Tents are the iconic image of camping. Yet, many people end up giving up their favorite pastime due to back problems. Others begin using RVs or looking into van conversations. RVs and vans have advantages but add a barrier between you and nature. Thankfully, there are hammocks.
Hammocks can be good for backs. They support the entire body, taking pressure off the spine, butt, and shoulders. However, you must hang the hammock correctly, and you should be lying in it at a 30-degree angle. It can be uncomfortable to sleep in a hammock with too much sag.
Studies and research into hammock sleeping are still in their infancy. But the anecdotal evidence is mounting that hammocks have health benefits over sleeping in a tent. Also, many of the drawbacks of using an air mattress or cot are eliminated with hammock camping.
So are hammocks good for your back? Read on to find out!
Are Hammocks Good For Your Back?
Hammocks are believed to be good for your back. However, most scientific research on hammocks has been done on infants. For example, this 2019 randomized controlled trial examined using hammocks to reduce pain and improve sleep in preterm infants. The results were positive.
The theorized benefits of hammock sleeping revolve around pressure and support. People use sleeping mats, air mattresses, cots, or a combination when sleeping in a tent. But the drawback to these sleeping systems is that the support is uneven, causing extra pressure on certain points of the body.
However, hammocks mold to the body, providing even support. The equalized pressure reduces the pain experienced in the spin, butt, and shoulders. The flexible fabric also supports the back and neck, reducing pain.
People are advised to use a pillow in a hammock to give the neck additional support. Also, placing a rolled towel or jacket under the knees can reduce strain on the back. But the benefits of hammock camping are lost if it isn’t set up correctly or you use it wrong.
Correct Hanging And Positioning Of Hammocks For Support
Ease of setup is a significant advantage of camping in a tent instead of a hammock. Modern tents are pretty straightforward to pitch and are typically obvious if you’ve done it wrong. However, hanging a hammock requires assessing potential anchors and knowing the right amount of slack.
A hammock should not be hung taunt. It isn’t a cot suspended in the air like a stretcher. On the other hand, sleeping like a “U” isn’t healthy. Instead, you want a 30-45-degree angle between the straps and anchors to provide optimal sag.
In addition, a hammock shouldn’t be slept in from end to end, down the middle. Instead, the body should be sleeping at a slight angle, so the head is slightly upwards and the feet down. This prevents the body from being bowed or the hammock squeezing the shoulders.
Are Hammocks Comfortable To Sleep In?
Hammocks can be comfortable to sleep in when used correctly. However, as previously mentioned, the hammock must be hung with some sag, and the user should stretch out at a slight angle. In addition, the fabric should be a gentle hug, not a mummy wrap.
Hammocks are also comfortable due to their sway. The hammock’s gentle rocking motion is soothing, making it easier to fall asleep and, crucially, stay asleep.
Lastly, a hammock provides comfort by being off the ground. Your body doesn’t become hyper-aware of rocks, sticks, or a raised bump on the earth because you are suspended. Instead, the surface of the hammock is smooth, creating a secure and even sleeping surface.
However, the suspension does come with a significant drawback. The added air circulation, allowing you to rock with the breeze, whisks heat away from your body. Sleeping bags are near useless to prevent the dreaded ice bum. Thus, you must use an underquilt or sleeping mat for added insulation.
Are Hammocks Bad For Your Posture?
Hammocks are not bad for your posture, provided they are used correctly. As mentioned above, hanging a hammock too taught or saggy will make them uncomfortable and can cause you to sleep in poor positions. Nor should you try to stomach sleep in a hammock.
In addition, hammocks are not recommended as alternative chairs. Trying to sit up in a hammock can put your body in a hunched position. There is also a lack of back support when sitting in a hammock due to how they are hung.
Thus, if you want a hammock-like feel while in your yard reading or chatting, it is recommended to use a hammock chair. These hanging chairs have gathered the fabric differently in order to provide the necessary support for your neck and back and don’t “push” you into a hunched position.
Hammock chairs are so comfortable that many find themselves napping in them. However, they are not recommended for a full night’s sleep.
While hammock chairs provide neck support, it is meant for people who are awake. Thus, it is insufficient for somebody who is asleep for extended periods.
Should I Sleep In A Hammock Every Night?
There isn’t a lot of research into regular hammock use by adults. However, there is a growing number of people making the switch. It isn’t just for back issues and other chronic pain woes, but due to achieving better sleep.
A 2011 study found that the rocking motion of a hammock synchronizes brain waves. The study only looked at using hammocks for naps rather than an entire night’s sleep. Nonetheless, the results were promising, showing an increase in stage N2 sleep.
Initially, evidence showed that the rocking motion helped people fall asleep faster. While falling asleep is an issue for some insomniacs and people with chronic health challenges, the bigger problem is often staying asleep or poor quality of sleep.
For example, many people with insomnia can fall asleep, but they struggle to stay asleep for any length of time. Also, chronic pain sufferers routinely have shallow and disrupted sleep.
But the sleep study had good news: the increased stage of N2 sleep meant people were sleeping better and longer. N2 sleep is non-REM sleep, and the deeper stages of it keep us from waking up too frequently or early.
The rocking motion from a hammock also increased “sleep spindles,” a burst of brain activity believed to help a person sleep in noisy situations. In addition, “sleep spindles” are associated with brain plasticity and a person’s ability to retain information. Thus, hammocks might be healthy for our brains.
However, when looking for a hammock as an alternative to a bed, it is essential to invest in quality. For example, a cheap “waffle” weave hammock might look pretty, but it will not offer the same support as one made from a solid fabric.
Also, camping hammocks are made to endure the outdoor elements and be lightweight for better transportability. However, nylon and other thin, synthetic materials are typically noisy and rustle as you shift around. Thus, a cotton hammock is generally preferred for everyday indoor use.
Does Sleeping In A Hammock Reduce Stress?
There is growing evidence that hammocks reduce stress. That same study, as cited above, had a few theories on why the rocking motion of hammocks was beneficial to our sleep. Some of these theories revolved around people relaxing or soothing their emotions.
First, they looked at the links of vestibular/ somatosensory pathways and their connection with the amygdala. The amygdala is one of the primary regulators of our fear and anger. These emotions are essential to our survival, despite being unpleasant, such as jolting us awake. But if it is oversensitive, we wake up too easily.
It is thought that the rocking relaxes the amygdala. The soothing helps people fall asleep faster and stay asleep. Thus, the body is less “stressed.”
The soothing motion also synchronizes brain activity, reinforcing ideal sleep rhythms. Again, the result is a relaxed body that is less stressed.
Also, while there hasn’t been a lot of research on adults sleeping in hammocks, there has been plenty on sleep and mood. Poor sleep raises the risk of anxiety and depression, which is stressful. These negative states also impact our immune system.
Thus, as hammocks soothe, we are in a better mood and, consequently, in a better mental state to achieve quality sleep. Likewise, the better quality of sleep we get, the easier it is for our bodies to retain a better mood. All of which give our energy levels a boost.
Should I Use A Hammock During The Day?
Hammocks are excellent for daytime naps. In fact, that was the type of sleep focused on in the 2011 study. The deeper sleep also allows the body to increase the benefits of these daytime power naps. Hammocks are also far better for your back than a typical daybed or sofa.
However, as mentioned earlier, using a hammock as a chair is not recommended. On an occasional basis, it isn’t a big deal. But regular use is harmful to your posture. Hence, the need for a hammock chair if you want an everyday hammock ambiance when reading, chatting or working on your laptop.