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Whilst a bed is the traditional way to sleep in western countries, hammocks are more popular than you might think and there’s a growing trend for swapping out your bed in favour of a hammock.
But can a hammock really replace a bed?
Yes, a hammock can replace a bed and has been the preferred choice in tropical regions for centuries. Hammocks can reduce the pressure points on your body and the rocking motion helps you fall. However, studies show that hammock dwellers have lower sleep quality, and there is limited evidence about long term implications.
In this guide, I’ll share all of the pros and cons, including all of the scientific advice I can find to help you decide if it’s good for you.
If you are having difficulty sleeping in a bed, it can often be due to a poor-quality mattress or other health conditions. I would recommend speaking to a doctor before opting to swap out your bed for a hammock.
What is a Hammock?
Essentially, a hammock is a bed that hangs from each end. They are usually made from rope or a material such as cotton or nylon.
A hammock can be hung from any two points, including trees, posts or even two points on a ceiling.
As they hang mid-air, they are great for air circulation which is why they have been a staple sleeping device in tropical climates for many centuries.
What’s the Difference Between Sleeping in a Hammock and a Bed?
The main difference between sleeping in a bed and a hammock is the support it provides and your sleeping position.
When sleeping in a hammock, it moulds to the shape of your body allowing you to get more comfortable.
Whereas when you sleep in a bed, your body must mould to the shape of the bed which gives you pressure points. The springs in a bed help compensate for this, but not to the same extent as a hammock.
Hammocks are generally made for sleeping on your back, whereas it’s common to sleep on either your back or side with a bed.
The final key difference is the rocking motion of a hammock that sends you to sleep, something you would not get with a traditional stationery bed.
Pros and Cons of Sleeping in a Hammock
I’ve pulled together some of the main pros and cons of sleeping in a hammock which I have outlined below:
One of the primary reasons why hammocks are popular in tropical countries dates back to the days before modern air conditioning was widely available.
A hammock provides far better air circulation than your usual bed which can help keep you cool in warm environments.
By their nature, a hammock will wrap around your body and keep you in a central position.
Even when you are using the hammock correctly (a diagonal angle, see below for more on this), the sides will still keep you in a stable position.
A study in Current Biology took 12 volunteers and measured their sleep quality during afternoon naps, one in a stationery bed and one in a rocking bed.
The study conclusively proved that a rocking motion helps you fall asleep faster and increased the N2 sleep period which is when you are just falling asleep and your muscles are relaxed. The rocking is thought to synchronise action in the brain which reinforces endogenous sleep rhythms.
Although the study did not use hammocks, it is a fair assumption that a hammock will rock more than a typical bed. This was a limited study, but it does assert the long-held belief that rocking if beneficial for sleep (hence, why we rock babies to sleep).
Pressure points are the parts of your body that make contact with a bed and may feel uneasy when you lie down. This is mainly your bum, shoulders and knees.
A common thought is that a hammock reduces the pressure points on your body which is why you get a better sleep.
Whilst there have been no scientific studies to confirm this, it does make sense when you consider how a hammock moulds to your body shape.
I personally like a Mayan style hammock as the material is very stretchy and gives lots of support, however many people opt for a Brazilian style hammock for sleeping in as it’s much thicker and comfier cotton.
Remember, hammocks aren’t the only way to reduce pressure points on your body, as Healthline points out, a good mattress that is right for your body can also reduce these.
A 2020 study in Science Direct measured the sleep quality of 33 bed sleepers and 35 hammock sleepers.
When each group was asked about their sleep quality, there was no difference between the two groups.
However, when tests were carried out to measure sleep quality, they found that hammock users suffered from poorer sleep than bed users, sleeping for shorter periods at a time and being more active in their sleep.
The study concludes that whilst hammock users claim to sleep just as well as bed sleepers, this is because they have been conditioned and have no reference point. The study had a limited sample size so should be taken with the range of other evidence here.
If you tend to sleep on your side, you may initially find it uncomfortable to switch to a hammock as they aren’t intended for side sleeping.
It is possible to sleep on your side, but you won’t get the most benefit from the hammock and will go back to having pressure points as you would in a bed.
There’s no reason why you can’t try it out but be aware that it might not be for everyone.
Best Hammocks to Replace Your Bed
The best types of hammock to replace your bed are Brazilian hammocks.
They are made from cotton material which has stretchy properties making them very comfortable to lie in. These are best suited to indoor use.
My favourite Brazilian hammock is this Vivere double hammock. It’s made from thick cotton that is durable enough for daily sleeping.
I also like Mayan hammocks which are relatively similar, but the material is much lighter and more like a cotton net than heavy cotton fabric.
You should avoid a spreader bar hammock for regular sleeping as you will lose many of the benefits from sleeping in a hammock.
Are Hammock Beds Bad for your Back?
One of the biggest questions people want to know when deciding whether to sleep in a hammock every night is whether there are any long-term implications.
A study of hammock and non-hammock users in the International Archive of Medicine found that there were differences in body alignment between the two groups of people.
However, the study stopped short of saying whether this was in favour or against sleeping in hammocks.
As of the time of writing, there is no real evidence that a hammock is better or worse for your back. But one thing is for sure, you need to learn how to sleep in it properly otherwise you’ll be sleeping like a banana!
How to Properly Sleep in a Hammock
When you first take a look at a hammock, it doesn’t seem like it would be the most comfortable thing to sleep in.
But that’s because you have to get the technique right. The secret is to lie in a diagonal position in the hammock, rather than parallel with the posts or stand.
As you shift your body away from the central line and start to find a diagonal curve, the hammock will flatten out underneath you.
There is no specific angle, but as you experiment, you’ll find one that works for you. The hammock will still mould to the shape of your body, so you’ll be lying flat but free from pressure points.