How to Sleep Better on the Road
When it comes to a restful night, a few little things—and one not-so-little thing—make a world of difference
Call me soft, but the thing I appreciate most about Airstreaming over tent camping is a proper bed. I have a great ultralight camping setup, and I use it plenty for backpacking, bikepacking, and hunting. But the truth is, when camping on hard ground, I sleep fitfully and wake up feeling stiff as an old man. When we’re in our Airstream, Artemis, however, I know that a hot shower and a sound night’s sleep await no matter how big a day I’ve had in the hills.
So last summer, when I began suffering bouts of trailer insomnia and frequently rose with a sore back and achy hips, I was flummoxed. I’d always slept better in Artemis than at home. I think it was partly because small spaces are cozy and protective, and partly because, when camping, there are fewer distractions to keep you up. Something was clearly not right, and I was determined to find out what tht was—and fix it.
Because of ambient light, Jen, my wife, and I always bed down with eye masks. I’m a light sleeper and have tried tons of these over the years, from the rag-thin airline variety to pricey ones with gel inserts and aromatherapy pods. I’ve found that the $15 3D-molded variety works dependably.
We also sometimes plug up our ears, especially in campgrounds, which can be chaotic. I use cheap foam ones, but Jen swears by her Perfect-Fit custom set ($117). They definitely work. With her mask on and ears sealed, she sleeps through any alarm until I wake her. Unfortunately, even with a brand-new mask and plugs, I was still sleeping poorly.
One niggle we’ve had with Artemis over the years is how much light seeps in, even with curtains and shades battened down for the night. Some of the best sleep we’ve had in a trailer was while testing the new Airstream Basecamp, which includes blackout shades that are so effective, it’s almost distressing when you wake up in the morning. Jen and I have been meaning to emulate those curtains in our bedroom for a while, but it’s an expensive project and always gets pushed off. Instead, Jen used some Cool Shield thermal bubble wrap to craft makeshift window covers. Yet even in near blackout conditions, I was tossing and turning.
A Good Mattress
About the time I started having trouble sleeping, Jen and I went on an overseas work trip and stayed in a hotel with luxe bedding. I slept like I was drugged. When we got back to Artemis and my listlessness returned, I realized that we needed a new mattress. It might seem like an easy fix, but the Airstream’s round-shell profile requires a custom solution. The simplest route is to buy direct from Airstream, but we wanted something plusher.
Research led to a couple of companies that craft custom mattresses for Airstreams and other RVs and sell direct online. The thought of buying sight unseen (as well as the Casper debacle) made me hesitant. But when we called Mattress Insider, I regretted dithering. The sales rep, Matthew, spent half an hour on the phone with us going over our sleep preferences. He eventually recommended a memory-foam model, using a firmer layup than usual. The price was nearly 50 percent less than an Airstream mattress, but I was concerned about not being able to test-drive it first. “You’ll love it, I promise,” Matthew said. “But if for some reason you don’t, call us back and we’ll work it out.”
When the mattress arrived, it came wrapped in a zip-off organic-cotton mattress cover and fit the oddball dimensions of the trailer like the bespoke design that it is. I couldn’t wait to try it out, and we actually turned in early that night from sheer anticipation. As promised, the mattress felt both firm and yielding; I was out in minutes and slept through the night. The next morning, I awoke well rested and not even slightly sore or achy.
Buying something so big and expensive online was intimidating, but with such drastic improvement, I only regret not doing it sooner. Jen says I’m the princess and the pea, though she, too, has been sleeping better. Sleep hard to play hard, I keep telling her. But I’m pretty sure she just thinks I’m getting soft.