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How to wake earlier when camping: 5 tips for getting better shut-eye under canvas

People resting at camp
(Image credit: Getty)

Did you know that camping is good for resetting your internal clock? This is your subconscious timekeeper – controlled by the circadian rhythm (opens in new tab) and usually connected to the pattern of the sun – that helps you to wake up feeling properly rested in the morning. The good news is that camping has been found to be a brilliant way to wake up earlier, yet still feel properly rested.

In fact, scientists found that a week of camping – away from our modern lives of electric lights, computers and other screens – synchronizes the body's internal clock to the sun. 

Research published in the Current Biology journal (opens in new tab) found that too much artificial light at the wrong time can change sleep patterns, which is why we can feel groggy in the mornings. Meanwhile, sleeping outdoors resets the body’s clock so that we awaken easier and feeling more energetic, helping us wake earlier when camping.

1. Enjoy some exercise

The chances are that a camping trip will involve some exercise, such as hiking, kayaking, paddleboarding or kayaking. Most people who are planning to camp will also be keen to enjoy some kind of physical activity outdoors, too. 

Doing something energetic outdoors will set you up for a good night’s sleep. Being active during the day helps with sleep because it tires you physically, which leaves you ready for rest and sleep. Exercise is also a good way to reduce stress and anxiety, which means you will drift off to sleep more easily.

If you can use up energy in the day, go to bed feeling tired and get a good night’s sleep, you’ll wake earlier when camping feeling refreshed.

Tent illuminated at night

Comfort is key to a good night's sleep when camping (Image credit: Getty)

2. Get comfortable in your tent

Another tip for ensuring you wake up earlier when camping is to be comfortable while you sleep. It’s a good idea to prepare for your trip with a useful camping checklist.

Top of the list will be the best sleeping bag for the conditions and season, as well as a good camping mattress or sleeping pad. Aim to be as generous as you can with the sleeping bag and mattress and balance the weight you will need to carry with the aim of a comfortable night in the tent.

Other great ideas for sleeping well outdoors include a camping pillow and earplugs, which can be useful for blocking out unfamiliar sounds of nature and the snoring of other campers.

A sleeping mask could also be a good idea, although it depends on the time of year. If your aim is to wake early while camping, you might want to leave the sleep mask at home and let the light wake you naturally. However, if it is the height of summer and it is going to be light very early and you want to avoid the sun awakening you at 4am, the mask could be a handy addition to your backpacking essentials.

If you are comfortable in your tent and sleep well, when you wake up earlier, you will not feel like you need more sleep.

Man relaxing with a hot drink at camp

Sticking to a regular bedtime routine will help you wind down at the end of the day (Image credit: Getty)

3. Relax and unwind

Just like when you're at home, following a good bedtime routine will give you the best chance of a good night’s sleep and the ability to wake earlier when camping while also feeling refreshed.

Start winding down after your evening meal (and don't leave the meal too late). Keep your food simple so that it is easy to digest and try not to over eat. Going to bed full will make it difficult to sleep.

Many campers will be keen to enjoy a few beers or glasses of wine but be aware that while alcohol helps you to relax in the evening, it can cause you to wake up in the middle of the night.

The best plan might be just one or two small beers and then move on to drinks such as non-caffeinated tea or something warm and milky as a way to further relax you towards bedtime. 

Building a campfire and listening to the cracking sounds of the flames can be very relaxing. Make sure you follow the rules of the campsite when making a fire, or else take a portable firepit and be very careful about where you light the fire. 

Other great ways to relax while camping include reading, listening to quiet music, gazing at the stars or even meditating. When you are surrounded by nature it can be much easier to switch off and feel less stress so take advantage of this in the evening as you prepare for a restful night’s sleep.

4. Go back a few decades

If you are older than 50 you will recall a time when evenings where not filled with non-stop TV choices from dozens of channels. Nor were there high-tech games consoles, social media platforms and all the other distractions of life in the 21st century.

Back when we were kids, the TV was switched off before midnight and we read a lot more. We also whiled away evenings with card and board games and spent more time together chatting rather than engaging with social media.

You could employ some “old fashioned” techniques for having a calmer evening before bedtime, such as reading, enjoying a low-key card game or simply chatting while sat around the campfire.

We’ll bet you feel far more rested when going to bed than after an evening of non-stop digital entertainment! 

Person waking in tent and stretching

Going to bed earlier at camp will help you wake earlier in the morning (Image credit: Getty)

5. Go to bed earlier

It is probably obvious to state that going to bed earlier will allow you to wake earlier when camping while still feeling refreshed. Fortunately, spending time outdoors and being active normally makes you more tired in the evenings, so it’s likely you will be in bed hours earlier the you would at home.

Added to this there will be far fewer distractions for staying up late, such as watching TV or playing online games. 

In any case, once you have set up camp, cooked a meal and sat back to enjoy the evening in a lovely natural place, you might find it’s only just 8:30pm. What else is there to do than relax and the turn in for an early night?

Following all these steps over a few nights of camping are likely to give you the opportunity to wake up earlier while camping. And an early morning rise will mean you can enjoy more of the daylight for taking part in your favourite outdoor activities. 

This article is part of Advnture's Sleep Week 2022 (running from Monday 22 August to Sunday 28 August), our in-depth look at how to choose the best gear for sleeping outdoors and get a better night's rest in the backcountry.

Fiona Russell is a widely published adventure journalist and blogger, who is better known as Fiona Outdoors. She is based in Scotland and is an all-round outdoors enthusiast with favourite activities including trail running, mountain walking, mountain biking, road cycling, triathlon and skiing, both downhill and back country. Her target for 2021 is to finish the final nine summits in her first round of all 282 Munros, the Scottish mountains of more than 3,000ft high. Aside from being outdoors, Fiona's biggest aim is to inspire others to enjoy the great outdoors, especially through her writing. She is also rarely seen without a running skort! Find out more at Fiona Outdoors (opens in new tab).