How To Sleep Well Under Canvas: Finding Your Sense Of Place

A brown Labrador under our olive green 100% linen duvet cover.

We are huge fans of sleep, whether it’s in a tent in a field or tucked up in bed at home. But as some of us excitedly dust off our camping gear in preparation for some springtime outdoor snoozing, we are aware that not everyone is a fan of camping. We quite often hear anti-camping declarations such as “Oh no, I can’t sleep in a tent” or “I hate camping – I never sleep well!”, but why is this? Why do people struggle to sleep in a tent? We turned to our friends at Tylda Tents, comfortable camping enthusiasts, to help understand the science and learn how to make your tent your favourite place to nestle down for a good night’s sleep.

Embracing the Fresh Air

Time spent outdoors is NEVER time wasted, and sleeping in a tent at the end of a day full of fresh air can be the best night's sleep you've ever had. But for many of us, dropping off and sleeping deeply away from home can feel like an impossible task. The truth is, if it’s done right, anyone can reap the benefits of sleeping under canvas; you just need to find your sense of place.

To better understand why people feel reluctant to camp, or sleep anywhere away from home, we looked at some of the science behind why connection and familiarity might aid sleep and why new unfamiliar spaces can slow its onset. This is often referred to as the ‘first night effect’ or FNE, and it is so well known within the scientific community that in sleep studies the first night is often discarded from data. 

A Sense of Place

A study by Yuka Sasaki at Brown University showed that the left side of the brain is more alert when sleeping in a new environment. She compared this to many other animals like whales, dolphins and birds, which can sleep with one side of the brain at a time. It is thought that this is a way of protecting themselves from potential threats, and Sasaki believes that humans experience the same adaptive response to new environments, leading to a less restful sleep. 

We believe that creating a sense of place could be an essential tool to combat not only FNE, but also to enhance overall quality of sleep. By creating a sense of security and connectedness we tell our bodies that it's safe to really switch off and get that quality deep sleep we all want. 

So how do we do this? Well, it’s probably not as complicated as it sounds...

Creating connections to the landscape and referencing a shared history is the key to creating an authentic sense of place that taps into your subconscious. 

In practice, there are multiple ways to achieve this. Bringing the outside in can be really helpful in creating a direct visual prompt that brings you closer to nature, the landscape, and our shared experiences within it. This can be done in obvious ways like using foraged plants, beautiful shells and found objects, or in more subtle ways like your choice of bedding, favouring natural materials such as linen, cotton and wool. 

The comfort of real beds and duvets (rather than mats and sleeping bags) also provides a reference to your current expectations of what the ease of ‘home’ feels like. This continuity and familiarity provide your subconscious with multiple reference points which help you to feel calm and achieve that ultimate night of relaxation and rest.  

Connecting to Well-Crafted Objects

Another hugely important element is craftsmanship. Well-crafted objects are the product of years of practice and refinement and are thus, by their very nature, representative of the connection between past and present. From woven, woollen throws, to locally produced sheepskins, to hand thrown jugs, it’s these little things that can make all the difference. Making the most of vintage and antique furniture is another wonderful way to reference the past whilst taking advantage of traditional making techniques. What we refer to now as artisan or traditional was a way of life for thousands of years, and the shift away from this has resulted in less meaning and connection being attached to our everyday objects. 

By selecting beautiful, well-crafted furniture and bedding, and prioritising comfort within your tent you can actively seek a connection to the surrounding natural environment whilst nurturing feelings of familiarity and home. This will shift your focus to the great outdoors and simultaneously help your subconscious settle happily into its sense of place, leaving you to reap the benefits of outdoor living and sleep soundly under canvas both on your first night and all that follow.