Ever watch the series “Naked and Afraid”? Quickly, it’s a demonstration of a man and woman naked, with the exception of a tool each, and their attempt to last 21 days in the wild. The reason I mention this is in spite of biting pests and other aggravations the contestants are always able to grab a few hours of shut eye except … when they are cold. Knowing how to sleep warm can be more than a comfort matter, it can literally turn into a life and death matter.
Risking Hypothermia is a (excuse the pun) a good way to not wake up again. But let’s forget hypothermia and just concentrate on getting a good night’s rest after an exhausting day of hiking or climbing. Trying to sleep while cold, we’re talking the 50 degree F night in a damp tent or on the ground, not minus -20 F of the Arctic, is nearly impossible. The constant shivering of the body attempting to maintain core temperature will not allow you to sleep.
Let’s discuss sleep … what is it and how do we do it. Obviously sleep is when we enter into an unconsciousness that allows our body to mend and recuperate from the day’s strenuous activities. Although this is a critical part of staying alive, our bodies have a temperature range of @ 65-75 degrees F, that are ideal for sleep. Venture outside these parameters and you start experiencing difficulties going to sleep.
Do you know a person who has worked the night shift all their life and have difficulty sleeping on the weekend? That’s because their body has been forced to adapt to a new and abnormal sleeping schedule. Normally, every night as the sun sets, the darkening environment signals our brain its time to get sleepy and begins producing a hormone called Melatonin, a natural sleeping pill.
Scientists believe this natural instinct has not changed since the beginning of mankind, as darkness hid danger, therefore it was a perfect time to stay put and rest. This process also tells our body to begin dropping our body temperatures as a cooler environment is better for sleep. However, if the environment becomes too hot or cold, it can interfere with our sleep cycle and disrupt our natural sleep-wake pattern leaving us as tired when we wake as when we went to sleep. Learning how to sleep warm in a frosty environment will allow your body to recuperate instead of fighting the entire night to remain warm.
Tips to stay cozy on back-country trips:
Perform Light Exercises Before Bed: Keep in mind you want to increase your body temperature, but not to the point of sweating, as that can be counter-productive.
Stand with your legs apart. Breathe deeply and raise your arms to the ceiling. Roll your shoulders backwards
Exhale and lower your arms to rest at your side
Inhale and raise your arms to the ceiling again, stretching as high as possible
Do 10-12 reps
Drink Warm Liquid: There’s little better to warm yourself than to drink a hot beverage before turning in. However, avoid hot cocoa or coffee with caffeine as it may keep you awake. Choose a herbal tea or a mug of hot water with lemon and honey.
Wear Layers of Clothes: The rules that apply for staying warm during active times holds true for inactive periods. Layer your clothing in order to trap body heat before going to sleep. Clothing such as wool long johns, flannel shirts, sweaters, long sleeve t-shirts all add to keeping you warm. Additionally, should you awake too hot, you can peel off a layer of clothing to compensate without going to the extreme of opening your sleeping bag.
Layer your Sheets and Blankets: By layering your blankets you retain more heat. Place a thick blanket next to you, then a thinner blanket, continue alternating until you run out of blankets. This will help keep you warm and if you become too hot you can peel one layer off at a time without an extreme temperature change. Down comforters and wool blankets are excellent choices, as are down filled sleeping bags.
Footwear: The feet and hands, the outer extremities, are the first to feel the cold because they are the first parts the body restricts blood flow. As you age, and smokers, circulation of blood becomes harder, thus staying warm is harder. Wearing wool socks will greatly enhance the chances of keeping your feet warm and work better than wrapping the feet in a blanket. Keep an additional pair handy in the event one pair is not enough.
This leads to another foot issue. If you wake up needing to pee you’ll need footwear to insulate your feet from the ground. Having warm slippers, easy to use, will work better than trying to lace up boots. It’s important to relieve the urine as the body will expend heat keeping it warm and it’s hard the sleep with such an urge gnawing at the mind.
Snacks: If you are in an area where risk of animal intrusion into the tent looking for food is minimal, keep a candy bar or two within reach. Eating food will warm the body as it burns and digests the calories.
Cuddle: In the event of severe weather conditions, and severe is what you consider it not the “experts”, there is nothing wrong with cuddling with your partner, male or female, in order to share body heat. It’s a basic survival technique the military teaches.
Water Bottle: Some people may not even know what a hot water bottle is, but going to bed with one placed between your legs in order to warm the femoral artery will keep you warm for a long time. If its initially too hot, wrapped clothing around it until it cools.
Mattress or Pads: The ground will retain cold and pass it onto you. Therefore, getting up off the ground, by placing something between you and the ground will make sleeping warm much easier. Foam pads, air mattress, layer of dried leaves or cedar branches all serve as insulation.
Inside a shelter: Sleeping inside a shelter, cabin or house, offers additional methods on how to sleep warm.
Space Heater: There will be times you don’t or can’t warm a large area. For this situation use a space heater in close proximity to warm the immediate area. Be careful of creating a fire hazard.
Bath: Soaking in a hot tub of water or taking a steaming hot shower will increase the body core temperature.
Heated Bedding: Invest in a good quality electric blanket or heated mattress.
Insulate: This pertains to inside and outside environments. Drafts can cause you to be cold no matter what else you’ve tried to do to stay warm. Check for any openings that allow a draft to enter and plug them up with whatever material available.
How to sleep warm seems to be a pretty trivial subject …. until you’re freezing and shivering trying quite fruitlessly to go to sleep. Then it becomes somewhat important … like the most important thing going on right then.