Last Updated on 05/09/2023
In this guide on how to sleep in a sleeping bag, we share the tips and tricks to getting a good night’s sleep in a sleeping bag. You will learn about the different types of sleeping bags and how things like temperature and campsite location can influence how to sleep in a sleeping bag.
How to Sleep in A Sleeping Bag
If you want to know the best way to sleep in a sleeping bag, then here’s the truth. You have to try different things until you find what works for you. But don’t worry because we are here to explain all the different ways you can try to sleep in a sleeping bag so you can improve comfort and get better quality sleep while camping.
To sleep comfortably in a sleeping bag, first, select a suitable bag for the environment and lay it on a flat surface, ideally with a padded mat underneath. Ensure you wear dry, breathable clothing when needed and position the sleeping bag so that your head will lie in the hood and the zipper will close to retain warmth and prevent cold spots. Adjust your body within the bag as needed, and try to avoid getting it twisted.
There are two main ways to sleep in a sleeping bag once you are in your sleeping bag: on your back and on your side. Some people claim to sleep better on their stomachs, but scientific studies don’t support this idea. Other ways to sleep in a sleeping bag include unzipped with one leg sticking out, two sleeping bags inside one another, or zipped together as a double. Then there are other factors, like the type of sleeping bag, sleeping mats, and pillows, can influence how you sleep in your sleeping bag.
To find out how to sleep in a sleeping bag properly, we have broken down the most important information into sections for easy reading.
19 Tips for How to Sleep in A Sleeping Bag
Here are some of the best tips I have learned and apply to this day for sleeping in a sleeping bag all the time. Many of them are explained within this guide, but if you want the bite-sized list, here you go:
- Choose the Right Sleeping Bag: Match the sleeping bag to the environment and season.
- Use a Sleeping Pad: Adds comfort and insulation between you and the ground.
- Pick an Optimal Campsite: Look for a flat, dry area away from water sources and fire pits.
- Wear Appropriate Clothing: Opt for dry, breathable layers, avoiding moisture-retaining materials like cotton.
- Keep the Hood facing up: Avoid getting the sleeping bag all twisted up by keeping the hood opening facing upwards.
- Keep Feet Warm: Consider wearing a fresh pair of wool socks or using a warm water bottle.
- Zip Up Completely: Make sure to fully zip up your sleeping bag to avoid drafts.
- Utilize the Hood: Use the hood and drawstrings to help keep your head warm.
- Incorporate a Pillow: Use a camping pillow or a rolled-up jacket for neck support.
- Find a Comfortable Position: Whether on your back, side, or stomach, find a position that feels comfortable and natural.
- Limit Fluid Intake Before Bed: Stay hydrated but avoid large amounts of water that could cause mid-sleep bathroom trips.
- Seal in Warmth: Tighten any available straps or drawstrings to eliminate cold spots.
- Keep Essentials Nearby: Have items like a flashlight, water bottle, and insect repellent within reach.
- Avoid Eating Heavy Meals Before Bed: A light snack can help keep you warm, but avoid heavy meals that might cause discomfort.
- Pre-Warm the Sleeping Bag: Consider using a hot water bottle or body heat to pre-warm the bag.
- Avoid Overdressing: Too many layers can cause sweating, which might make you cold later on.
- Use a Sleeping Bag Liner: It adds extra warmth and is easier to wash than the sleeping bag itself.
- Stretch Before Sleep: A light stretch can relieve muscle tension and help you sleep better.
- Vent as Needed: If you get too warm, vent the bag slightly instead of unzipping it completely.
Sleeping in a Sleeping Bag on Your Side vs. Back Vs. Stomach
There are three positions you can sleep in inside a sleeping bag, and you should just go with what feels most comfortable and also what you are used to. Here’s a look at all three ways to lay inside a sleeping bag:
Sleeping in a Sleeping Bag on Your Side
Sleeping on your side in a sleeping bag often feels natural and can be quite comfortable for side-sleepers. However, this position might create twists if you switch sides during the night. Also, try and keep the hood facing upwards so that it doesn’t end up covering your face as you roll.
One tip I always share is that if your shoulder hurts from sleeping on your side, try to use the top corner of your back to relieve the pressure instead. This involves sleeping at a kind of diagonal or mix between on your side and on your back. Give it a try, and let me know what you think.
Sleeping in a Sleeping Bag on Your Back
Many experts recommend sleeping on your back as it promotes good spinal alignment and allows for even distribution of body heat. Zipping the bag all the way up and using a small pillow to support your neck can add to the comfort. If you can sleep on your back, you will most likely sleep better on hard ground. You also spread out your weight across any inflatable sleeping pad to provide more even cushioning with fewer cold spots.
Sleeping in a Sleeping Bag on Your Stomach
Sleeping on your stomach is generally not recommended due to the potential for spinal strain, but some people find this position comfortable. In this position, your chest and stomach areas might get colder as the sleeping bag’s insulation gets compressed. To minimize discomfort, use a flat pillow to reduce neck strain, and make sure to zip up the sleeping bag completely to eliminate cold spots. Being someone who rarely ever slept on my stomach in a sleeping bag, it’s hard to say what works best, but I will be investigating this for a future article.
Why the Right Sleeping Bag Matters
There are different types of sleeping bags for different situations and budgets. Choosing the right one can be confusing, but it is very important. For example, if you are camping at altitude in winter, then you will need an extremely warm sleeping bag rated for lower than the temperatures you expect to endure. If you choose the wrong sleeping bag, then it doesn’t matter how you sleep in it; you are going to be uncomfortable.
Temperature ratings are probably the most important thing to get right, but you must also decide between down or synthetic insulation. You can also choose between different shapes, like a mummy bag or a rectangle. Mummy sleeping bags have less internal space to stretch out but are warmer and more lightweight. Rectangular sleeping bags are better for sleeping in if you are someone who tosses and turns through the night.
Choosing the right sleeping bag is the first step toward learning how to sleep comfortably in a sleeping bag.
Before Getting in Your Sleeping Bag
Before you get into your sleeping bag, you need to lay it out flat, prepare the area with some kind of sleeping mat or bed, and also dress appropriately. Here is a brief guide:
Prepping Your Sleeping Bag
To prepare your sleeping bag, you should lay it out completely flat and unzip it at least 30% of the way down to make it easier to climb in. You can also completely unzip it, but then you have to zip it up all the way from the bottom. If you are using any kind of sleeping bag liner then you should also position this inside your sleeping bag to make entry as easy as possible.
Prepping the Sleeping Area
To prepare your area, you want to first ensure that you have some kind of protection and that wherever you plan to sleep isn’t wet. Then, you need to aim for the most level ground possible so that you can lay flat without being on a hill or hard object (like a tree root or rock). Finally, you need some kind of insulation, like a sleeping pad or foam mat.
What to Wear in A Sleeping Bag
This is completely up to you, but I always recommend sleeping in a comfortable base layer for hygiene and warmth. Pajamas work just fine, but jeans do no not. In summer, you might want to sleep in just your underwear, while in winter, you might want down trousers and multiple layers on your torso. Many people wear socks and a hat to sleep in a sleeping bag, and military-minded people even sleep in uniform with their boots on.
My favorite layer system always starts with Merino base layers, and then on my legs, I like a warm pair of jogging bottoms, and then up top, I often wear hoodies or a down jacket.
Getting Into A Sleeping Bag
Getting into your sleeping bag the right way depends on your circumstances and agility. If you are in a small one-person tent, then you are going to find getting in much more difficult than if you were in a tent you can stand up in. There are three common ways you can get into your sleeping bag:
Unzipping your sleeping bag to get in and out is the most practical and easy way to go about it. You can unzip it all the way and simply roll into bed, or you can partially unzip it and do a combination of a shuffle and slide to get all the way in. Common sense says this is the best way to get in a sleeping bag most of the time.
Sliding in requires sitting down and lifting your feet up so you can slide them into your sleeping bag and all the way down to the bottom. You can then slide the sleeping bag up your legs and shimmy your butt in. Then it’s simply a case of shuffling around and pulling the sleeping bag up towards your chin.
Stepping into a sleeping bag is probably my favorite way to get in, but it isn’t always possible to do it. If you have a tall tent, then you will have no problem, or if the ground is dry outside your tent, then you can also easily step in. Once you have stepped in, you just reach down and grab the top and pull it up to your chest. Then, you can maneuver into position before laying down on your bed with the sleeping bag completely zipped up.
Adjusting for Optimal Comfort and Warmth
Once you are in your sleeping bag, you should make any adjustments to ensure everything is positioned correctly and sealed up. This often requires a bit of shuffling about while inside your sleeping bag to ensure nothing is twisted or constricting your movement. For additional warmth or ventilation, there are extra measures you can take:
The zip that runs down the side (or on top) of a sleeping bag is basically one giant vent. In summer, you can leave it fully open and use it as more of a quilt, or if it’s just warm and not hot, then you can partially open the zipper for extra airflow. Another option for sleeping in double zipper sleeping bags is to open it up at the legs to cool your legs down or stick one out while you sleep.
Using a Liner
A sleeping bag liner is a great addition to any sleeping bag. It not only keeps your sleeping bag cleaner for longer, it also adds a lot of warmth. Silk sleeping bag liners have the benefit of reducing friction, so they don’t get twisted up inside your sleeping bag as much. Merino wool liners are extra warm and lightweight, or you can even use an extra sleeping bag as the liner.
Toggling the Hood
Sleeping bag hoods work the same as the hood on any winter jacket. They have toggles to draw them in around your face, which is perfect for winter when you want to trap as much body heat as possible. Internal baffles around the neck and along the zip will also help to prevent heat loss.
Learning how to sleep in a sleeping bag doesn’t take long once you figure out what works best for you. Hopefully, now you have the knowledge to get a good night’s sleep in a sleeping bag, whether camping or at home.