9 Tips To Have A Good Night’s Sleep On A Winter Trek

It’s very important to have a good night’s sleep on a trek. Sleep helps in repairing the muscles and tissues that get worked up while trekking. It also improves your performance on the next day’s trek. In this article, I’ll share some tips on how to keep yourself warm in a sleeping bag and have a comfortable sleep.

Let’s first understand how a sleeping bag functions.

Many people have a misconception that a sleeping bag provides heat to your body during sleep. It is exactly the opposite, your body generates heat, which the sleeping bag traps to keep you warm. Thereby, you must practice some do’s and dont’s in order to maximize the efficiency of a sleeping bag to keep yourself warm and have a sound sleep.

1 Carry an insulation pad/trekking mattress:

This is absolutely essential to have a good night’s sleep. The sleeping bag and the insulation pad go hand in hand. While the former prevents loss of body heat to air in the form of radiation, the latter prevents loss of heat to ground in the form of conduction.

Always carry an insulation pad/ trekking mattress. Photo by Vishwas Krishnamurthy taken on the Rupin Pass trek

There are a lot of fancy and expensive options in the market but a simple closed foam mattress works just perfectly as it is a natural insulator.

If you’re trekking with us you will get a rubber insulation pad and a sleeping bag in your camp. They may not be very useful for solo trekkers because they are heavy. But they work wonders!

Pro tip – Closed cell foam mattresses are cheaper and better insulators than inflatable mattresses and are easily available in the market.

2 Never go to sleep on an empty stomach:

During sleep, the only way your body maintains core temperature is through basal metabolism. Food gives energy which in turn keeps your body warm.

Include calorie dense foods that are rich in fats and proteins in your dinner. Nuts and dairy are good options as they take a longer time to metabolize compared to carbohydrates. Therefore, they can provide energy for a longer duration. Also, eat as close to bedtime as possible.

Pro tip – If you wake up in the middle of the night feeling cold then snack on food items like cheese or nuts.

3 Warm up before going to sleep:

If you go cold inside the sleeping bag, it will take time for your body to heat up the bag. So warming up before sleeping will help. Performing activities like brisk walking or jumping jacks before entering the sleeping bag is a good idea. Don’t over- exercise if you’ve just finished having your food.

I usually advice trekkers to do what I call “windmilling.” This involves vigorously rotating your arm 5-6 times like a windmill. It shoots out blood to your extremeties and you feel warm immediately!

Pro tip – Change clothes for the next day’s trek and pack your backpack before going to sleep. That way you won’t have to wear cold clothes the next morning!

A warm up will generate body heat to keep you warm inside the sleeping bag.
Photo by Pratibha Kini on the Goechala trek

4 Cover your body extremities:

Most of your body’s heat escapes from your extremities. These are your body’s extremities like the fingers, toes and head. So it is important to keep these areas covered when you sleep.

Use woollen socks, fleece/woollen gloves and a woollen cap to keep your extremities warm. These are also the first body parts you should cover up after a day’s trek.

Pro tip – Doing this will also mean that your socks are warm to wear inside the cold shoes next morning.

Here’s a trekker demonstrating what all parts form the extremities of a human body.
Photo by Vishwas Krishnamurthy on the Rupin Pass trek

5 Don’t cover your nose with the sleeping bag:

Covering your nose inside the sleeping bag may lead to moisture being trapped inside the bag. This can cause dampness to build up inside the sleeping bag. Wet or damp fabrics of the sleeping bag lose the ability to retain heat.

Furthermore, increased humidity due to respiration makes it difficult to breathe after some time. Tighten your sleeping bag in such a way that there is a small opening or a blowhole around your face.

Pro tip – Instead, use a loose balaclava or scarf to cover your face while sleeping.

6 Reducing ambient space in the sleeping bag:

Doing this ensures that your body has less amount of area to heat up inside the sleeping bag. It also minimizes the loss of body heat to air in the form of radiation. Think of it this way, you are layering up so that there is least amount of air space between your body and layers.

Put all your stuff on one side of the tent and buddy up like a pack of rats. Sleep as close to each other as possible. The idea is to minimize the external surface area of the sleeping bag that is exposed to cold air inside the tent and maximize the area that touches the warm sleeping bags of your tent mates.

Pro tip – For people of shorter height and children, fold the sleeping bag from the foot side under the legs.

Photo by Utsav Sriram on the Har Ki Dun trek

7 Put a hot water bottle inside the sleeping bag:

This will work as a heater inside your sleeping bag. A lot of people place the hot water bottle around their feet. But this is exactly not the place to keep it. Place the bottle close to the important areas: core, between thighs, or chest. Do make sure that there is no chance of accidentally opening of the water bottle.

Pro tip – By doing this, you have a litre of warm water to drink first thing in the morning that hydrates you and boosts your metabolism.

8 Prefer Dry-fit clothes over cotton:

When you are warm inside your sleeping bag, you will sweat while sleeping. Sleeping in cotton clothes is not recommended because cotton absorbs this moisture and stays wet for a longer time. This in turn makes makes you feel cold.

Instead of cotton, wear moisture wicking materials such as wool, polypropylene and polyester. A smart way is to change into a dryer set of clothes as soon as you reach the campsite.

Pro tip – Remove all your damp layers before going to sleep, without fail.

Remove damp layers after an intense pre-sleep intense snow fight.
Photo by Vishwajeet Chavan on the Brahmatal trek

9 Do not postpone urinating:

Your body burns extra calories to keep the urine warm in your bladder. Take that hard call of leaving your warm and cozy sleeping bag in the middle of the night. An empty bladder will give you a better, restful sleep.

Pro tip! – Urinate half an hour before sleeping and immediately before sleeping. Also, do not consume too much liquid after dinner.

The toilet tents are not very far away.
Photo by Aseem Yash Bhatiya on the Buran Ghati trek

So those were the 9 tips to keep yourself warm while sleeping on a winter trek. All of these tips have helped me and many of my trekkers. I hope they come in handy for you as well. If you have a helpful tip which can benefit other trekkers then feel free to drop them in the comments section below.

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Gurkirat Singh

Gurkirat Singh

Gurkirat is a Trek Leader with Indiahikes. He used to work as a process engineer in the healthcare sector before leaving that life for Trek Leading. Passionate about outdoor sports, he also enjoys travelling and working on his fitness. He actively practices the Green Trails principles in his daily life and rarely consumes packaged food to do his bit.

2 thoughts on “9 Tips To Have A Good Night’s Sleep On A Winter Trek

  1. This was so useful. I was an idiot on my first trek, so underprepared in terms of gear and knowledge, that I couldn’t sleep on any if the nights. Thank you so much for the information – I’ll definitely keep these in mind for next time xD

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