Just picture it now; enjoying the warm night air, a good book and a cold drink as you gently rock too-and-fro in a hammock slung between two trees in the garden. Heaven!
Hammocks are so relaxing because they support your body in the ideal sleeping position, and their gentle rocking motion engages our vestibular system which controls balance in the brain, helping us to relax and encouraging deep sleep.
Let’s discover exactly why hammocks are so comfortable and whether it’s a good idea to sleep in one. We’ll also consider the history of hammocks, and why sailors slept in them.
Why Are Hammocks So Comfortable?
When you think about it, sleeping in a piece of fabric that’s slung between two tree trunks does not sound as inviting as your gorgeous, comfortable bed. But the first time you try settling down into a hammock, you’ll realise just how fantastically comfortable they are. Our ancestors really go this one right: hammocks (literally) rock.
So why is a hammock so comfortable? It’s because of the way it softly moulds around your body. It supports you by moulding around the shape of your body, and because it forces you (in the gentlest possible way) to sleep on your back with your head slightly elevated, you’re in a perfect sleeping position.
Hammocks also sway slightly, taking us back to those soothing days of being rocked as a baby. There’s a good reason why we rock babies to help them get to sleep: it engages their vestibular system. This is the part of our brains that deals with how we balance. A swaying motion engages this, which helps us feel relaxed and encourages healthy deep sleeping.
Hammock sleeping is good for both our physical and mental health, helping our bodies and brains relax. However, there isn’t really any research available for the long-term effects of regular hammock sleeping, so bear this in mind before permanently trading in your bed.
Is a Hammock Comfortable To Sleep in? (Is it Good For You?)
Most people find hammocks really comfortable to sleep in, for the reasons we mentioned above. They mould around your body, enclosing you closely, and that slight rocking motion is deeply soothing.
Is sleeping in a hammock good for your back? A hammock certainly holds you and in a good position, while gently supporting your shoulders, back and (we’ll be honest) butt. You’re less likely to restlessly toss and turn because you’re held so snuggly. Those of us who suffer from back pain know that mattresses can feel unyielding – hammocks completely remove that feeling.
Of course, if you have spinal problems, please speak with a medical professional before switching your bed for a hammock.
Are Hammocks Better Than Beds?
Debating which is better out of hammocks and beds is like deciding whether showers or baths are the best. Both do the same job but differently, and which you like the best probably depends on your mood that day.
Hammocks are wonderful for a soothing and comfortable sleep, and that gentle support is extremely comforting. They’re also easier to set up in your yard than your bed is! We love a hammock for a daytime nap in the shade on a warm summer afternoon, especially if you’ve been busy gardening.
Beds are best if you love lots of squashy pillows and luxurious covers. They’re easier to get in and out of – and yes, we know, it’s pretty hard to share a hammock with your partner (although not impossible as we’ve tried!).
It is possible to build a hammock with your partner though – here’s a video of one constructed under a new pergola by a couple who seem to be superb at DIY. My wife and I could never manage this so I’m green with envy! 🙂
What Type of Hammock is Best For Sleeping?
There are various types of hammock available, from the traditional Brazilian design to high-tech version designed for camping adventures. Which is the best for a comfortable sleep?
The Brazilian hammock is made from tightly woven cloth, which is lovely and snuggly to sleep in, as well as being naturally breathable. The Nicaraguan hammock is very similar. The tight weaves of these designs make for a thicker, warmer cloth, so they’re ideal if you’re sleeping in a cooler climate.
The Ecuadorian hammock looks similar to these, but is more often made from synthetic fabric – easier to care for, but not always as breathable as natural cotton. Camping hammocks are made from nylon (often parachute nylon), as it’s both lightweight and robust.
If you live in a warmer part of the States and need to keep cool, the Mayan design is made from loosely woven fibers that let plenty of air in. Not to be used in cooler zones, or you will be kept awake by a chilly back.
It all comes down to climate. For a good, general hammock, the Brazilian is a popular choice, especially as it feels so soft and cozy.
Do You Need a Pillow in a Hammock?
No, you don’t need a pillow in a hammock. This is because your head is naturally elevated, as you don’t lie flat in a hammock. If you wriggle around a bit, you can generally find your ideal sleeping angle.
However, this doesn’t mean you can’t have a pillow if you want one. If you like the soft, cool feel of a pillow under your head, by all means use one.
The only thing we’d say is that the head of a hammock is not as spacious as a bed. You may find a smaller, infant-size pillow fits better, or try a using a cushion instead.
Can You Sleep On Your Stomach in a Hammock?
You probably could lie on your stomach in a hammock if you really tried, but it wouldn’t be comfortable (and how would you get out?!). Hammocks are not designed for stomach sleeping, and by far the best and comfiest position is on your back, cradled by the fabric.
If you really want to sleep on your front, you can try a tent-hammock hybrid. These have spreader bars at the head and foot rather than the traditional gathers, so they’re flat rather than banana shaped. It also prevents the fabric from going too near your face, which some sleepers prefer.
Something to bear in mind is that front sleeping can put pressure on your lower back. Sleeping in a hammock could be a gentle and supportive way to train yourself to lie on your back.
Are Hammocks Good For Side Sleepers?
Hammocks are designed for back sleeping, so those of us who prefer to sleep on our sides might not like the idea of this alternative to the bed. Actually, the way a classic hammock cradles our body as you like on your back is extremely comforting and comfortable, and side sleepers may soon find themselves converted.
As we mentioned previously for front sleepers, an alternative to the traditional hammock is the tent-hammock design, which is pulled taut and flat by sidebars. This is more like a suspended camp bed than a classic hammock.
Fun Fact: Why Did Sailors Sleep in Hammocks?
Hammocks were originally developed in the Americas, and were later adopted by sailors from many countries. They made perfect beds for life onboard ship, and became standard issue in the British Navy from around 1590. Hammocks were actually used by sailors until well into the 20th century, including in the Second World War, when hammocks saved space on troop ships.
Hammocks could be rolled up during the day to make room on deck, and most importantly, they kept the sleeping sailors out of the bilge water on the floor. Also, the cocoon-like structure of the hammock kept them safely in bed during stormy seas.
There’s also the theory that because suspended hammocks sway with the motion of the ship, they prevent feelings of seasickness. In fact, the famous British Admiral, Lord Nelson, chose to sleep in an elaborate version of a hammock instead of a bed like the other officers, as it stopped him feeling sick.
If you can’t drift off into a deep, relaxing sleep in a hammock then you may have trouble winding down wherever you are.
Rocking gently too-and-fro, with their soft fabric enveloping and supporting your body, hammocks are so comfortable and cosy that it’s impossible not to fall asleep – especially on a warm sunny day.
And yes, in the height of summer if you want to sleep outside in the warm evening air – then why not spend all night in your hammock? You’ll sleep like a baby (or a sailor!).
Homeowner and property investor Larry Jones founded Take a Yard in 2020 to bring you the very best outdoor living content, based on his years of experience managing outside spaces. Read more >