To Sleep, Perchance to Dream – Part 2, by J.M.

(Continued from Part 1.)

Another platform option to consider are hammocks – I’m not talking about those huge macrame things people have in their backyards, but real camping hammocks from companies like Eagles Nest Outfitters, Hummingbird, Lawson, Dutchware and Warbonnet Outdoors. I may be a bit biased since I transitioned from a ground-dweller to hammocks for backpacking a few years ago, but they can be incredibly comfortable and easy to set up and take down. Depending on how your room is configured you may be able to attach some heavy-duty screw eyes to wall studs and hang multiple hammocks up in the common room, or you could build some inexpensive hammock stands. As with cots, they can be easily taken down and moved when required, but they take up a lot less space when not in use and can also be packed up if you need to go mobile. I highly recommend spending some time on the web site ‘The Ultimate Hang’ to learn more about sleeping in hammocks.

Note that one thing you need to consider with both cots and hammocks is that they typically don’t have any insulation underneath them which makes them a great option for staying cool in warmer weather, but when it gets cold you’ll need to provide some form of insulation on the bottom. This can be a foam mattress in the hammock, something that doesn’t lose warmth when compressed (like a wool blanket) laid underneath the sleeper, or an insulating layer suspended underneath the cot/hammock (usually referred to as an underquilt).

Seasonal Sleeping

Being too cold or too hot is one of the most common impediments to getting a good night’s sleep, and that’s with working heat and central air conditioning. In a post-disaster scenario you’ll be forced to fall back on alternative options to provide a reasonably comfortable sleeping environment. For colder weather, I’ve already mentioned the approach of consolidating all sleepers in the same room as your heating source, but there are a couple of things you can do to further improve your sleeping comfort. The most obvious one is adding layers of insulation such as blankets, comforters, sleeping bags, and warm PJs to your sleeping kit, and as I mentioned earlier don’t forget to add insulation to the underside of your sleeping platforms. You can also increase warmth by sharing body heat from multiple people in a single bed.

You should take steps to maximize available heat in the sleeping area. Even with modern insulated materials, most houses tend to lose a significant amount of heat through their doors and windows so you should cover those with heavy blankets or other insulation to retain as much heat as possible. Adding shrink-wrap film or any translucent plastic over windows will add another insulating layer, although you may have a hard time running a hair dryer or heat gun to shrink the plastic. Smaller spaces require less heat to stay warm, so you can hang thick blankets or even sheets of heavy plastic to close off the actual sleeping area to make it as small as possible.

Note that enclosing yourself in a small space with any combustion source like a wood or gas stove can significantly increase the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning, and you should always have a battery-operated CO detector in your sleeping space. You can further increase the level of comfort in cold dry weather by placing a pot of water on or next to your heat source to add some humidity to the air.

Sleeping during hot weather requires pretty much the opposite approach – you want everything to be loose and spread out to encourage airflow to cool things down. Hammocks work really well in hot weather, since the thin material underneath your body tends to have a natural cooling effect, and the nylon material that most of them are made of tends to breathe pretty well. If you are using cots or hammocks and have a screened-in porch (or bug nets/screen canopies), you can potentially sleep on the porch at night when it might be cooler. Keep in mind that this might introduce additional security concerns if the potential for intruders to invade your property is high, since they won’t have to break any windows or kick down any doors to get to you through the screens.

If you can’t take advantage of cooler weather outdoors there are steps you can take to cool down your house in general and your sleeping area in particular. First, if the security situation allows it, open as many windows as possible when it’s cooler at night to get some airflow and cool the house down. If you’re worried about intruders getting into your house you can fashion some security bars from metal pipe, rebar, etc. or cover your windows with galvanized chain link fencing. Once the sun starts coming up you’ll want to close the windows facing the sun as the day heats up to keep as much cold air in the house as possible. You should also prevent the sun from shining into your house as much as possible, as sunlight will heat up the surfaces.

You can use room-darkening shades, tack up blankets or dark plastic or tape cheap mylar emergency blankets over the windows; the shiny mylar does a great job of reflecting the sunlight and keeping it out of the house. I have created some custom frames using aluminum screen framing that fit between the exterior screens and my windows on the outside that I can tape mylar blankets to – this reflects the sunlight outside before it gets to the glass so it can’t heat up the windows and prevents that heat from being re-radiated back inside.

Another good option for the evening is to take some cotton curtains or sheets, hang them so they’re partially covering open windows and set the bottom in some water. The water wicks up the material and, if there’s a breeze, the evaporation of the water will provide some additional cooling. There are a lot of other options for cooling down your house to make sleeping more comfortable when off the grid, so do some additional research and figure out what works best for you.

Mobile Sleep

While your home base is where you’ll probably spend most of your time, there may be disaster scenarios where you have to travel for multiple days and will need to sleep while mobile for one or more nights. This can involve getting home after a disaster, bugging out to get to your disaster residence, patrolling or traveling sometime after a disaster has occurred, or even just adopting an itinerant lifestyle. If you’re trying to walk a long distance each day in difficult conditions, getting a good night’s sleep can be even more critical, since taking a day off to rest after not getting any sleep probably isn’t an option. I know that some people have the attitude that carrying anything related to sleeping comfort is frivolous, but I personally have long passed the age where I can get a good night’s sleep laying in the open on the hard ground.

As with your home, the first thing you should consider is your sleeping platform. While at home your focus should be on long-term comfortable sleeping arrangements, being mobile means you’ll want something that’s lightweight, compact, comfortable, and can handle any environmental conditions you may encounter. For the mobile platform itself you essentially have two options – a ground sleeping pad or a hammock. You can find a pretty wide range of inflatable sleeping pads, and there are very good (albeit expensive) ultralight options available, including:

In addition to providing some basic comfort when laying down to sleep, a sleeping pad also helps insulate you from direct contact with the cold ground, which can suck out your body heat and make sleeping difficult. You may be able to use leaves, pine boughs, moss, etc. for a padded sleeping platform, but if those materials aren’t available when and where you need to lay down to sleep you’ll probably end up with a poor night’s sleep at best. If additional natural padding is available you can always use that under your sleeping pad to increase the comfort level.

I mentioned hammocks earlier as an option for a home sleeping platform, and they work great in mobile situations. A Hummingbird Single hammock combined with their Tree Straps weighs in at around 7.5oz, but you’re obviously limited to locations where there are trees or poles where you can attach them. They also work best in warmer weather – when it’s too cold out you’ll need something like an underquilt to provide insulation on the bottom. You can also use an inflatable sleeping pad under you in a hammock, which will provide some additional insulation.

Unless you’re planning on carrying a full tent with you, you’ll probably need some kind of shelter to keep you dry in case it’s raining when you’re trying to sleep. This can be as simple as a poncho you roll up in to stay dry, or you can include a lightweight tarp to string up between some trees or sticks. I’ve combined the two and strung my poncho up as a tarp tent and it works well in most conditions, although I don’t think I’d stay dry in really heavy wind-blown rain, since it doesn’t provide a ton of coverage on the sides.

You can also pack a waterproof bivy, although even the ones labeled as ‘ultralight’ tend to weigh well over a pound. I have used the SOL Escape Bivvy to help me stay warm in colder weather, but it doesn’t close up completely around the head so you’ll still need a tarp or small waterproof cover to go over your head.

(To be concluded tomorrow, in Part 3.)