"Now I see the secret of making the best person: it is to grow in the open air and to eat and sleep with the earth."
– Walt Whitman.
When we sleep, our body heals itself. Memories are formed, our brain solves problems, physical wounds are repaired, tissue growth occurs and energey reserves in the muscles are replenished and vital growth hormones are released. We need sleep, and more importantly we need good quality sleep. Being tired or fatigued in the outdoors will not only spoil your enjoyment of it but it could put you and others at the risk of serious harm. When we are tired we make poor decisions and lack concentration; add fire, sharp tools and uneven ground to this recipe and its not a far stretch to imagine the dangers.
Getting a good nights sleep relies on having the right equipment with you; being too cold, too hot or simply uncomfortable is going to ruin your sleep and make for a bad day in the morning.
When we sleep outdoors we talk in terms of three things: something to sleep under, such as a tent or hammock, something to sleep on such as a bed roll or sleep mat and finally something to sleep in, like blankets or a sleeping bag,
Probably the first consideration when you are outdoors is "Where am I going to sleep?" Finding or making a safe shelter, away from the weather, can mean the difference between having an enjoyable night or simply feeling miserable and putting up with it. What you are going to sleep under needs careful consideration and a number of factors need to be taken in to account such as size and weight, ease of use, how much protection it offers, but also the kind of terrain you are going to be exploring. There is little point taking a hammock if there isn't a tree for miles, however pitching a tent in dense woodland can be equally challenging. Modern lightweight materials mean that now you can take multiple options, but it is definitely a problem to be solved before you set off.
The good news about the sleep on element is that it is relatively unaffected by terrain. You can sleep in a bed mat in a hammock just as you can in a tent. It does however require some prior planning and possibly even some experimentation to make sure you are set up for a good nights rest. Hamocks are notorious for the 'cold bum' effect where the air passing below chills you as it passes and without good insulation you are going to have a rather uncomfortable night. Even the warmest sleeping bag suffers here as your bodyweight compresses the down or fibre and removes your insulation layer. Replacing this requires something that gives an air gap between you and the elements. An inflatable bed mat or an underblanket can solve this but knowing how they work is important if they are going to aid a good night's sleep.
Lastly you need to think about what you are going to sleep in. What is it you are going to snuggle into, to get your self cosy as the night draws in? A variety of options are available and also several combinations. Sleeping bags, blankets, sheets, bed rolls, sheepskins – all of these are an option for keeping warm and comfortable but you need to find out what works for you. Bulk and wieght are a consideration here, along with climate. Just as with your clothing, it is advisable to create a 'layering' system so that you can increase or decrease your insulation with the external temperature.
How well do you sleep with noise? snoring campers, hooting owls, screaming foxes are all things you are likely to encounter in the outdoors and all are going to impact your sleep. Consider taking a few pairs of ear plugs (you are guaranteed to lose some) to shut out the noise for a better night's sleep. Washing before bed, with a wet flannel will help to remove sweat which can lead to discomfort. Wearing loose cotton clothing will also add a layer of separation between your body and your sleeping bag and stop it sticking to you, should you get hot and sweaty in the night. Also, having a bottle of water to hand in case you wake up thirsty can save you from that awkward midnight scrabbling through your backpack. Thinks about everything that can distrub your sleep and come up with a solution for it and you will enjoy a sound night's sleep and wake up rested and ready for the day.