How to Sleep in a Car

Medically reviewed by
 Dr. Jordan Burns DC, MS

Dr. Jordan Burns DC, MS

Meet Dr. Burns, a devoted chiropractor with an extensive seven-year professional career dedicated to optimizing patient health. With an academic background in Kinesiology, Life Sciences, and Sports Science and Rehabilitation,…

By Geoff McKinnen Certified Sleep Coach

Last Updated On April 15th, 2024
How to Sleep in a Car

Key Takeaways

  • Car Camping vs Tent Camping: When planning a camping trip, consider the advantages and disadvantages of car camping and tent camping. Car camping provides convenience and security but lacks an immersive outdoor experience, while tent camping offers adventure and a closer connection to nature but requires more effort and exposure to the elements.
  • Choosing the Right Gear: The key to comfortable car sleeping is having the right gear. Invest in a suitable sleeping bag, sleep mask, sleeping pad, neck pillow, and extra blankets. Tailor your gear to the weather conditions, and consider additional comfort items like a memory foam pillow or mattress topper for those with back pain.
  • Maximizing Comfort: Make the most of your car sleeping experience by optimizing your sleeping environment. Stay cool by ensuring fresh air circulation, stay warm with proper insulation, dim the lights for better sleep quality, block out noise with earplugs, and invest in a good mattress or sleeping pad. Maximize comfort by choosing between front and rear seats and bringing along comfort items like pillows and blankets.

Are you planning a road trip or car camping adventure? If so, you may be wondering how to sleep comfortably and safely in your car. Look no further!

When sleeping in your car, safety should always be a top priority. One of the biggest hazards to be aware of is carbon monoxide poisoning, so be sure to crack a window for fresh air circulation. Additionally, bright lights can disrupt your sleep, so consider investing in window coverings for privacy and light blockage.

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Overall, staying safe while car sleeping is all about being aware of potential hazards and using common sense to avoid them. By taking these precautionary measures, you can rest assured that you’ll have a comfortable and safe car sleep experience.

“Sleeping in a car poses unique challenges, from limited space to uncomfortable seating,” says Dr. Jordan Burns. “Recent research in ‘The Lancet Neurology’ highlights the importance of adapting sleep strategies to different environments. While it’s not the ideal sleep setting, there are practical measures individuals can take to make car sleeping more comfortable and restful.”

In this article, we will share expert tips and techniques on car sleeping, including finding the right gear, and parking spots, and maximizing comfort. With all these tips, you’ll be able to get a restful night’s sleep in your vehicle, whether you’re on the road for one night or an extended period of time.

So, if you’re curious about car sleep or finding yourself in a situation where it’s the only option, keep reading to learn the top tips for sleeping in a car. We’ll cover everything from choosing the right gear to staying safe and comfortable, and even legal considerations for sleeping in your car. It’s time to get a good night’s sleep on the road!

Car Camping vs Tent Camping

When deciding how you want to camp, two popular options are car camping and tent camping. Both have their advantages and disadvantages to consider when planning your next camping trip and sleeping well while camping.

Car camping typically involves parking and sleeping in your vehicle at a campground. The convenience of having your car readily available for storing gear and supplies is a major perk. Car camping also provides more security and shelter from the elements. Additionally, you can create a comfortable sleeping area in your car using pads, pillows, and blankets.

However, car camping offers less of an immersive outdoor experience since you are sleeping inside the vehicle. There is also limited space to set up chairs, tables, cooking equipment, etc. And you won’t have the same connection to nature as sleeping in a tent would provide.

Tent camping requires packing in all your gear and setting up a temporary shelter. The effort involved creates a more adventurous experience and closer engagement with the outdoors. Tent camping allows you to choose remote campsites away from other people if you prefer solitude. You can pitch your tent almost anywhere flat, dry ground is available.

The downsides of tent camping include transporting equipment, lack of electricity and lighting, and greater exposure to weather elements. Tent camping also poses a slightly higher safety risk in terms of wildlife encounters. Plus, sleeping comfort is diminished without the padding and mattresses available when car camping.

Benefits of Napping to Avoid Drowsy Driving

As opposed to sleeping overnight when car camping, there’s also the quick nap people may want to take on the road. On a long drive, a power nap can be sorely needed to refresh the senses, a strategic and potentially life-saving measure to combat drowsy driving and ensure road safety.

Fatigue and drowsiness significantly impair a driver’s ability to stay alert, react quickly, and make sound decisions while on the road. Taking a short nap, even for as little as 15 to 30 minutes, can provide a much-needed boost in alertness and cognitive function, helping to mitigate the risks associated with driving while tired.

Finding a safe and suitable place to pull over for a nap is crucial. Using designated rest areas, parking lots, or other safe stopping points along the route allows drivers to take a break and rejuvenate. It’s essential to park in well-lit and visible areas to ensure safety during the nap.

Short naps are preferred to avoid sleep inertia—the grogginess that can occur after a longer nap—which may temporarily impair a driver’s performance immediately after waking. The aim is to enter the lighter stages of sleep to enhance wakefulness upon resuming driving.

Recognizing the signs of drowsiness is paramount. If a driver experiences symptoms such as frequent yawning, heavy eyelids, difficulty maintaining focus, or unintentional drifting between lanes, it’s crucial to acknowledge these warning signs and respond promptly.

Finding the Ideal Parking Spots

When deciding where to park for the night and ensure a restful sleep in your car, there are several options to consider.

Public parking lots, including those at Walmart, and many highway rest stops permit overnight parking, providing access to restrooms and amenities. Additionally, truck stops and certain 24-hour businesses like gyms or casinos may allow overnight parking.

In case an issue arises, however, it’s important to know how to handle interactions with store managers, police officers, and other campers. Remember to always use common sense and be respectful.

National parks offer designated campsites for a fee. And while street parking in residential areas is possible, be mindful of local ordinances to avoid illegal parking. For a more secluded experience, consider land management areas or utilizing wheel wells, lesser-known options for parking overnight comfortably.

Some apps and websites cater specifically to finding safe overnight parking spaces for travelers in their cars. Always check for signage indicating parking restrictions, and be respectful of the property owner’s rules.

Regardless of your choice, research local laws beforehand and prioritize safety by parking in well-lit areas with good visibility. Finding the ideal spot ensures you can fall asleep and sleep comfortably, waking up refreshed for the next leg of your journey.

Should I Leave My Car On as I Sleep?

Leaving your car on while you sleep in it can be unsafe and is generally not recommended. Several potential risks are associated with running a car engine for an extended period, especially in an enclosed space. Some of the risks include:

  • Carbon Monoxide Poisoning: Running a car engine produces carbon monoxide (CO), a colorless and odorless gas that can be lethal in high concentrations. If you’re sleeping in an enclosed space, like a car, there’s a risk of carbon monoxide buildup, leading to poisoning. Verified Source Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) The United States’ health protection agency that defends against dangers to health and safety. View source
  • Fuel Consumption and Engine Wear: Leaving the engine running, or idling, Verified Source Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Works to control/prevent natural and manmade disasters. View source for an extended period consumes fuel and puts unnecessary wear on the engine components and drains the car battery. This can lead to increased fuel costs and potential damage to the vehicle over time. Not to mention that long-term idling is restricted in some parts of the country.
  • Security Concerns: Leaving your car running with the keys inside poses a security risk, as it may attract theft or unauthorized use of the vehicle.

Whether you’re napping for 20 minutes or sleeping overnight, it’s not wise to leave your car idling. The best course of action is to turn off your vehicle and find alternative ways to stay comfortable, such as extra blankets or a battery-operated heater.

Choosing the Right Gear for Car Sleeping

When it comes to car camping, the right gear can make all the difference. A suitable sleeping bag is a must-have for a comfortable night’s sleep. In addition to the sleeping bag, a sleep mask can help block out light and improve the quality of your sleep.

A sleeping pad or air mattress provides essential cushioning and insulation, helping you not feel cold at night. A neck pillow can help prevent neck and shoulder strain, while extra blankets provide added warmth during chilly nights.

If you suffer from back pain or discomfort, a memory foam pillow or mattress topper can be a game-changer for a peaceful night’s sleep. Make sure to pack all the necessary gear for a comfortable and restful car sleep experience, along with any camping essentials you may need.

Studies featured in Verified Source Wiley Multinational publishing company specializing in academic and instructional materials. View source ‘The Journal of Sleep Research’ emphasize the significance of comfort in achieving quality sleep,” says Dr. Burns. “When sleeping in a car, consider using supportive cushions or travel pillows to improve the ergonomics of your seating. Even in a car, creating a cozy and familiar sleep environment can contribute to a better night’s rest.”

Creating a Cozy Sleeping Environment

When sleeping in a car, it’s important to create a comfortable and cozy environment. By following these tips, you can create a cozy, comfortable sleeping environment in your car and ensure a good night’s sleep.

Stay Cool

Fresh air circulation is crucial for a peaceful night’s sleep, so crack a window or two to keep the air in your car circulating, or pop the sunroof open if you have one. Create cross-ventilation by positioning the car so that there is airflow when windows are open. Using window shades or reflective covers during the day can also block out direct sunlight, helping to maintain a cooler interior.

Additionally, choosing comfortable clothes like a cotton t-shirt can help you stay comfortable throughout the night and fall asleep faster. Opt for a summer-appropriate sleeping bag or just a top sheet if the weather is mild. Using a small, battery-operated fan can further enhance air circulation within the car.

Stay Warm

If you’re traveling in the cooler months, you’ll want to take steps to ensure you stay warm. Begin by insulating the interior of your car to minimize heat loss. Use thermal or insulated window coverings and reflective sunshades on the windshield and other windows. Adding weather stripping to seal any gaps around windows and doors helps create a barrier against the cold.

Then, consider your bedding, going beyond the question of how many blankets you should sleep with. Invest in a cold-weather sleeping bag designed for lower temperatures and layer it with blankets and quilts for added warmth. A high-quality, insulated sleeping pad provides an additional barrier between your body and the cold car surface.

Dressing in layers with thermal or moisture-wicking base layers, along with wearing a hat and warm socks, helps retain body heat.

Staying dry is also crucial, as moisture can significantly increase the sensation of cold. Ensure that your sleeping bag and bedding stay dry, and consider opening a window slightly to reduce condensation inside the car.

Get Your Seats Set Up for Sleep

Sleeping in your car can be an uncomfortable experience, particularly if you are not prepared. However, by utilizing different seating options like the front seat or back seat, you can maximize your comfort levels while getting some shut-eye.

Rear seats often have more legroom and can be reclined to create a more comfortable sleeping position. There are also small, portable mattresses designed for back seats, making the space more comfortable and helping you fall asleep faster.

If you’re sleeping in the front seats, make sure your seat is fully extended to create an extended sleeping area and remove any items that could disturb your sleep.

Even if you don’t have a backseat mattress on hand to soften your sleep surface, try falling asleep in the back lying down if you can. A 2022 study that compared the effect of a seat angle when sleeping in your car found that sleeping upright in the car led to worse sleep quality.

See also Sleeping Sitting Up: Is It Good or Bad for Your Health?

Dim the Lights

Consider using window coverings to provide privacy and prevent any bright lights from disturbing your sleep. You might also want to bring along a sleep mask, also known as an eye mask, to better block out outdoor light that can come from street lamps or the rising sun.

Block Out Noise

Depending on where you’re car camping, noise may be a significant factor. In the city, you might experience the noises of people and traffic, while out in nature various animal noises may keep you up at night. Having a set of earplugs or noise-canceling headphones handy can help you block out noise for better sleep.

Try Relaxation Techniques

If you’re struggling to sleep, try deep breathing exercises or progressive muscle relaxation. These techniques can calm your mind and body for easier sleep.

“In situations where traditional sleep conditions are unavailable, incorporating relaxation techniques becomes paramount,” says Dr. Burns. “Recent findings, as discussed in ‘The Lancet Neurology,’ highlight the effectiveness of mind-body practices. Consider practices like deep breathing or gentle stretching before sleeping in a car. These techniques can help ease tension and promote a more restful sleep experience.”

Dress Sensibly

If you are finding sleeping in the car uncomfortable and are having trouble falling or staying asleep, try wearing comfortable clothes like a loose-fitting t-shirt with soft and stretchable fabrics for bottoms, like sweatpants or leggings. Such clothes allow for ease of movement and added comfort. Traditional pajamas can work, too.

If it’s cooler out, you may wish to sleep with socks on, along with a cozy hat.

Practice Good Sleep Hygiene

Staying asleep throughout the night might be challenging, particularly if you are not used to sleeping in a car. However, you can take a few measures to ensure better sleep quality. Avoid drinking caffeine or using electronics before bedtime, and establish a sleep routine that you can consistently follow.

“Maintaining good sleep hygiene is crucial, especially when sleeping in unconventional spaces like a car,” says Dr. Burns. “The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends Verified Source American Academy of Sleep Medicine Society focused on sleep medicine and disorders, and the AASM is who authorizes U.S. sleep medicine facilities. View source adhering to a consistent sleep schedule and minimizing disruptions. Even during road trips or rest stops, establishing a routine can signal to your body that it’s time to wind down and prepare for sleep.”

Have a Good Mattress

If you’re planning on sleeping in your car frequently, investing in a high-quality sleeping pad or air mattress can make all the difference in staying comfortable throughout the night. However, you may also want to bring a puncture repair kit to patch an air mattress.

Make sure you also bring along some extra blankets and a pillow or two to make yourself comfortable. You may even wish to have the comfort of a stuffed animal to sleep with, especially if unfamiliar surroundings at night can make you nervous.

Legal Considerations for Sleeping in Your Car

If you plan to sleep in your car during your travels, you should be aware of the legal aspects. It’s crucial to identify suitable and legally permissible places for overnight parking where you won’t face any hassle. Choose locations that allow you to legally park without worrying about restrictions, such as parking lots, rest areas, or other designated overnight parking areas.

It is also important to consider the restrictions and guidelines of any parking lot you may choose to use. Some businesses may require customers to park only while patronizing the establishment. Some municipalities prohibit overnight parking altogether.

If you’re traveling by air and aren’t able to sleep on the airplane, then you may need a place to sleep before or after a flight. Research nearby airports to determine if they offer designated quiet zones for sleeping.

Additionally, some religious buildings also permit travelers to sleep in designated areas. It is always a good idea to research and educate yourself on the legal considerations and options available to ensure a safe and compliant experience while sleeping in your car.

More Tips for Sleeping on the Road

Going on a road trip is a great idea, but long hours on the road can make you tired and sleepy. The next time you’re on a road trip and need to catch some Zs, these tips can help you sleep better on the road.

Find Pay Showers to Freshen Up

Long road trips can make you feel dirty and grimy, so it’s important to find places to freshen up along the way. Find campsites or truck stops that offer pay showers to keep yourself clean and refreshed on your trip.

Plan for Your Next Trip

Planning for your next trip can keep you motivated and excited, even during a particularly long road trip. Use your free time to research and plan for your next adventure.

Use Gas Stations for Restroom Breaks and Snacks

Gas stations can be great places to stop for a quick restroom break and to grab some snacks, or even just a water bottle to keep you hydrated for better sleep. They also offer a chance to stretch your legs and get some fresh air, which can help increase your alertness and comfort for the rest of the journey.


Is it safe to camp in your car?

Camping in your car can be safe when done responsibly and in suitable locations. Ensure that you’re adhering to local regulations and guidelines regarding overnight parking. Choose well-lit, designated areas like campgrounds or rest stops, and be aware of your surroundings. Ventilation is crucial, so crack a window or use a vent to allow fresh air circulation.

Lastly, plan ahead, inform someone of your location, and keep emergency supplies on hand to enhance the safety of car camping.

Can you lie down in the backseat of a car?

Yes, you can lie down in the backseat of a car for a nap or sleep, depending on the size of the vehicle. Sedans may offer limited space, but larger vehicles or SUVs often provide more room. Adjust the front seats if necessary to create a flat surface, and consider using additional cushions or blankets for comfort.

It’s essential to park in a safe, legal location if you plan on reclining in the backseat for an extended period.

How can I sleep comfortably in the car?

To sleep comfortably in a car, use supportive cushions or travel pillows to enhance neck and back support. Consider bringing a sleeping bag or blankets for warmth, especially in cooler weather. Use window shades or curtains for privacy and to block out light. Choose a level parking spot to avoid discomfort, and adjust the front seats or backrest to create a flat sleeping surface.

Additionally, wear comfortable clothing conducive to sleep, and plan your rest stops wisely for a more restful car sleeping experience.

What are the disadvantages of sleeping in a car?

Sleeping in a car has several disadvantages, including discomfort due to limited space and uneven surfaces. Extreme temperatures can make it challenging to maintain a comfortable sleep environment. Safety concerns also exist, especially if you park in unfamiliar or potentially unsafe areas.

Additionally, extended periods of sleeping in a car may contribute to physical stiffness and fatigue.

Is it OK to sleep in a car overnight?

Sleeping in a car overnight can be a practical solution in certain situations, such as during road trips or when camping. However, it’s crucial to prioritize safety and adhere to local regulations. Ensure you park in designated areas, such as rest stops or campgrounds, where overnight parking is allowed.

Be mindful of the weather conditions and take precautions to stay comfortable and secure, especially in colder temperatures.

How do you sleep in a car in the summer?

Sleeping in a car during the summer requires considerations for temperature and ventilation. Park in shaded areas if possible and crack the windows to allow for airflow while maintaining security. Use light and breathable bedding to stay cool, and consider investing in sunshades or reflective window covers to minimize heat buildup.

It’s essential to stay hydrated and avoid parking in direct sunlight for extended periods to ensure a more comfortable sleeping experience.

Is it okay to take a nap in my car?

Yes, taking a nap in your car is generally okay, but it’s essential to prioritize safety. Choose a well-lit and secure location, avoid busy roadsides, and adhere to local regulations. Ensure your car is parked legally, and use sunshades for privacy. Always lock your doors and windows, and set an alarm to wake up on time.


Now that you have read through all these tips, you are prepared for a cozy and safe night’s sleep in your car. Remember these top tips and great advice when planning your next car camping adventure or road trip. With just a few adjustments, you can sleep comfortably in your car for 20 minutes, one night, or an extended period.

Don’t forget to pack all the essential gear for car sleeping, including a suitable sleeping bag, sleep mask, sleeping pad, neck pillow, air mattress, and extra blankets to ensure maximum comfort. Utilize our tips for finding the ideal parking spots, staying safe and comfortable, and creating a cozy sleeping environment.

All these tips for sleeping in a car will help you to sleep comfortably and safely on the road. With a little planning and common sense, sleeping in your car can be a great idea for your next adventure. So go ahead, hit the road, and enjoy a restful sleep in your car!

About the author

Geoff McKinnen is a writer focusing mainly on the healthcare industry and has written articles on everything from foods to help you lose weight to the connection between Alzheimer’s and sleep. Geoff’s passionate about helping readers improve their well-being to lead happier lives. Outside of work, Geoff enjoys cycling and hiking and believes that by leading a healthy lifestyle, he can help others do the same.

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