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How to Sleep in a Car and Actually Get Some Rest

How to sleep in a car

As an avid camper and explorer of the world outdoors, you will at some point find yourself needing to know how to sleep in a car so that you can actually getting some rest. Sleeping in your car isn’t always a conscious decision. Sometimes it’s the only choice you have. And if you travel lots by car, and often do a shed load of miles on the road to get out into the wild, it’s actually pretty essential that you are able to transform your little (or big) car into a temporary place to sleep.

There are a ton of scenarios when knowing how to sleep in a car might become very important. Maybe you’re too broke to pay for a motel or campground on your journey. Maybe it’s too late to book into one anyway. But what if you run out of gas or break down in the middle of nowhere? Or underestimate your distances and are struggling to stay awake? No problem. Just pull over somewhere sensible, snuggle up in your car and you’ll be all set.

To make your snooze on wheels as comfortable as possible, so that you actually sleep and feel rested for a weekend of action, take a read of these car sleeping tips. Get it right and you’ll be choosing car sleeps over tent sleeps in no time.

How to sleep in a car

Figuring out how to sleep in a car comfortably will largely come down to how well you sleep in uncomfortable places. And also how big your car is! But comfort isn’t the only thing to consider. Here are some top tips on making sure you also sleep safely and smartly.

1Choose the right place to park

  • If you find yourself in a town or city and needing to get some zzz’s in your car, then opt for an upmarket neighbourhood with no parking restrictions. Otherwise the carpark of a superstore will do.
  • More likely you’ll be in the middle of nowhere, on your way to the middle of nowhere! Don’t be tempted to just pull over and park on the side of a main road. Instead, try to find a more discreet spot, or better still, a dedicated rest stop.
  • If you have much choice in the matter, then ideally you don’t want to park on a steep slope. Somewhere as flat as possible will help your sleep be as comfortable as it can be.
  • If you feel weird or unsafe in a place you have chosen, then move on and look elsewhere. You’re better off not sleeping but looking for a safer place, than trying and failing to sleep in an unsafe place.

2Turn the engine off

Before you settle down to sleep, turn your engine off. It might be cold enough to warrant having the heating on, but leaving the engine running can be dangerous from a fumes point of view. It may also draw potentially unwanted attention to your secret car snooze.

3Lock your doors

Lock your doors once you are settled in. The likelihood of someone trying to open your door is pretty slim, but you’ll feel much more secure if you are locked in. Make sure you have easy access to unlock the door if you need to.

4Make a space to sleep

Finding enough space in your car to actually get some decent sleep can be somewhat challenging, especially if you have a small car.

  • If you have a small car then you’re probably better off staying in the front seat and reclining the seat as much as possible. You may need to move the backseat cushions to allow the seat to go fully back.
  • If you have a medium sized car then you can try making a proper bed on the back seat with a specially designed car air mattress. You’ll not be able to stretch out, but it will provide a comfortable and flat bed if you’re OK curling up on your side.
Car air mattress
  • If you have an estate or station wagon then fold your back seats down so that the back of your car is double the size. Then you’ll just need to put down a sleeping mat and get snoozing. Be sure to pad out any uneven surfaces underneath your mat with extra clothes etc. And the thicker the sleeping mattress the better.

5Get cosy

Once you’ve got enough space then you will sleep much better if you have a travel or camping pillow to sleep on, especially if you are in the front seat. You’ll also need a warm sleeping bag or quilt to keep you toastie.

6Get some air

No matter how cold it is, it’s always a good idea to have some ventilation in your car to prevent too much condensation from building up. It will also make waking up much more pleasant than if you are stuck in your car with no air. If you are in a hot climate and bugs are a problem then a mesh window shade will stop the nibblers from getting in.

7Cover up the windows

This is especially important if you are parked in an urban area. First of all people won’t be able to peer in at you whilst you sleep – creepy! And secondly, it’ll stop the sun from waking you up super early. Either way, you’ll feel much more secure with the windows covered. Use a blanket, spare t-shirt, or a towel. Or put on a windshield snow cover to block out the light.

8Turn out all the lights

The last thing you want to do is wear down your car battery overnight. So make sure all the internal lights are off as well as the external car lights.

9Gather your important belongings

Before you turn out the lights, make sure you have your important stuff within easy reach. Things can get pretty chaotic until you really know how to sleep in a car. So keep your car keys, phone, wallet and a bottle of water close at hand.

10Prepare for the morning after

If you manage to get some decent sleep in your car then good on ya! But if not then the day will be much nicer after a hot coffee and a good stretch. So fire up the camping stove, and whilst you wait for the water to boil, do a spot of car-side yoga and you’ll soon forget all about your cramped car snooze, but will be thankful for the rest you did manage to get.

About the author


Joey Holmes is based in Cornwall, UK, and runs Cool of the Wild. She can’t get enough of being outdoors – whether that’s lounging around the campfire cooking up a feast, hitting the trail in her running shoes, or attempting to conquer the waves on her surfboard – she lives for it. Camping is what she loves to do the most, but has also spent many many hours clinging to the side of a rock face, cycling about the place, cruising the ski-slopes on her snowboard and hiking small mountains and big hills.

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