Sleeping in a car is never an ideal situation. It’s usually associated with neck pain, loud traffic, and bumpy roads.
This article is for people that want to learn how to properly sleep in a car for the following situations:
- Sleeping in Your Car Overnight
- Sleeping on a Long Road Trip
- Sleeping in Your Car Long-term
While it may not be the idealistic way we’ve seen shown in car commercials, where passengers drift off to sleep with ease in comfy seats, and drivers wake up refreshed from a rest stop – there are still things you can do to make the time you spend sleeping in a car more enjoyable.
To Sleep Comfortably in Your Car, You Should:
- Bring The Right Pillows and Blankets
- Have The Right Amount of Ventilation
- Correctly Position Your Body For The Maximum Amount of Comfort and Support – Ensuring Neutral Spinal Alignment
Sleeping In Your Car Overnight
1. Find A Safe Place To Park
If you’re on a long trip or have to drive through the night, taking nap breaks is necessary and vital to your safety. However, pulling over and resting your eyes is harder than it sounds and can come with complications. One difficulty is figuring out where exactly you should park.
You will likely need to check the law around sleeping overnight in your car at rest stops in your state/area. Several states have legalized this, but the majority have not. According to Lawyers Plus, it’s generally accepted to sleep in your car if you’re not actively driving, trespassing or intoxicated – as you can even be charged with driving under the influence if you are stationary. The following places are good to consider for your overnight rest:
Department Stores: Look for a major chain store such as Target or Walmart. These have large parking lots which usually contain security to protect your safety. Unless a sign tells you otherwise, there often aren’t rules against being in your car overnight.
Religious Buildings: You can also look out for a Church, Synagogue, or other religious building. In general, these places are safe and will have good-willed people willing to help you out.
Residential Neighborhoods: Lastly, you can search for a neighborhood with on-street parking and no signs asking you to ‘pay to park’ or ‘parking for residents only.’ You’ll also want to find an area where other cars are already parked, indicating it’s a safe area to leave your car.
Rural/Highways: Generally, it isn’t safe to pull over on the highway or the side of a road. The dangers of getting hit by a car, towed or bothered by people or the police are at high risk. You should avoid this and instead exit the main road and look for a rest stop.
Quick Tip: If you want to make sure that it’s legal to sleep in your car for your current city and state check out this article we wrote to help you avoid getting woken up to a knock on the window by a police officer. https://sleepflawless.com/is-it-legal-to-sleep-in-your-car/
2. Maximize Your Privacy
Getting to sleep when you feel someone watching you is both uncomfortable and somewhat terrifying, especially when you’re in your car rather than the comfort of your home. To emulate the feeling of being safe and comfortable as you are at home, we recommend blocking your windows with any fabric you have on hand. It usually isn’t necessary to block every window – just the ones which face traffic or other human activity. If you’ve decided to rest in a car park, and want to sleep in the back of your car, make sure to have your car facing outward in the parking spot. This way, people are less likely to see you and simply see the empty car seat at the front. Alternatively, if you’re sleeping in the front of your car, pull straight into the parking space to have the front of your car facing away from other pedestrians.
If you’re parked in a public area, such as a supermarket car park, it’s best to park as far away from the building as you can. This way, you are less likely to be surrounded by other cars and drivers and won’t be bothered by the noise of people exiting and entering the building you are parked near.
I recently bought the EzyShade Windshield Sun Shade from Amazon to block the sun, keeping the car cool and giving me some privacy from people peering in. It’s super inexpensive and I recommend it to anyone that will be sleeping in their vehicle. For the side windows, I use Aokway Car Sun Shade which I have found works better than other products at actually staying in the window! And for the back window, I again use the EzyShade Windshield Sun Shade.
3. Utilize Your Space Correctly
As mentioned before, the most likely place you’ll have a nap is in the back of your car rather than the front. This is because, naturally, there is far more space in the back of most cars to stretch out completely and avoid cramps or aches while you sleep. To get the most out of this space, push the front seats forward as far as possible to give you more room.
If you’ve packed some blankets or pillows for your trip, you can use them to get yourself comfortable. We recommend covering up any parts of the car which may prevent you from sleeping well, such as seatbelt buckles, which can dig into your body. You can try placing a pillow or piece of clothing over these items to avoid the painful annoyance.
However, if you didn’t bring any comfy blankets or pillows, you can still try to make do with what you have. Use a handbag or backpack as a pillow, taking out any hard and valuable items to make it more comfortable (and avoid damaging anything inside). If you have a jacket with you, you can use this as a makeshift blanket. If you happen to be parked in a supermarket carpark, such as a Walmart, you can go inside and purchase a blanket and pillow if you didn’t bring one along.
Protip: Get a sleeping bag, mattress pad, or air mattress depending on what fits and what you find most comfortable. Allow yourself as much padding as you need. I personally recommend the “SoulOut” Sleeping Bag, Better Habitat Sleeping Pad, or the Onirii Car Inflatable Air Mattress (all available on Amazon – check the current price to get the best deal). If you have an SUV, Truck, or Minivan I highly recommend the Onirii Air Mattress because it is the most comfortable by far! If you have a smaller car the “SoulOut” Sleeping Bag and Better Habitat Sleeping Pad also work incredibly well.
4. Keep Your Car Cool
A lot of us sleep with either a fan or our bedroom windows open for extra ventilation throughout the night. This really shouldn’t be any different when you sleep in a car. If you keep your windows shut all night, you’ll eventually wake up feeling sweaty, sticky and uncomfortable due to the heat. However, sleeping with your windows open in a car isn’t exactly safe either – especially in a place you may not recognize with plenty of strangers around.
This is why sleepdudes.org recommend a handy, DIY trick to solve both of these issues in one. For cars that have a sunroof, they suggest buying a small piece of window screen from a hardware store that is 2-3 inches longer than all sides of your sunroof. The instructions require you to open your sunroof halfway if possible (small enough that a person or scary animal couldn’t sneak through) and wedge the screen around the opening. This technique will keep out bugs and any other unwanted visitors while letting enough ventilation into the car. Alternatively, you can also try using this trick for one of your windows.
However, if you don’t have the time or equipment to carry out this tip, you can simply crack open your window slightly – just enough to let a breeze carry itself throughout the car, but without putting yourself or your belongings at risk. Once the morning comes, you’ll thank yourself for doing so as you should wake up feeling more refreshed.
5. Have A Morning Routine
If you have to sleep in your car overnight, the likelihood is because you’ll have to continue driving the next day. To tackle the full day of driving ahead of you and get the most of the previous night sleep, we recommend having a morning routine to carry out once you wake up.
Sleeping in your car, no matter how much room or how comfortable you try to make it, you’ll probably wake up with a few aches in your body. Start off with a morning stretch out of the car to rejuvenate your muscles and body. If you’re fortunate enough to have stopped at a rest stop, use their facilities to have a shower and brush your teeth. If not, you should keep a bottle of water on hand with you. You can use this to wash your face and brush your teeth without needing to find facilities to accommodate this. This routine will wake up your body and mind for the day ahead, as it’s very easy to feel fatigued after a night inside a car.
Sleeping During A Road Trip
6. Bring Comfortable Bedding
If you’re a passenger on a road trip, the chances of you feeling fatigued while staring at the long stretches of road ahead of you are high. Unfortunately, there’s only so much that technology can do to keep you stimulated, so you’ll eventually want to take a nap. This is why preparation is vital – and hopefully, you’ll have plenty of time before your trip to plan and pack essential gear.
You’ll want to bring a few easy-to-pack necessities which should include:
- A Blanket
- A Pillow/Neck Rest
- Comfortable Footwear, Such As Warm Socks (especially in the winter)
It is also best that you dress as comfortably as possible for the trip ahead. It’s all well and good to bring a comfy blanket, but tucking yourself up while wearing jeans just isn’t the same. Try wearing comfortable, stretchy clothing, such as sweatpants or yoga pants, as well as a loose t-shirt, to help you drift off.
7. Find The Perfect Position
Sleeping in a car, especially while it is in motion, can prove to be a challenge. Between resting against a window and having to keep your seatbelt buckled – there’s no correct way to make it work, but there are ways you can simplify it. Firstly, you can opt for the front passenger seat, as this usually reclines. Recline the seat to a comfortable level (providing you are not restricting anyone behind you). This will allow you to recreate the feeling of being on a flat sleeping surface, as you would be at home on your bed.
If you’re unable to recline your seat, or perhaps you’re sitting in the backseats, rest your head on a pillow against a window. This is a popular way to sleep if you’re traveling by plane and can work just as well in a car. If you are prone to neck aches, you can try using an inflatable or memory foam neck pillow instead which should give you extra support.
8. Pack Comforting Items To Help You Sleep
Aside from physical comfort, you may also want to pack comforting items which will help you fall asleep, to begin with. Think about your normal routine at home – what do you do before bed? Perhaps you read a book or listen to some music. You should bring these items with you, and maybe a book light and some headphones, to help stick to your regular routine.
You may also find that the humming of a car’s engine or other traffic noises keeps you awake, so headphones are an absolute must-have for blocking these out. We recommend listening to ambient music, such as relaxing rainfall or a crackling fireplace. You can usually download these playlists on popular music apps, or listen to them on YouTube.
Another alternative to bring is sleeping aids. If you have time, you can consult a pharmacist about over-the-counter sleep aids. But, it’s worth noting that once taking a sleep aid, you shouldn’t attempt to drive. Therefore, if you are a designated secondary driver, it’s best to avoid these.
9. Covering Your Windows
Driving during the day with the sun beaming through the window – or even at night-time where street lights beat down on your car – can be highly distracting to your eyes when you’re trying to go to sleep. This is why using either a towel or a t-shirt is a great help here to blackout the windows. Provided the t-shirts are large enough, either of these can be used as efficient window covers. You can also bring clothespins or tape to attach t-shirts together and pin them overhead. Alternatively, you can close the door on a shirt, trapping it between the door and the car, to provide some shade.
It’s also important to consider how covering up windows will impact the driver, as they may need to use them on your journey. If this technique can prove hazardous, bring a hat, sunglasses or eye mask instead. This will protect your face from UV light as you sleep and also trick your brain into thinking you’re in complete darkness. This darkness is important to getting to sleep, as your brain will only produce melatonin – the sleep hormone – under these conditions.
10. Let The Driver Know You’re Going To Sleep
Depending on your circumstances, it may be a good idea to let the driver of the vehicle know you’ll be asleep. They may call your name or ask for your help, perhaps with directions, which can wake you up. Even worse, if they don’t realize you’re asleep, they may drive in a more unruly manner, such as not being careful when they drive over bumps or stop at a red light. Let them know you plan on taking a nap so they are aware of how to give you a hand during this.
Sleeping In Your Car Long-Term
11. Get Earplugs
If you find yourself in the unfortunate situation where you have to sleep in your car long-term, there’s no need to panic, as you’re not alone. Although we do not recommend living in your car for long periods of time, we know that circumstances can force this upon people. To make sleeping in your car for a long period of time work, you’ll need to think about things you will encounter which will disrupt your sleep – such as noisy roads and neighborhoods.
Busy roads and drunken friends on nights out will likely keep you awake every weekend. This is why investing in some earplugs is a good choice. They will help dilute this background noise down to a bearable level, making it easier for you to sleep.
I recently wrote a review of my favorite earplugs and eye masks, outlining what people don’t consider when shopping for these two products. You can check out what I wrote here!
12. Be Discreet
As mentioned before, you’ll need to find a safe and legal place to park your car while you sleep. You can start by asking a friend or relative if you can use their property, or you can see if there are any organizations or businesses in your area that designates parking lots specifically for people in situations like yours. One example is Walmart, who will let people camp overnight in their parking lots legally and even have a women’s only area for extra safety.
Other places to consider are free hospital parking lots or camping grounds – such as National Forests, where some have free camping with a limit of 14 days.
13. Bring The Essentials
You’ll also need to gather your living essentials for your car during this time. For comfort, you’ll need a blanket, pillow and perhaps a small mattress or padding of some kind. Other essentials, mainly for hygiene and health, include a cheap cooler for food and a Porta-Potty – a chemical toilet.
To remain extra discreet, you may also want to invest in a reflective wind shade to cover up your front window screen. This should avoid people looking into your car as you sleep, or spotting it as a vulnerable vehicle.
No matter what situation you find yourself in where sleeping in your car occurs, hopefully, you’ll feel full rested by the end and be back to a comfy bed in no time, ready for sweet dreams yet again.
If you are sleeping in your car long term or short term I always recommend having a power inverter handy. It easily plugs into your car’s outlet to give you the power (see what I did there) to use more electronics (that use traditional outlets). Many higher-end cars now come with a traditional outlet already preinstalled, but if you’re anything like me my car does not. I highly recommend the BESTEK 300W Power Inverter (link to Amazon). I use it to charge my laptop and other electronics that I don’t have a car plug for!