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Can You Sleep Sideways In A Van?

A common question that arrises when planning van conversions or campervans is “can you sleep sideways in a van?” That is, can the bed be oriented sideways, or width-wise, cross-ways, perpendicular, window to window, or however you want to call it.  The answer is sometimes yes, but it’s definitely contingent on your height and the van you get.

Setting up your bed for sleeping sideways in a van may seem like a minor detail, but with the limited space of a campervan it makes a significant difference,  Having your bed oriented sideways allows for a much bigger “living area”.

Can you sleep sideways in a van

In this post, I will address the widths of common vans like Mercedes Sprinter, Ford Transit, RAM Promaster, Nissan NV, Ford E-Series, Chevy Express, GMC Savana, and more.  And I also discuss a product called window flares (or body flares) that allow you to extend the width of your van.  Window flares can be just the thing that allows you to sleep sideways in a van.

What To Consider?

Obviously, to be able to sleep sideways in a van, it depends on your height.

So if you find a van whose width is close to your height, you’re good, right???

WRONG.  You actually need your van’s interior width to be even taller than you are.  And here’s why.

Standing Height vs Laying Height

When you lay down, your feet point out and extend even farther, so your laying height is a few inches taller than your standing height.

Emily Laying width-wise across the width of the bed in our van

Width of Insulation, Walls, Blankets

Sleeping with your head or toes against a cold wall or window would not be fun.  So most campervans have some sort of insulation and walls that take up a few inches.  And also the blankets you sleep with may reduce the total usable width.

Widest Spot (Beltline)

Ford E-series van width drawing for sleeping sideways

The next important thing to know is that most vans (even the boxy euro-style ones) have curved walls.  This means they are widest about halfway up (aka the “Belt” or “Belt-line” and get narrower towards the ceiling (and sometimes floor).  That means you need to mount your bed at specifically the right height to actually achieve that max-width.

However, this might not be compatible with your layout.  For example, if you plan to fit bikes under your bed.  Also, keep in mind that the thickness of your mattress and pillow will elevate your body much higher than the bed platform itself.

Sleeping Diagonally

If you are alone in the van, then you can sleep diagonally to gain a few extra inches.  Time to dust off the old Pythagorean Theorem if you want to figure out exactly how many inches you can gain by sleeping diagonally.

Or if you are a side sleeper, then you probably sleep a little shorter than your height.  However, even the most devout side-sleepers still want to stretch out straight from time to time, right?

Widths Of Vans for Sleeping Sideways

Here’s a quick breakdown of the most common types of vans for sleeping sideways.

RAM Promaster

Dodge RAM Promaster van closeup

The widest van on the market is the RAM Promaster at 75.6” (6’3″) across the interior.  This is the only van that can fit a Short Queen mattress sideways (width-wise, crossways, perpendicular) with no modifications.  This makes the RAM Promaster a top choice among tall people who want to sleep sideways in a van.

Classic American Vans

Ford E-series van extended with a lift and all-terrain tires

The next widest vans, surprisingly, are the classic American work vans (Ford E-Series, Chevy Express, and GMC Savana).  They come in at about 72”-73.6” (6′-6’1″).  However these vans are also noticeably curved, so the width penalty for not mounting your bed at the perfect height is more dramatic.  The sweet spot tends to be just below the halfway point (beltline).

For reference, our 2010 Ford E-350 Extended Passenger is 73.6″ wide at the absolute widest point (from window to window at the beltline).  However, our mattress is slightly above the widest point so it’s about 71” wide where I sleep. 

But with our insulated window covers, the width left is about 68”. And I’m exactly 68” tall (5’8”) so I do fit, but my feet are pretty much flat up against the window cover.  Unfortunately, I’m a pretty committed back-sleeper and I can’t sleep diagonally because there’s two of us.  So it’s not ideal comfort but it does work.

Mercedes Sprinter, Ford Transit, Nissan NV

Ford Transit Campervan is one of the best vehicles to live in

The Mercedes Sprinter, Ford Transit, and Nissan NV are all around 70” (5’10”). So when you account for the things that can reduce that width, you are probably only left with about 66-68”.  And that is assuming that your bed is mounted at the optimal height.

Unfortunately, most other vans are even narrower than this so they are probably not suitable for sleeping sideways. (Unless you are much shorter than average, which is actually a blessing in the vanlife community).

Read my entire post dedicated to How To Choose A Van For A Campervan Conversion.

It covers all aspects of choosing a van like total size, mpg, reliability and more.

Window Flares To The Rescue

A Window Flare (body flare) on a mercedes sprinter van conversion
A Window Flare (Body Flare) on a Mercedes Sprinter van conversion

But fear not!  There is one more option to increase the width and allow you to sleep sideways in a van.  A product called window flares or body flares can extend your window area several inches.  A window flare is a window replacement (usually fiberglass) that sticks out, giving you extra width.  But they can also be installed on cargo vans as well.  It may not look like much, but those extra 5-6 inches can make all the difference.  And if you install them on both sides, you can gain practically a whole foot.

They are, however, not cheap.  They usually cost about $1600-$2000.  But they are popular among more expensive Euro-style van conversions because they can allow you to sleep sideways in a van, that otherwise wouldn’t be wide enough.

You do however, need to mount your bed at “window-height” to take advantage of the extra width for sleeping sideways in a van.

Here are a couple of websites that sell window flares:


Takeaway: Can You Sleep Sideways In A Van?

If you want to sleep sideways in a van, then you must find a van that provides enough width. And obviously that depends on your height, insulation, and height of your bed platform.

Be sure to factor in all of these variables to ensure that your “real-world” sleeping width is suitable for your height.

And as a last resort, you can add a window flare (body flare) to increase the width of your van.

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