Sound familiar? Though I'm still no expert at getting a solid night's rest despite snoring neighbors and other noises that wake a light sleeper, I've managed to come up with a few things that help.
Do choose your site carefully. Most campgrounds cluster tent sites together, but it can still be hard to escape the noise of running RV generators. If you need quiet to sleep well, choose a site far away from designated RV sites. As awesome as it can be to have a 20-foot walk to the bathroom, to the camp store, or to the campground's main scenic attraction, sites close popular places are usually noisy. If you make reservations online, some websites will show which sites are taken already. Choose a neighbor-free spot, but know that there's no guarantee other sites won't fill up.
Do manage your expectations. Bottom line? It's a campground. There are going to be people around, cars driving through, and other campers hoping to enjoy the outdoors. There's going to be a base level of noise, and the more you manage your expectations of peace and quiet, the better.
Don't forget your pillow. One of the worst things to wake up to in the middle of the night is a cramped neck, and I know I fall asleep a lot faster if my head is resting comfortably. And if I fall asleep fast, there's hope for getting a full night's rest. If you have space in your pack, two of my favorite portable options are the Therm-a-rest Compressible Pillow and the Cocoon Air-Core Ultralight Pillow. If you're car camping, bring the pillow you sleep on at home; you'll have the space for it.
Do invest in multiple pairs of good earplugs. If you know your tent mate snores, or your campground is next to a highway, earplugs can be life-savers. Most drug stores and grocery stores carry cheap options and I generally go with foam sets like this because they're more comfortable. And get a bunch. They don't last long and I always end up losing a few during trips.
Don't skimp on mattress pads. After a few trips with a cheap foam mat from a hardware store, I learned my lesson. Invest in a lightweight, durable, comfortable sleeping pad like the Therm-a-rest Neo Air All-Season, my current favorite. I've taken it car camping in lieu of a heavy inflatable mattress because it's just that awesome. And if you're in a campground and a backpacking pad isn't enough, there's no reason to forgo comfort. Bring the blow-up bed with you.
Do make sure you can manage your body temperature and do bring the right sleeping bag. Even if you've got the right campsite, the right tent and the right sleeping pad, having the right sleeping bag and layering system can be the difference between a good and awful night's sleep. If it's warm out, leave your 20º bag at home and opt for something thinner, like this. And wear wicking layers or Columbia's Omni-Freeze ZERO to sleep in so you don't overheat. If it's chilly, bring a warmer bag and consider cuddling with a Nalgene full of hot cocoa. It'll keep you warmer and if you do wake up, you have hot cocoa ready.
Don't pitch your tent in the wrong place. When you're backpacking, look for a site close to a water source on solid ground, and safe from hazards like falling tree limbs and rocks. Clear rocks, sticks and other debris from the site before you pitch your tent, (ouch!), and steer clear of tree roots if you can. Make sure the tent is on a level, compact surface. Be aware of water flow patterns; camping on flat, sunken ground might seem like a good idea until you find yourself underwater during a rain storm. I speak from experience.
Also, be sure to practice Leave No Trace principles. Every time.
I'm always, always looking for tips on how to sleep better outside. What tips do you have that I've missed? Do you have any techniques for falling back asleep once you're up? Help me out and leave a comment!