How Long Does Altitude Insomnia Last? (And 8 Tips)

How Long Does Altitude Insomnia Last

By: Beth Rush
Managing Editor at Body+Mind 

Altitude insomnia is when you find difficulty sleeping at high elevations. Symptoms include waking up frequently at night, feeling unrested after a full night’s sleep and the sensation of suffocating. While you may get over it eventually, how long does altitude insomnia last? Are there ways to overcome it more quickly? Learn more about this condition to avoid sleeplessness during your vacation or climb.

What Causes Altitude Insomnia?

Hypoxia — low oxygen level — is the culprit in altitude insomnia. Various factors, such as health status, age, diet and lifestyle, can aggravate the situation.

Being thousands of feet above sea level forces your body to adapt to a hypoxic environment to function normally. It can mess with your breathing pattern, disrupting your sleep cycle and preventing you from getting adequate rest.

In a controlled environment, sleeping at altitude can be beneficial. Athletes sleep in altitude chambers for hours to boost their endurance. They subject themselves to hypoxia to increase red blood cell production and oxygen delivery to the muscles.

The difference is athletes go back to living at sea level when they step outside an altitude chamber. Their breathing mechanics revert to normal since there’s enough oxygen in the air.

Being at a high altitude is another story. You breathe in less oxygen whether you’re awake or asleep.

How Long Does Altitude Insomnia Last?

Altitude insomnia may last for days, weeks or even forever. Even highlanders haven’t evolved enough to sleep well with little oxygen consistently.

Adaptability varies from person to person. Some may not experience it at all. Several studies found that only 32%-74% of people develop insomnia or get poor sleep quality during the first few days at high altitudes.¹

8 Tips for Sleeping at High Altitude

Quality sleep can elude anyone at high elevations. At a moderately high altitude of 5,000 feet, the oxygen level is 17.3%. Imagine how hard breathing would be if you went higher.

Fortunately, there are things you can do to avoid being an insomniac in the mountains. Follow these seven tips to reduce your chances of experiencing high-altitude sleep disturbance.

1. Maintain Physical Fitness

High-elevation environments can be tough on the heart and lungs. If either of these main organs is weak due to a preexisting condition, you may be at higher risk of having sleep issues.

Generally, traveling at high elevations can be dangerous to less physically fit individuals. It may be ill-advised for pregnant women to spend the night at elevations below 10,000 feet to avoid complications.² People with diabetes may find it more challenging to manage their blood sugar at altitude. Some illnesses may force you to remain near the sea level under any circumstances.

Ensure you’re hale and hearty before you go. Consult your doctor and undergo a medical examination to discover any unknown condition that may jeopardize your health at altitude.

2. Ascend Gradually

Acclimatizing yourself before ascending helps your body adapt to a new environment. Mount Everest climbers train for 3-4 weeks to get used to low oxygen levels and prepare for more extreme conditions on their way to the summit.³

A trip to a ski resort is a walk in the park compared to a 17,598-foot-high trek Everest base camp trek, but the same principle applies. The farther you are from the sea level, the less oxygen in the air there is. Don’t rush to give your body more time to adjust accordingly.

3. Minimize Your Movement

Doing strenuous activities contributes to fatigue, so getting a ton of rest would be wise to help your body acclimate faster.

However, staying at a high altitude significantly increases pressure on your pulmonary arteries, so light physical activity is necessary to improve your circulation.⁴

A short walk for 20-30 minutes is enough to pump blood up to your heart.⁵ This aerobic exercise shouldn’t leave you breathless when you do it leisurely.

4. Stay Hydrated

Dehydration is an altitude insomnia risk factor. Drink plenty of fluids to aid various bodily functions. Avoid foods with diuretic effects, such as coffee and alcohol. These beverages compel your kidneys to produce more urine and lead to excess fluid loss.

TIP: To enhance hydration, add sea salt to your food or water, and eat Zaca’s chewable tablets that increase water absorption and electrolyte intake.

5. Eat Light

Digestion is an energy-hungry activity, which can keep you up at night. Going to bed with a full belly doesn’t help you combat insomnia.

Eat nothing two hours before bedtime. If you must eat, consume a protein-rich snack.

6. Use Supplemental Oxygen

Breathing through an oxygen canister isn’t overkill when you feel unwell at altitude. Buying an oxygen concentrator may be worth it if you frequent high-altitude areas.

A word of caution — the FDA doesn’t approve over-the-counter canned oxygen and monitors prescription products used in medical settings.⁶ Take the claims of canned oxygen manufacturers with a grain of salt.

7. Control the Altitude

Book a room capable of altitude simulation. This technology can increase the oxygen content in the space, allowing you to sleep as if you’re at sea level.

8. Replenish Your Antioxidants

High altitudes are known to cause oxidative stress and lower antioxidant levels.⁹ One study showed glutathione, the body’s master antioxidant, to deplete by 45% in high altitude conditions.¹⁰

Supplement antioxidants such as glutathione to replenish your antioxidant levels.

Recover Faster With Altitude Supplement

Zaca High Altitude Supplement

Bring Zaca Chewables on your next high-altitude trip. These chewable tablets can help keep you hydrated and aid your recovery. Formulated with premium nutrients and antioxidants including glutathione, you can power your body’s ability to replenish and revive faster. You can take 2-4 chewables each day, or as you see fit. Try Zaca’s chewable supplement today and travel with the ultimate mountain companion to fuel your trip.


1. Sleep at high altitude: A bibliometric study and visualization analysis from 1992 to 2022
2. Travel to High Altitudes
3. The Climb to the Top: UMSOM Physician-Scientists Say Trek Up to The Top of Mt. Everest Inspires them to Make Quest for Scientific Discoveries
4. The Impact of Temporary Stay at High Altitude on the Circulatory System
5. Leg Health and Circulation
6. Does Oxygen in a Can Deliver on Its Altitude and Energy Claims?
9. High altitude and oxidative stress
10. Effect of high altitude (7,620 m) exposure on glutathione
11. Oxidative Stress and Diseases Associated with High-Altitude Exposure