moms sleep gadgets sleep help sleep hygiene sleep pregnancy sleep questions sleep regression sleep through the night sleeping during the summer sleeping well during pregnancy sleeping while camping soundproof spring forward standing and screaming in crib stress sugar summer summer bedtime swaddle teen teen bedtime Teenage brains television time change time zone adjustment toddler toddler 4 am toddler bed toddler leg cramps toddler naps toddler sleep toddlers toilet transition transition to one nap travel with kids tryptophan twins undertired up all night violence and kids violent video games and children waking warm bedroom hurts sleep weaning the swaddle winter women heart health won't fall asleep work worries
« Ask Malia: Why Won't My Baby Nap? | Main | Ask Malia: When Will My Preschooler Stay Dry At Night? »

Helping Kids Sleep When You're Camping

Sleep and camping: Can you have both?When it comes to family vacations, I’m all for keeping kids as well-rested as possible. After all, nobody wants to travel with a whiny, overtired child, right? But when your vacation destination is a campsite, things get a bit hairy.

Camping presents some unique sleep hurdles. For starters, here in the Northwestern US, the summer sun shines from around 5 a.m. to past 10 p.m. At home, you can block the rays from bedrooms, but there’s virtually no way to block the brilliant sun from invading your tent. Or the 4 a.m. birdsongs, which are lovely—except when you want just 15 more mintues of precious shut-eye. Add stifling or chilling temperatures (depending on your locale), the close proximity of other (loud) campers, road noise, and relatively minimal creature comforts, and it’s no wonder camping kids have trouble sleeping well.

I should know—I just returned from an island camping trip with two little campers who happen to be light sleepers. Our friends advised us to just “let them go until they crash,” but that’s not an option for us. Our oldest actually asks to be put to bed around the same time each night (and she goes from pleasantly sleepy to painfully overtired in a flash). As for our adventurous toddler, “going until she crashes” would entail traipsing into neighboring campsites, befriending strange dogs, upending the trashbag, and pitching plates and cutlery into the campfire until WE finally crashed from exhaustion. We had to figure out a way to get them to bed at a decent hour, bellowing birds and brutally late sunsets be darned.

With some planning and some patience, we did. Yes, the process took a bit longer than our at-home bedtimes, but the fun we had on our trip was well worth it. So don’t let fear of sleepless nights keep you from wandering into the wilderness (or maybe a local well-equipped campground) with kids in tow. Camping is a memorable family experience no kid should miss. Here are a few ways to support healthy sleep so kids have energy for hiking, swimming, and s’mores eating.

Beat the heat—or find some heat

If nighttime temperatures at your destination run above 70 degrees F or below 50, kids may be too warm or cold to sleep comfortably. The ideal temperature for sleep is between 60 and 68 degrees, and bodies that are too hot or cold have trouble cycling through the phases of sleep.

Here in the Pacific Northwest, nights are cool even at the height of summer. A friend of mine swears by the family bed during camping trips to keep everyone toasty at night—one king-size air mattress, parents, kids, body heat and lots of blankets. During 45 degree nights in our tent, I kept my petite 2-year-old warm with footed fleece pajamas and a hooded sweatshirt layered on top. I didn't overdo the blankets—as she kicks them off anyway—but I did drape a large, lightweight blanket over her pack-and-play. The blanket helped insulate her “mini-bedroom” and had a nice side-effect of blocking some light, too.

You can always pile on more blankets when cold temps nip your toes, but stale warm air is harder to escape. On warm nights, sending kids to bed after a cool shower (or swimming session) can jump-start the body’s natural cooling process that helps initiate sleep. For a cool tent, keep it as dark as possible during the daylight hours. When the outside air begins to cool in the early evening, open your tent’s windows and doors to let the cool air in. Here, summer temperatures tend to peak around 5 p.m. and plummet after 6, making the hours between 6 and 9 p.m. ideal for tent-cooling breezes.

Sound asleep

One reason camping is tough on sleep is that children rely so heavily on environmental cues (like light and temperature) to bring on relaxation and sleep, and inside a tent, the environment is tough to control. But sound is one environmental cue you can employ while camping. If you use a white noise machine or music player during your child’s bedtime routine, get some batteries and bring it along. White noise is like an invisible teddy bear for your child—it can comfort her and create a sense of familiarity when she’s sleeping in an unfamiliar spot, and help drown out the loud late-night gabfest taking place two campsites over. If possible, try to choose a campsite away from main roads, bathrooms, campsite entrances, and other potentially-loud gathering spots.

Put in for a transfer

After an action-packed outdoor day, your little one might conk out in the car, stroller, or carrier. Or you might purposely walk or drive a fidgety child to sleep. This could make for an ultra-easy bedtime—if you transfer him to bed without waking him, that is.

Timing matters: the best time to move him to his bed is 20-30 minutes after he begins snoozing. Too soon, and he may still be in a light sleep and prone to wake when moved. Too late, and he may be preparing to start a new sleep cycle, which also makes him more prone to wake (kids are notorious for waking at the 45-minute mark). You’re aiming for complete immobility and deep, even breathing—think rag-doll floppy sleep. Now, ease that slumbering kiddo into his sleeping bag. Slooooowly coax the tent zipper shut. Then prop your feet up for a well-earned moment of R&R, and a s’mores or three. You earned it.   

Happy trails, campers! Do your kids sleep better or worse when camping? If you have tips for helping kids sleep well in the great outdoors, I’d love to hear them!

If all else fails, walk 'em till they drop! On our trip, miles of trails made for better bedtimes (and helped burn off all those toasted marshmallows).

References (1)

References allow you to track sources for this article, as well as articles that were written in response to this article.

Reader Comments (1)

Great ideas! My husband and I love camping and tried it once with our daughter when she was 3-months-old in a pop-up. It was a rental and the insulation was not reliable, i.e. one side was 40 degrees and the other was 90 degrees! Since then we've been really nervous to try again, especially in a tent. Our biggest concern is napping. With the sun beating down in the middle of the day - how do you manage? Especially doing it twice?

September 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMary

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>