Getting kids to sleep when camping: our tips for peace

One of my fears when taking my children camping was always how to get them to sleep.  I had heard horror stories of kids awake all night and keeping other campers up and I know just how cranky we could all get with no sleep.  It was supposed to be a holiday!  In the end, it wasn’t all that bad when we took the plunge and started camping, but that was due to us listening to tips from those who had done this more than us.  I thought it would be a good idea to share what those tips and hacks were.


Wear the kids out!

Walking, playing camping games, trips to the beach and just general running around should make kids tired and even if they aren’t the most active kids, the fresh air will still wear them out.  It’s the simplest tip to getting good sleep while camping with your kids – just make sure they really wear themselves out in the day.


Be flexible

Camping bedtimes will likely be later than at home – be ok with that.  The times I’ve seen parents get so frazzled by camping is when they try to impose their home routines on their children.  This can show up as them taking them to bed in the early evening while they can still see the light outside and they can still hear children playing around them – it rarely works.  You can still have a routine for your kids, but be flexible as to when to start that.  If your kids are tired then for sure put them to bed, but don’t force it too early.


Have a routine for sleeping

A calming routine will help kids to know it’s time to settle and sleep.  Begin by getting kids in their pyjamas early on (see the tip below) and going through the motions of what you do at home like getting their teeth brushed and reading a story, they’ll settle and be much happier.


Read all the stories!

Make sure you have plenty of stories and books to read at nighttime – remember it may well still be light outside with noises happening, so you may need a few more than you normally read.  It’s a nice way to keep to the normal routine of home, make sure they’re as comfortable as they can be in their beds and make some lovely memories too.


Keep your kids warm

One of the best tips is to keep your kids as warm as possible while camping – don’t let them get cold on an evening.

One tip we used a lot was to get kids dressed in their pyjamas as early as possible, maybe putting their normal clothes over the top of them while they have evening jaunts around the campsite.  This means that when it’s time for bed, they have stopped all their running around and their body is cooling down that they don’t have to get really cold changing later on.  The pyjamas are nicely warmed around their bodies already!

You don’t need too many layers when it comes to clothes – I like to just stick to a nice pair of warm pyjamas.  Kids can often not feel the cold as much as us adults anyway.

What you can do layers wise is to make sure you have a few blankets as well as a good sleeping bag and they can use as much as they need.

Some kids might appreciate a nice warm drink on an evening too and if it’s super cold then a hot water bottle would certainly come in handy!


Still considering the best tent? – Our guide to family tents is here

Choose the right thing to sleep on

Make sure that your chosen kids camping bed set up is not only comfortable but also not cold.  The best way to do this is to ditch the airbeds and go for camping mats – you can get much more comfortable ones than just the cheap yoga type mats.  We used to use self-inflating mats and they are great because they are not only comfortable but they are insulating too.  This means that the cold from the ground isn’t coming up through the bed to your child.

Unfortunately, airbeds are the worst choice as the cold ground cools the air inside them which then makes the person sleeping on them cold as well.  If you already have an airbed, one way to combat it is to add a mat or blanket underneath it.


Have a last minute toilet break

As part of an evening routine make sure that you do a last minute toilet break.  You do not want to have to get up and get cold in the middle of the night!  If your child has worries about keeping dry through the night then toilet training nappies or pull-ups are a good idea to keep you all a bit happier.  Most kids are happy to wear them temporarily on holidays if you explain to them.


Have a camping toilet or potty in the tent

Further to the last point, have something in your tent for emergency toilet needs.  As I just said, you don’t want to have to do a toilet run in the night where you’ll all get cold which will in turn really wake any half-asleep child.  We used to just have a small potty in the tent for the kids to use and it saved us on a number of occasions, you don’t need a proper camping toilet which can take up a lot of space.  It’s especially good for rainy nights too – believe me!


Have nightlights and torches nearby

Even for kids who aren’t afraid of the dark, camping in a tent can be scary, especially if they wake in the middle of the night to total darkness.  I recommend having a nightlight to just give off a little light in your kids room.  This has the added advantage of allowing you to be able to check on them before you head off to bed yourself without waking them by shining a torch or similar.

I also recommend giving your kids a torch that they can use too, just in case they need it.  If your child won’t sleep with a nightlight then having access to light is going to be important so as to not freak them out if they wake in the night.