How to Sleep on a Road Trip

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When you’re the co-pilot on a long road trip, it can be nice to pass a few hours with some shut-eye. If you have trouble sleeping comfortably in a car, we rounded up our top tips for sleeping on a road trip.

10 Tips for Passengers Sleeping While on the Road

Looking for help nodding off while you’re in the passenger seat? We’ve got you covered.

Keep in mind, though, that any time you’re driving, it’s important to stay alert. If you’re feeling tired, stop for a break. Driving while drowsy can have similar effects to driving while intoxicated.

Don’t Recline the Seat

You shouldn’t compromise safety, even when you’re sleeping, so avoid reclining the seat. While it may be more comfortable, fully-reclined seats are associated with the highest mortality risk, as well as a greater likelihood of serious injuries to the spine and organs if there’s an accident.

The trick is to make that upright position as comfortable as possible, which we’ll cover just ahead.

Use a Pillow

Since you’ll be sitting upright, make yourself as comfortable as possible with a pillow. You can opt for travel-sized pillows or U-shaped versions – either can be used to support the neck and head, making it easier to fall asleep. 

A lumbar pillow is another good idea. It will help provide support to the low back, which can become fatigued on long road trips. It’ll also help you maintain good posture, which tends to slip as the miles go by.

Dress in Layers

Managing temperature is as important when you’re falling asleep in the car as it is in your bed. Dressing in layers means you can shed clothing if you get too hot, or put something on if you find you’re too chilly.

Dress for Comfort

Avoid clothing that’s too tight or constricting – skinny jeans, for example, could become really uncomfortable as the hours pass. Opt for lightweight and breathable clothing, and don’t forget to dress in layers. 

Consider Compression Socks

Sitting for hours on end in a car is hard on the body. Just like air travel, that seated position can hamper circulation, which means swollen feet or ankles. Compression socks can help reduce risks like swelling and blood clots.

Use Headphones for Soothing Music

If you use soothing sounds to fall asleep, replicate that on the road. But reach for headphones or earbuds, and leave the car tunes to the driver so he or she can stay alert. If you prefer quiet to sleep, use noise-canceling headphones or even earplugs.

Wear a Sleep Mask

Darkness helps us sleep by kickstarting melatonin production, which is the hormone that makes us feel sleepy. While you can’t control the sunshine, you can make things dark with an eye mask. A weighted version can offer a little deep pressure therapy, which helps the body relax even further.

Bring a Blanket

Just like dressing in layers, a travel blanket helps you manage your temperature to get more comfortable. While 60 to 67 degrees is considered ideal for sleep, it can be tricky to adjust temperature in the car. If you don’t want to spend too much time adjusting the air conditioner, heater, or window, a blanket can be a good option.

Be Mindful of Snacks

What you eat and when you eat can affect your sleep. It can be hard to stick to regular mealtimes on a road trip since you’re probably snacking steadily. But if you can limit heavy meals before you plan to nod off, that will help. It’s a lot of hard work for your body to digest a meal, which makes it hard to fall asleep (especially if that road trip junk food is giving you a stomachache!).

Stay Hydrated

But not too hydrated! The last thing you want is a full bladder waking you up after you finally fall asleep. Try to sip plain water instead of sodas or other caffeinated beverages – the caffeine will make it even harder to nod off. Keep in mind, experts recommend avoiding caffeine four to six hours before bedtime.

Tips for Sleeping Overnight in Your Car

If everyone in the car, including the driver, needs to get some sleep, you may find yourself pulling over. Here’s what to keep in mind before that happens.

  • Plan ahead. If there’s a possibility of sleeping overnight in the car, make sure to research your options ahead of time. You’ll need a safe, legal spot to park overnight, and you’ll want to be sure you have everything you need to make it comfortable. An online search can help you zero in on a few places that might work.
  • Consider the weather. Since your engine will need to be off while you’re asleep, be mindful of the weather. If it’s going to be cold, make sure you have warm clothing and blankets. To keep things cool, you can crack windows or a sunroof. Wire mesh tucked into the opening will keep bugs at bay.
  • Pack with care. This is the time to recline the seats, if that’s an option, so that you can stretch out comfortably with your blanket, pillow, or sleeping bag. If you have the space for an air mattress that can be manually inflated, that’s even better. A small fan is also a good idea since it can help circulate air so things don’t get too stale.
  • Lock the doors and turn off the engine. Before you fall asleep, make sure the doors are locked and the engine is off.

How to Sleep On A Roadtrip FAQs

Is it safe to sleep in your car on a road trip?

It should be safe to sleep in your car on a road trip if you research a good place to stay overnight ahead of time and pack carefully. Choose somewhere that’s quiet and well-lit, but not too secluded. Keep the doors locked, and make sure you have blankets or sleeping bags. You’ll need to turn off the engine while you’re sleeping, and it’s important to stay warm. In warm weather, you can keep the windows or sunroof cracked.

Is it safe to lie down in the backseat of a car?

It’s important to sit upright in your seat with your seatbelt on, even while you’re sleeping. Research shows that the greatest mortality risk comes from fully-reclined seats.

Where should I sleep during the day during a road trip?

Look for a spot that’s relatively quiet and consider the weather. A shady spot is a good idea when it’s hot out, while a sunny spot will be better if it’s cold.

Final Thoughts

Sleeping on a road trip can be the best way to make it go by quickly. The same best practices that help you fall asleep at home still apply, so do your best to manage light, temperature, and noise for the best chances of nodding off without disturbing the driver.

Source List

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Górniak A, et al. (2022). Influence of a Passenger Position Seating on Recline Seat on a Head Injury During a Frontal Crash. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8914925/

Masters A, et al. (2015). Melatonin, the Hormone of Darkness: From Sleep Promotion to Ebola Treatment. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/277559081_Melatonin_the_Hormone_of_Darkness_From_Sleep_Promotion_to_Ebola_Treatment

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