The gentle swing of a hammock is part of the bliss of a summer vacation, but does it have to be limited to summer nap times? A growing body of evidence says no. In fact, recent studies show hammocks might be perfect for giving you the kind of quality night’s sleep you wish you could dream about. Not only is their subtle rocking motion all you need to fall asleep faster, but the natural position that hammocks keep you in might also be the very best posture for your body to rest in.
How can this be? Can a few pieces of knotted rope or nylon material actually be as comfortable and supportive as a full mattress? Let’s look at the facts and find out.
Where Did Hammocks Come From?
You might only think of hammocks as dwelling on beaches in the tropics, but the true history of the hammock goes far beyond modern tourism. In truth, simple hammocks have been used by humans for more than a thousand years and have been put to use by millions as full time beds, birthing tables, sofas, and even coffins. In many places, people easily go their entire lives without sleeping anywhere but a hammock.
The first known instance of people sleeping in hammocks comes from writing dated back to 450 BC from a Greek student of Socrates. In more recent times, hammocks have been used in Central America, where there presence was noted by Columbus during his exploration of the Bahamas.
This simple device soon spread throughout the world and became especially popular with sailors and soldiers forced to live in far fun places. Not only did hammocks provide space-saving sleeping solutions, they also kept slumbering sailors safe from pesky rats and rodents that would otherwise be tempted to crawl over them all night long. However, many cultures appreciated hammocks for more than their practicality. According to Mayan texts, hammocks are truly a gift of the gods.
Benefits of Sleeping in a Hammock
There are plenty of reasons why it makes sense to occasionally switch out your bed for a hammock, and some of the top benefits are described below.
1. Faster, Better Sleep
Any parent can testify to how much babies love being rocked to sleep, and recent studies have shown adults aren’t that different. The gentle rocking motion of a hammock puts people to sleep fast, or so says the research of Swiss Scientists that hooked participants into gently rocking beds and measured their EEG levels. The end results showed not only did participants fall asleep faster in swaying beds, their sleep was actually higher quality overall. The rocking of a bed increases the length of N2 sleep, a type that takes up about half a night’s worth of quality sleep. Moving beds also slowed down the time between cycles of sleep, making each cycle deeper and more restful for the participant.
2. Zero Pressure Points
When you sleep in a bed, you need to naturally adjust to tossing and turning a few times every night to relieve the pain from sitting in one position too long. Not so with hammocks. These swaying beds keep your body off the ground and prevent you from developing pressure points, meaning you’ll stay in a single position all night long and wake up without feeling sore.
3. Ideal Sleep Position
Flat sleeping isn’t always best. Not only do hammocks keep your back comfortable all night long, they also naturally put your body in the best position possible for sleeping. Doctors agree the best sleeping posture is on your back with your head elevated between 10-30 percent, which is the same amount of elevation that a hammock can provide. This helps your sinuses not get congested and ensures you experience unobstructed breathing.
4. Increase Your Metabolism
Getting a solid night’s sleep sets your body up for success the next day, and being well-rested helps your body burn more calories throughout the day. Being well rested also prevents you from reaching for junk food throughout the day in pursuit of reviving your sugar rush. This means you can work to reduce your risk of obesity just by comfortably resting in a hammock every night.
5. Decrease Stress and Enhance Brain Function
Getting a solid night’s sleep helps your brain’s neural activity to fire at full capacity, meaning you’ll have more focus and be able to think better throughout the day. Being well-rested also links to lower stress levels, meaning your mood will naturally improve as well.
6. Can Increase Insulin Sensitivity
Type 2 Diabetes is an unfortunate fact of life for millions of people, but getting good rest in a hammock can help lower your risk of developing this disease. Plenty of sleep helps your body process insulin better, which keeps you healthier in the long run.
7. May Help Ease Back Pain
Millions suffer from debilitating back pain every day, and the way you sleep can have a big impact on your symptoms. Because sleeping in a hammock reduces pressure points on your back, many people find their chronic back pain eases away after a few nights of sound sleep.
Tips For Choosing and Sleeping in a Hammock
If the benefits of hammock sleeping have you convinced and you’re ready to try out the lifestyle yourself, it’s time to start getting yourself ready for success. However, hundreds of would-be hammocks users are dissuaded from the activity after one or more sleepless nights that leave them aching and cold. As it turns out, pleasant sleep in a hammock isn’t quite as simple as tying a swing between two trees. There are plenty of techniques for making hammocking a success, and ignoring them will quickly leave you disillusioned.
For an experience with hammocking that will leave you ready to ditch your bed for good, follow these tips from hardcore hammock enthusiasts.
1. Choose the Right Hammock For Comfy Sleep
Mental visions of hammocks likely lead you to think of thick white ropes and two crossbars swinging between two tropical pine trees. However, this image is misleading because crossbar hammocks tend to be the least comfortable. If you’re looking for a hammock that can provide a full night’s sleep rather than a light nap, look for ones that are made from fabrics like nylon or cotton and don’t contain any wooden pieces. If you want an easily package camping style hammock, Vitae Explorer and Eagles Nest Outfitters (ENO) are great brands to check out. If you’re looking for a natural fiber feeling hammock in the style of the ones made in Central America, you can’t go wrong with the offerings from WeHammock.
2. Keep It Loose
Contrary to most people’s common sense, the most comfortable hammocks are actually the ones hung loose. The natural curve of a droopy hammock is the secret to creating a flat, zero pressure sleeping surface that helps you get deep sleep. Tight hammocks are hard to get into and they quickly cocoon you with fabric, turning you into a hotdog wrapped in a bun. Not only is this claustrophobic for many people, it’s also uncomfortable and restricts you from stretching out and moving around. Worst of all, tight hammocks put far more stress on the objects they are tied to, which increases the odds of you damaging your bedroom walls or backyard trees. To get better sleep, keep your hammock loose and saggy.
3. Sleep on the Diagonal
When your hammock is set up loosely enough, the most natural position for sleeping is at a diagonal. Not only does this give you a flat surface to sleep on, it gently cradles you without suffocating and gives you plenty of protection from falling out. This gives you room to stretch out, fit extra people in the hammock, and even the ability to sleep on your side. Sleeping against the curve of the hammock helps you achieve the natural, slightly elevated sleeping position your body responds best to.
4. Too Cold? Use a Sleeping Pad
Frequently called the “cold butt syndrome” a major drawback to sleeping in a hammock is that the air circulating between your body and the ground can really cool you down. Thankfully, there’s an easy solution. Simply add a sleeping pad (like the kind you take camping) to the inside of your hammock, and you’ll create an insulating layer between your body and the cool air below.
The Main Drawback To Hammock Sleeping
As great as hammocks are for sleeping, there is one major drawback you should be aware of before committing to one for the long run. First, hammock sleeping simply works better for a single person. Though there are plenty of ‘double’ hammocks on the market, these really work better for short naps and relaxation, not a quality night’s sleep. Unless you are the kind of person that likes getting smooshed into your partner all night long, hammock sleeping is best done alone. Need a simple hammock solution for couples? Just string two hammocks near each other and sleep in those.
Sleeping in a hammock might not be for everyone, but it’s an ideal way to sleep for millions of people around the world and it just might work for you too. Rather than investing in another uncomfortable, expensive mattress, why not give hammock sleeping a try? You might be amazed how much better your back feels every morning when you give it the chance to rest exactly as nature intended.