The Center for Disease Control (CDC) states: Insufficient sleep in the US is a public health epidemic. They go on to say that 1 in 10 Americans has been diagnosed with a sleep disorder, and that 25% of people report some trouble sleeping.
Of course CDC data is based largely on people who sleep in traditional homes. For RVers, quality shut-eye can be more difficult to find. RVs are essentially upgraded ‘box trucks’ on wheels, complete with relatively thin walls and less insulation than stick-and-brick homes.
RV Parks can be noisy places, and depending where you are, you’ll be exposed to: road noise, sirens, motorcycles, diesel rigs coming and going, noise from other campers, dogs barking, kids, loud music, trains (so loud!), wild animals (coyotes), and even ATVs if you RV at OHV (off highway vehicles) areas. While some of these noises are confined to the day, others can and will happen late at night or early in the morning and disrupt your sleep.
Really Important: We are by no means complaining about noise at campgrounds (they’re mostly very quiet) or about our fellow RVers and campers. We’re thrilled that lots of people enjoy RVing, and RV parks wouldn’t exist without lots of people using them.
Whether you plan to live full-time in an RV like we do, to “part time” it, or to simply vacation in it – you’ll get better sleep in your RV by following our tips below.
10 Tips for getting the best sleep ever in your RV
Tip #1: Buy the right RV for the way you camp.
RVs come in many different levels of quality, just like stick and brick homes. If you only use your RV on occasional camping trips, then affordability is likely more important than sleep quality.
If you’re planning to live in your RV part- or full-time, you’ll want to invest in an RV with better insulation if possible.
The two most popular RV styles among full-timers are Fifth Wheels and the Class-A Motorhome. Models targeted toward full timers are usually built with better insulation to improve their livability in a wider range of climates. This extra insulation also makes the RV quieter. Also look for models with double-pane windows, since weak points like windows, doors, and vents can let in noise.
Regardless of your budget, most models can work for most people, even if you’re full-timing. Our Class C Winnebago Aspect is designed as a ‘luxury weekender’ with relatively thin insulation, but with a few minor modifications it works great for our full-time lifestyle and we both sleep like a log. 🙂
Other Things To Think About:
Pay close attention to where the bedroom is located. Most fifth wheels are designed with the master bedroom in the front. As fifth wheels are backed into a site, the bedroom is usually closest to campground roads. It’s a matter of personal preference, but we prefer the bedroom toward the back of the campsite for better privacy, less road noise, and better sleep.
Speaking of RV floor plans, some plans are seemly designed so no-one can get a good night’s sleep. Especially important is the location of the bed. We’ve seen beds placed against paper thin walls with a TV on the other side of the wall – or a toilet, or even another bed. This makes it more likely that two or more people will wake each other up. Remember that due to thin walls, sounds in an RV can be heard more easily than in a regular home.
If you plan to have guests in your RV the floor plan is even more important. See Rich’s post about RVing and visitors for more on that topic.
Tip #2: Become a campground site-selection expert.
Some campsites are obviously noisy, such as those right near the park entrance, close to a highway, or those next to a playground or pool.
Other sites are less obvious until you wake up at 6am wondering what all the racket is. A little forethought can make all the difference between a good night’s sleeps and a couple of tired and grumpy RVers!
We’ll do a more thorough post on this another time, but for now here are a few tips for optimal site selection:
- We used to travel on Saturdays (the worst day for site selection), but now we mostly move on Sundays. Most weekend campers leave on Sunday morning, which gives us lots of site options. (Obviously if you’re on a weekend trip this doesn’t apply). You’ll have even more sites to choose from if you arrive on Monday or Tuesday.
- Try to arrive at a campground after 12-noon and before 3pm. This is the window where many RVers have left and new ones haven’t yet arrived. This varies a little by season and location, but it’s a good general rule.
- Look at RV park maps before you travel. We go online and download the maps before we leave, so we have a good idea which part of the campground we want to camp in before we hit the road. If that’s not possible, we look at the park map when we arrive.
- Park your RV near the entrance so you can walk around and look more closely at sites. In larger parks it may be worth unhitching your car and driving through loops. Make sure you bring something with you to reserve a site when you find it. A reservation tag, a chair, or your car will show that ‘this site is taken’. This is important as we’ve walked back to the RV without ‘claiming’ a site, only to find someone else backing in by the time we get back.
- If you can, choose a site that’s toward the back of the park, the end of a loop, in a cul-de-sac, or an outside corner. This way you’ll avoid most of the traffic and headlights as RVs enter and exit the park.
- Steer clear of bath houses, dumpsters, pools, and other high traffic areas where people gather.
- Check out potential neighbor’s sites. If the campground is pretty full, you’re looking for large Class As and 5th Wheels, as these usually contain full-timers who tend to be quieter (stereotype, but it’s also true). You’re looking to avoid neighbors with lots of chairs, lots of bikes, stereos, speakers, and other indications that there’s a large, noisy group staying there.
- Avoid tenters and pop-up trailers, as they have zero noise insulation. In an RV Park, you rely not just on your walls to block sound, but your neighbors walls too. We have nothing against tenters – and we used to tent camp ourselves – but speaking strictly from a noise perspective, tenters should be avoided. It’s worth noting that tenters also try to avoid RVs (we did), and campgrounds are often set up to separate the two.
Tip #3: If you have leveling jacks make sure they’re fully extended.
If your jacks are only partially extended the RV will rock more when people walk around inside. We’ve found that when we use the ‘auto level’ adjustment feature of our HWH leveling jacks that sometimes the rear jacks don’t fully extend.
As a result, when we walk around in our RV, the vehicle shifts and bounces on the rear suspension – just like if you bounced around inside your car or truck.
This also makes a big difference with wind. RV’s are boxy, so strong winds – like those in the desert – can rock an RV around pretty extensively.
The simple fix is to manually fully extend all jacks until they make solid contact with the ground and then adjust from there. By taking some of the weight off the suspension, the RV will feel much more stable.
Tip #4: If you have suspension airbags empty them while parked.
If you have load-bearing airbags in the back of your RV like we do, you’ll want to let the air out completely. This took us quite a while to realize, but like the jack extensions, it helps keep your RV from rocking when people walk around.
This is especially true if you don’t have leveling jacks, as leveling jacks take most of the weight off the suspension. Still – there’s enough weight on the suspension even with leveling jacks that we’ve noticed the RV moves more with air in our airbags.
Just remember to re-inflate airbags again before you hit the road.
Tip #5: Manage the air flow in your RV.
Good air flow is critical when sleeping in a small space, but it can also be challenging to manage in an RV. Any RV can feel stuffy pretty quickly if you’re not careful. RVs are similar to cars in that full Sun exposure will heat up an RV quickly. Even without the Sun, heat and humidity in small spaces is very uncomfortable. Regardless of RV size, cross-ventilation is the key to managing air flow.
Fortunately, most RVs have decent ventilation systems that allow you to create a gentle cross draft. Our living area has a skylight with two height adjustments that we keep slightly open most nights. If you don’t have a skylight, you can use your 14″ ceiling vents (most RVs have several) for ventilation, or keep your windows slightly open instead.
We also have a Fantastic Fan in our bedroom, which we often leave on during the night. The fantastic fan pulls air out of the RV, and by so doing pulls air through the RV. We can control airflow by choosing what window or vent to open or close. If we close everything but our skylight, that will pull air all the way through the RV. If we close the skylight and leave only the bathroom vent open (midship), that will keep the bath/bedroom area cooler, but won’t do much for the living area.
By controlling where the air is entering the RV, we can control the temperature in different zones – which is helpful when we have visitors. Either way, the gentle breeze through our doorway is fantastic for sleep. Nicer Fantastic Fans include a rain-sensor, reverse air flow, and other great features.
Cross-ventilation works well in managing air flow during moderate temperatures, but during colder weather air circulating devices can help manage air flow inside your RV. In colder weather (below 60f) we keep vents closed and use a small desktop fan in the bedroom instead. We also keep our bedroom doorway open to promote air circulation. (We also have a fan in our HVAC system, but find it too noisy to use most of the time.)
If your RV is larger you can buy a more robust air circulating fan for this purpose. This Honeywell Air Circulating Fan is very powerful for it’s size and a good option for RVers.
Tip #6: Keep RV temperatures on the low side and use supplemental heating devices as needed.
Almost all RVs include a furnace. Ours has both a propane furnace (floor vents) and a heat pump (ceiling vents). While these are a must when the temps dip down to the 30’s and 40’s, both systems are also loud. Added to that, both systems cycle on and off as heat is needed. Naturally this cycling can disrupt your sleep. That’s why we use supplemental heating (small heaters and heating mattress pad) as much as possible instead of the ‘main’ heat systems.
Also worth noting is if air duct outlets are close to your bed, they can feel like a hot blow dryer on you in tight quarters. We prefer to stick to cooler air temps and add a blanket to the bed to stay extra cozy.
To avoid feeling stuffy and hot at night, a general rule of thumb is to keep the temperature 5 degrees cooler than you would in a house. (We keep ours at 64-65 degrees while sleeping.)
Most people sleep better in cooler rooms than in warmer rooms. Of course this isn’t true of everyone, but in general cooler air + warm blankets are a winning combination.
A few gadgets we’ve used to help with temperature control:
As mentioned, we prefer not to run the heat when in milder climates as the on/off cycling throughout the night can disrupt your sleep. If it’s a little chilly, we’ll run our Lasko My Space Personal Heaters to keep it warmer with little to no sound.
Rich likes cooler temps than I do, so we also have a dual-zone heated mattress pad on our bed. As different people run at different temps, we think a dual zone heating pad or blanket is a must – and it could save your marriage! 🙂
Most nights I set mine to a low temp an hour before I go to bed so the bedding is the perfect temperature when I get in. Rich almost never uses his side, but on really chilly nights he’s been known to.
The reason we prefer the heated mattress pad to a heated blanket is that RVs tend to radiate cold from below. This is partly because heat rises, but also because cold pockets form directly under your RV – since the floor is several feet off the ground. By heating myself from below (warm mattress) I stay much warmer and more comfortable on chilly nights.
Tip #7: Adjust your bedroom lighting to suit your preference.
Some people like their bedroom dark, like a cave, when they sleep. Others don’t mind it fairly bright. We like our room as dark as possible so we close out all possible light sources. Our Winnebago Aspect has a shower facing the bedroom, with a skylight in it. We like this feature, but not when street lights make the skylight glow at night. We had a local sign shop cut a sheet of PVC to fit the shape of the skylight, and we use this as a cover to keep our room dark.
Roof vents can also let in a lot of light and sound. Camco makes 14-inch square vent insulators that are designed to keep warm air from escaping through your vents. These insulators also do a fantastic job of blocking outside noise.
Our RV also had quite a few windows in the bedroom. We covered one of the windows with a covered plywood headboard, which we built for this purpose. It does a great job of keeping the room dark, and is removable should we ever want to open the room up.
Our windows also have day-night shades and when we replaced the window treatments, we had the new curtains made of room-darkening fabric, with the edges that adhere to the walls with Velcro.
These are some ideas for fellow ‘cave-dwellers’ like us. For those of you who like more light, you may not need to make many adjustments.
Tip #8: Get a mattress that suits your size and your style.
First let’s talk about size. RV mattress sizes are often up to 5-inches shorter – or more narrow – than their traditional counterparts. In other words, if your RV has a Queen bed, it may be 60″W but only 75-inches long (rather than 80-inches long). In extreme cases we’ve seen just 74″ long mattresses, so if you’re tall make sure to pay attention.
When we bought our 32 foot Winnebago, we went from a California King to an ‘RV-sized’ Queen. This was a tough adjustment for Rich, as he’s 6′-4″ and our mattress was even shorter than a standard Queen bed.
Also pay attention to mattress quality. New, higher-end RVs typically include better mattresses. Some have dual-control firmness controls (sleep number), angle adjustments, warming & cooling, and so on. Naturally, less expensive RVs come standard with less comfortable mattresses.
Our standard mattress is fairly basic model, so we use this 2″-thick Memory Foam Mattress Topper, and find this to be a cost-effective and incredibly comfortable solution. In fact, it’s even more comfortable than the $2,500 mattress we used to sleep on in our stick and brick home – seriously!
Tip #9: Choose breathable and comfortable bedding.
Good bedding makes any bed more comfortable, right?
In an RV there are a few special bedding considerations. First, you want a comforter or blanket that breathes well. We swear by our Outlast Temperature-Regulation Comforter amazon.com link because it’s designed to keep you warm when it’s cooler and cooler when it’s warm! They also sell pillows and blankets made from the same material.
Then there are the sheets to consider. Over the years and through some trial and error we’ve found that Eucalyptus Origins™ 600 Thread Count Sheet Set – from Bed Bath & Beyond – are simply the best and most comfortable sheets you can buy. They’re a little on the pricey side, but they help with temperature control and they’re soft, silky, incredibly comfortable and durable. We buy them once every few years (always with a BB&B 20% off coupon) and they’re worth every penny!
Tip #10: Use a Sound Machine for general noise control.
Nighttime noise is a challenge for many people, whether you RV or not. Depending on your location, outside noise such as: traffic, people talking, dogs barking, sirens, loud music, gunshots and other city sounds can disrupt sleep – not to mention general road noise, and highway noise. (When we lived in an apartment, we had upstairs and downstairs neighbors who liked to rearrange their furniture and vacuum at 3am, as well as next-door neighbors who have massive parties on the weekends that go all night – you know the type!)
RVers face many of these same challenges, but there’s more variability when you park your home in a wide variety of locations. We also have noise from people pulling in and setting up, or breaking down and pulling out (diesels idling at 6am), and when you add it up it makes a huge difference if you can drown out some of these noises!
Sounds inside your RV can also make it challenging. One person can easily wake the others by simply getting a drink of water or flushing the toilet as the walls are so thin.
We’re happy to say that we’ve found a handy device that helps mute sounds from inside and outside our RV! I discovered the Sound Machine while visiting family six months ago, as I was given one to try out during our vacation. We immediately bought one when I returned home to the RV.
After sleeping with it for six months, we think is a must-have for getting a great nights sleep anywhere – and especially in an RV!
The model we use is made by Marpac and is similar to the Marpac Marsona pictured here. It makes either a steady, consistent white noise sound, or an ebb and flow white noise sound that’s similar to ocean waves. It’s a little pricey, but well worth it!
We’ve been lucky to get pretty decent sleep in our Winnebago right from the start. However, it’s been worth the time and money we’ve invested in our home-on-wheels — and by making these adjustments we’ve slept better than ever.
If you have any tips that help you get a great night’s sleep in your RV or home, we’d love to hear them in the comments!