If you’re like just about everybody in the United States today, you’re probably spent pretty much your entire life sleeping on a mattress.
The Western world has a long, long history with mattresses – as far back as 3400 BC, in fact, Egyptian pharaohs were using luxury bedframes to keep their sleeping pallets off of the ground, and Europeans by and large have been sleeping on some version of mattresses ever since.
Strange as it might seem to us now, though, not all cultures are so quick to take their beds as given.
And in fact, even here in America, a small but growing community of internet users swears that hammocks are the way of the future.
We’re not just talking about backyard furniture, here – we’re talking all night, every night snoozing in hammock land.
Here’s what the science says.
A Brief History of the Hammock
The hammock was first invented somewhere in Central or South America – an area where, even today, you can still find many people sleeping the way they have for many hundreds of years.
Early hammocks were made from bark, and they proved a surprisingly simple solution to the problems of living in such tropical regions.
By sleeping suspended rather than directly on the ground, you avoid a whole bunch of issues with the many creepy-crawlies you’re likely to find around these areas.
Early European explorers saw a huge amount of potential in this technology for their long sea voyages, and since the discovery of the new world, many ships have used hammocks as an easy and efficient way to cram a whole bunch of people into a very small amount of space.
Today in the U.S., you’re most likely to encounter hammocks on a camping trip, out back as patio furniture, or maybe hung between a two trees by the beach.
But what if hammocks could do more than that?
Perks of Using a Hammock Full-Time
Surprisingly enough, opting for full-time hammock sleep actually comes with a number of advantages.
While it might feel a little strange to you at first, there are some out there who swear there’s no better way to sleep!
Hammocks Are Less Expensive Than Beds
First and foremost on a lot of people’s minds, there’s price.
Mattresses are pretty notorious for their outrageously marked-up prices, so it’s understandable for you to want to save a couple bucks when it comes to the way you sleep.
There are a couple fairly decent-quality hammocks out there you can buy for under $50, and even the most luxury hammocks are rarely going to crack $200.
Any decent mattresses, by contrast, is going be several times that price.
It’s important to realize, however, that a lot of mattress stores mark up their prices – so getting a high-performance mattress might not be as unaffordable as it seems.
Hammocks Sleep Cooler Than Beds
Another major advantage to hammocks is that they’re pretty much never going to sleep hot.
This is a pretty major issue for many people when it comes to their mattresses, since modern sleep technology such as memory foam has a tendency to trap your body heat inside a bunch of tiny air pockets, basically cocooning you in a big old bubble of sweatiness.
Hammocks, by contrast, offer just about perfect ventilation.
Unless you’re one of those people who just refuses to turn on your air conditioning, it’s not really possible to sleep hot while hanging in a hammock.
Hammocks’ unobstructed airflow is especially important since a lot of us are keeping our bedrooms substantially warmer than what experts recommend.
The National Sleep Foundation suggests keeping your bedroom somewhere around 65 degrees.
Your body temperature physically drops each evening as you start to feel tired – and that decrease is important if you’re hoping to get to sleep in a reasonable amount of time.
Keep your sleep area too hot, and you’ll be left tossing and turning for the better part of the night.
In addition to that, one study found a significant link between cooler bedroom temperatures and weight loss!
So if you’re hoping to shed a couple pounds and get yourself some easier sleep, if might be time to consider a hammock.
Hammocks’ Rocking Makes for Deeper Sleep
In addition to getting you to sleep faster, there’s some evidence to suggest that hammocks might be able to get you deeper sleep, as well.
It all comes down to hammocks’ signature swinging motion – that gentle back-and-forth that almost irresistibly lulls you to sleep.
Researchers looked at the sleep patterns of individuals in a softly rocking bed, and found that that kind of movement is pretty much perfect for your body’s sleep patterns.
Participants in the study napped for 45 minutes in controlled conditions, sometimes on rocking beds, sometimes not.
The researchers found that the rocking motion of the beds not only shortened the amount of time it took folks to get sleep, but it also increased the amount of time spent in stage N2 sleep (aka, the start of deep sleep).
The rocking motion also increased the frequency of sleep spindles, which have been linked to the process of learning.
The researchers aren’t sure exactly why rocking motions allow for such an improved snooze, but they suspect it might have something to do with our brains appreciating the regularity of the movements.
Issues With Using a Hammock Full-Time
Despite these advantages, however, sleeping in a hammock full-time certainly comes with its share of downsides.
This is especially true if you’re been sleeping in a bed your whole life, since some things just take a little adjustment.
They Can Feel Claustrophobic
First of all, there’s something about being wrapped up in a giant bundle of cloth that can kind of rub people the wrong way – especially if you’re trying to sleep in this thing a solid 8 hours a night!
You might not appreciate the feeling of being trapped that might come with the way a the hammock hangs around you, and for some people, sleeping in a hammock might be totally out of the question.
However, it’s important to realize that hammocks come with varying degrees of tautness.
So if find yourself sinking into your hammock too much for your comfort, you can just try hanging it a little tighter and seeing if that helps.
They Can Be Annoying With a Partner
You may also find hammock sleep a little more complicated than you’re used to if you’re currently sleeping with a partner.
While it absolute is possible to get two people into a hammock (provided it’s big enough and tight enough), you may not find it the most comfortable experience.
First of all, no matter how big a hammock you buy, you’re obviously not going to be getting anything like a queen-sized bed.
You and your partner are going to be getting very friendly over the coming nights – which obviously isn’t always a bad thing, but it is something to take into account.
Also bear in mind that hammocks are really bad for motion isolation, so if either you or your partner is somewhat restless or gets up once or twice in the middle of the night, the other person is going to be waking up, too.
Another thing with hammocks is that they make take some reconfiguration if you and your partner are looking for a little romp in the hay.
That said, I hear there’s some kind of ancient Mayan guide out there you can consult called the “Hamacasutra.”
You can feel free to check that out on your own time.
You Might Hurt Your Back
Unfortunately, there’s not a ton of research available when it comes to long-term effects of hammock sleep on health.
However, it’s important to realize that hammocks work very differently from mattresses – and if you don’t know what you’re doing, you might find yourself with worse sleep than you were getting before.
On the one hand, hammock advocates like to talk about how these things relieve pressure points, since your weight is pretty much perfectly distributed when you lie down.
The problem is, though, your spine is supposed to fall into a natural S-shaped curve while you sleep.
This prevents any undue strain from falling onto any given part of your body, thus allowing for the total relaxation you need.
The thing is, it’s very easy to mess up this curve when you’re sleeping in a hammock.
If you sleep with your hammock too loose, for instance, you might find your spine curved in more of a “C” shape, which may cause back pain in the long run.
Additionally, you may find it somewhat uncomfortable trying to sleep on your stomach in a hammock, and it’s recommended that you sleep either or your back or side at a 45-degree angle relative to the keel of the hammock.
But of course, with a bit of trial and error, you should be able to work out a comfortable sleep position for yourself fairly quickly.
So what do you think – are you committed to the hammock way of life?
It’s a kind of weird concept, it’s true, and it might not be for everyone.
But it’s certainly a cool idea, and we’d love to hear about your experiences if anyone wants to try it!
Who knows… maybe hammocks are the beds of the future, after all.
Updated at September 6, 2021