Study after study has revealed that rest is just as important as food and water. It's one of our basic needs.
The effects of a poor night's sleep can range from a mild drowsy feeling to a downright dangerous situation (slower reaction time, impaired decision making, a higher susceptibility to sickness), none of which is helpful if you've got a competition or big adventure planned for the next day. If your lack of sleep is a ongoing condition, it can also put you at a higher risk for chronic illnesses. Not good. Making time for rest should be a top priority for everyone from vanlifers to elite athletes. Sometimes, however, that dreamy state of rest is downright elusive, especially when you're on the road.
We've been traveling across the country (currently we're in Florida) in our Wayfarer Van and have learned a good bit about how to get a good night’s sleep while traveling in a van.
Drink Caffeine and Alcohol Wisely
I have a small bladder and having to pee at night wakes me up. Sometimes, if I’ve had a couple beers, I'll be up several times a night. It's a complete pain to have to use the bathroom in the middle of the night in the van because in our set-up you really only have two choices. You can either get out of vehicle and find an area away from camp to pee OR you can pop a squat in the van and pee in a cup. Both almost always wake up the other person in the van, and though we've become really adept at the peeing in a cup, there is nothing worse than spilling the cup that's filled with urine. Especially at two in the morning. If you really want to prioritize your sleep, curb your coffee and alcohol intake in the late afternoon and evening.
Make the Van as Dark as Possible
Our van only has three panes of glass which let light in: the windshield and the driver and passenger side windows. The rest of the van has metal panels where the windows would be in other vehicles. This in itself is a huge help in blocking light. We have an AutoCraft Sunshade that we use to cover the windshield and in most situations, that's all we need. We like it because it's light and folds up fairly compact so that we can store it behind the driver's seat when not in use. Most of the time this does the trick, but when we happen to park in a well-lit parking lot or on the street, we bring out our eye masks for a little added protection from the light.
Sound will keep you up as much as light. The inside of our van has several different insulation panels. The panels are about a quarter inch in thickness and are held in place with small magnets which work great since the walls of the van are metal. The magnets also serve to make the insulation only semi-permanent. All said, the insulation panels work to reduce a good bit of noise but sometimes we still need earplugs. If you're new to wearing earplugs, they might feel a bit strange at first but stick with it, and see if they don't make the barking dog outside your rig a non-issue.
We try to take five or ten minutes right before bed to quiet our minds. I used to think I had to be sitting up, on a mat, in a quiet space in order to meditate, but traveling in a van has taught me that I can get the same benefits even if the environment isn't perfect. We've found that this calming down period unwinds our minds and allows us to be thankful for the day's experiences, as well as process any stress. If you try meditating, notice your heart rate and breathing at the start and see if your system isn't a bit calmer at the end of your session. If you're struggling to meditate on your own, try Headspace or Calm, two apps that we've enjoyed.
Tire Yourself Out
Sometimes we play so hard during the day that by the time night falls, we're ready for bed and asleep as soon as our heads hit the pillow. There could be a rowdy group of campers next to our van and it doesn't even faze us. There is no single better method for getting a good night’s rest than working your body to exhaustion. We’ve got a few tips on how exactly to wear yourself out in a fun way, and stay fit on the road.
Stick to a Routine
When we’re on the road, every day is different. But a little bit of structure can go a long way. It helps to have a bedtime routine, if only because it teaches your system that it's time to wind down. We've played around with a firm bedtime, but find that it's too hard to be consistent with for us. We do, however, have a pretty consistent alarm that goes off every morning.
Choose Your Setup Wisely
We've come a long way from the random assortment of cushions we used to sleep on. None of them were the same size and they would shift everytime we rolled over. We were rarely able to get comfortable and as a result, sleep was hard to come by. After a lot of research, we finally invested in the Exped SIM Comfort Duo 7.5 Mat. We couldn't be happier. It's super comfortable and easily inflates and deflates so that we can't feel the wooden bed frame beneath us. It also folds in half and can be used as a seat cushion during the day. It's one of the most expensive pieces of gear we own but it's been worth every penny.
On top of the Exped Mat we're using the Kelty Tru.Comfort Doublewide 20 Sleeping Bag. It's big enough for the both of us and is rated to 20 degrees Fahrenheit. We've actually tested it in conditions that cold and it's served us well. Aside from the Exped Mat it's one of the most important pieces of sleeping gear that we own for van life. We've even brought it with us for springtime in Florida and though most nights we're sleeping on top of it with a light blanket on us, it adds a little bit of extra cushion to make our bed feel that more plush.
If you're living out of your van, headed out on a week-long adventure or even just thinking about vanlife, be sure to consider how this will impact your sleep. We can't emphasize enough the importance of choosing your gear wisely as well as creating an environment in your rig that will make sleep more likely to happen. Making sure that you're able to get a good night's rest might just mean the difference between wanting to call it quits and being able to travel for months or even years on end.
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