10 Vanlife sleep hacks
As we’ve discussed previously in our Vanlife sleep series, quality rest is vital to a healthy life, and without consistent sleep, Vanlife can be a real challenge.
In recent years a mountain of scientific research has come out on the importance of sleep.
For example, research suggests that sleepiness directly correlates to procrastination.
We recommend ‘Why We Sleep’, by the director of UC Berkeley’s Center for Human Sleep Science, Mathew Walker.
1. Campervan bed design for total Vanlife comfort
A comfortable bed begins with your van build.
When you embark on designing your dream van, one of the first elements you’ll want to consider is the bed.
There are many iterations on bed design, but there are essentially two options: fixed or transforming.
A fixed bed works well for a vanlifer who wants the most amount of storage possible.
With a fixed, raised bed, your van can have its very own garage to store bikes, skis, and all sorts of outdoor gear.
Another advantage to a fixed bed is that you’ll have much less work to do to make your mattress fit your design. Likely, the most you’ll have to do is trim a little off the edges.
However, a transforming bed can provide greater versatility in how you use the space.
For example, our van bed transforms into a U-shaped couch with a large table for eating, hosting friends, or working on our laptops.
One downside to the transforming bed is the customized mattress cushions you’ll need to make, or pay to have made.
Making custom cushions is a big job and should be outsourced unless you’re a wizard on a sewing machine.
Once you’ve established your design, you’ll want to buy a designated set of pillows and bedding that can stay in the van for your weekend trips.
Another consideration is campervan pillows and bedding choices. It’s important to take the time to get these for your particular sleep needs.
2. Light and sleep
One of the joys of vanlife is being able to pull off the road and sleep pretty much anywhere.
However, those late-night pull-offs aren’t always under starry skies in a remote, beautiful location.
Sometimes your campsite is a Walmart parking lot in the middle of a city, with spotlights pouring through every crack in the curtains.
I’m a very light sleeper, and very affected by light. So, when I designed our curtains, I made curtains for our campervan that are blackout and insulating, which stay in place with magnets.
They’re easy to put up and take down, and fold up to stash away in the cupboard during the day.
If your campervan curtains allow some light in, or if the light shines through your overhead extractor fan earlier than you’d like, an eye mask could be your best friend.
3. Noise control
Even if you’re not waking up, noises through the night can disrupt REM sleep.
Whenever possible, try to find a quiet location where you can park for the night.
One vanlife sleep hack I’ve found valuable are iPhone and Android apps that can play a soundtrack of rain or nature sounds.
These could be helpful if you’re in a noisy park or lot or stealth camping near a busy road.
Search your app provider for “white noise”, “nature sounds” or my go-to, the “Make it Rain” app.
You can also use a white noise machine, though these can be a drain on batteries when off grid, so be sure to research watts per hour use before purchasing.
I also use ear plugs, which allow me to get a good night’s sleep almost anywhere.
4. Stress reduction
Trying to sleep when you’re worried about routes, repairs, or finances can completely ruin your rest.
To avoid this, carve out some time in the evening to go over planning for the following day.
If you’re concerned about vanlife safety and security, consider creating a security plan and then stick to it. You’ll rest easy knowing you’ve taken steps to address any potential issues.
One excellent method for coping with stress is meditation. If you struggle to stay put, there are smartphone apps that provide guided meditations.
We recommend the ‘Waking Up’ app by Sam Harris.
Meditation is proven to help relieve stress and anxiety, which will lead to a more restful sleep.
5. Campervan clutter
As we’ve discussed in Top 10 van travel mistakes and other posts, successful vanlife (and minimalism in general) requires diligent organization and cleaning.
Because you’ll be living in a small space, it’s important to be sure everything has its dedicated place.
Do the dishes right after dinner and do a 10-minute sweep to declutter and cleanse your space before you sleep. It will help clear your mind for a restful night.
Vanlife diet and nutrition are important while traveling.
Avoid eating too late, and stay away from processed, or high-sugar, high-carb foods close to bedtime.
A late-night, high-carb meal can annihilate REM sleep.
A good rule of thumb is to aim to eat dinner two to three hours before bed.
If you need a snack before bed, go for some nuts, plain yogurt sweetened with stevia and berries, some natural peanut butter…
7. Stimulants & Depressants
If you’re finding it hard to wind down at night, caffeine should be avoided in the afternoon and evening hours.
Caffeine has a half-life of five to six hours, and depending on your tolerance, that number could increase.
If you have a sweet tooth, opt for some fruit rather than sugar-filled desserts, and try to avoid chocolate.
Chocolate contains a stimulant called Theobromine which can keep you up at night, so save it for your midday energy boost instead of after dinner.
I know a lot of you Vanlifers love your micro brews and even your 420, and we don’t mean to ruffle feathers or engage in debate, so we’ll stick to science.
Best to limit the use of these to early evening, or, if you have serious trouble sleeping, eliminate them completely.
8. Vanlife sleep schedule
Having a consistent bedtime is important for keeping your body in tune with your circadian rhythms.
This can be challenging on the road. Best laid plans don’t always account for traffic, looking for a parking spot in a new place, or a lengthy dinner prep.
Do your best to plan your driving, meals, and activities around sleep. Keep your late nights to once per week when possible.
9. Screen time
Bright lights close to bedtime can impact sleep quality.
This happens because the blue light from your screen inhibits your body’s natural release of melatonin, the hormone that makes us sleepy.
So, shut down your phone/tablet/laptop at least an hour before sleep. Turn off all phone alerts, and resist the urge to check your phone at night.
If looking at your phone is unavoidable, there are apps to reduce the blue light your phone emits.
10. Staying active on your Vanlife journey
Probably the best recipe for a good night’s sleep is getting enough exercise during the day.
A comfy bed, a good movie, or reading a book are all very enticing after a long drive.
But really, a walk, bike ride, or some stretching to get your blood flowing will make it much easier to fall asleep at night.
Your body will thank you with great sleep and you’ll feel ready for tomorrow’s adventures.