Sleeping under the stars

It’s tough at the best of times to get enough sleep so add in the layer of holiday expectations and it can feel so much more of a loss. First, adjust your expectations (as always). Then do what you can to maximise the sleep you can get.

Here are some of the things we do when trying to get enough sleep whilst camping with children (including one with complex needs):

Young man with complex needs wearing a rust coloured jumper and smuggled in a blue velour blanket is lying on a camp bed outdoors in a clearing.Bedtime

Children are not going to go to bed early. Fact! Despite the expectation that all that fresh air will tire them out and make them sleep amazingly, they will still be awake way past bedtime. Do as much of your sleep routine as possible, but later.


Our son has very complex physical needs and requires to be lifted or moved for everything. He needs all assistance getting dressed and changed, so a higher bed helps our backs. He has a sleep system and so we take his duvet rather than a sleeping bag. Wherever we go, we take the Treat-Eezi overlay to give the pressure-relieving properties of a specialist mattress without taking up all that space.



Here are various kinds of beds we have tried and tested:

Advantages Disadvantages
Camping bunk bed  

Love this. Allows for higher changing. Bed has sides, space for more children or storing equipment underneath.

Can be fiddly to put together at the beginning. Quite narrow.
Double mattress topper  

Co-sleeping can help. Getting out of a sleeping bag at 2am is not fun.



This is big and takes up space travelling. It can also foster habits you don’t want to maintain at home.
Airbed with sides  

Small, easy to use and good with a small sleep system.

Limited size, age and needs.
High airbed (lots of versions like this) Saves on the back and relatively cheap.  

Rolling off can be an issue. Can feel cold and no ability to store anything underneath.

Self-inflating mat  

Thin, lightweight, no fall risk, easy to co-sleep. Can be as cheap as £12 or up to £75.


Lifts off the floor and not the most comfortable option.

Portable safe bed

(different versions like this and this)

Confidence your child is safe and where you left them. Big (won’t fit in all tents) and expensive.
Fishing camp bed  

It seems people who go fishing have the best beds. They can slightly profile, have different height legs and therefore space underneath for storage.

Shop around as expensive but you can get good offers. Bulky and heavy though.




Noise is often a problem when camping. Some children might not tolerate ear defenders or ear plugs in bed but if your child is asleep and you want to maximise the lie in, maybe try to use them from the early hours of the morning.

Eye mask

This was a bit of a game changer for us. We don’t just use it just when we’re camping, we also use it at home. Again, we don’t put it on my son until he has fallen asleep but when the sun is streaming through the tent at 5am and the dawn chorus is in full swing, an eye mask and ear plugs might just be the thing between you and an hour’s more sleep.

Duvet v sleeping bag

For many children, just having something familiar helps when sleeping and a duvet is a clear choice. Make sure your chosen duvet is a high tog, even if in the summer months, as it still gets cold at night. With a sleep system a sleeping bag isn’t going to work, but if you want to help contain and give sensory feedback, a good sleeping bag might just do the trick.


Accidents happen, so make it easy on yourself. My son doesn’t normally wear pads but when we are out and about he does, both for his dignity and our ease. In addition, it’s a good idea to take either washable incontinence sheets (we use these) or disposable (like this). A bin/bucket with a lid is great for wet pads in the middle of the night (which you can leave outside if soiled).

That early morning call of nature can be a right pain, and my son uses a Uribag which he will use for a wee whilst still in bed or sitting in his wheelchair (we have adapted his trousers so the zips are longer). It is great and he isn’t the only person in the family to use it for a 5am widdle!

My son uses a toilet seat and we take it everywhere with him. Our top tip for the toilet seat is, if your child is using it with the commode part in the tent (as oppose to using it in a toilet block), take some biodegradable food waste bags and line the commode with them – it is so much easier to keep clean.


The most important part of camping, or sleeping whilst camping, is expect the worse and be pleasantly surprised if you have any fun, rest or sleep. I know that is pretty tough but it can only be up from there.

And finally, be realistic about how long you can manage camping. We have been away for two full weeks or one night. There is a sweet spot between going away long enough to make the packing worth it and not so long that you haven’t got the energy to pack up and get home. 2-3 nights might just be ideal.

How do you recommend getting some sleep, or any sleep under canvas?