Is Sleeping In A Hammock Bad For Your Back?


Hammocks are delightful for a quick nap in the sun, but are they bad for your back if you sleep on one for too long?

Sleeping in a hammock can be bad for your back if the hammock is too tight. Your back might also suffer if you try to sleep directly in the center of the hammock for longer periods of time. However, there are ways to sleep in a hammock that may actually benefit your back rather than harming it.

So are hammocks good or bad? Helpful or harmful? It all depends on how you set them up and how you lay on them. As a result, it might take a little trial and error to get the restful sleep that many hammock-sleepers brag about.

Continue on and you’ll learn what benefits a hammock can provide for your back as well as how to get them.

feet-hanging-off-one-side-of-hammock
Hanging out in a hammock in one of my favorite Texas state parks

Is Sleeping In A Hammock Bad For Your Back?

While there is currently no long-term sleep study on back pain and sleeping in a hammock, most people who’ve slept in a hammock have experienced less (16%) or no back pain (60%) in comparison to sleeping in a tent.

I admit, one thing I didn’t find out from those who did have back pain if they had prexisting back pain–but it’s still a good sign if peopel are able to sue them without back pain in the first place.

There really isn’t any hammock/pain study at all that (except this one for preterm infants), so I decided to ask some of my camping friends:

When you sleep in a hammock, how’s your back?RespondentsPercentage of Total
I feel no back pain3060%
I feel less back pain816%
I feel otherwise uncomfortable in a hammock510%
I feel more back pain48%
I sleep better than when in my bed24%
Depends on the hammock12%

While some people do have back pain while sleeping in a hammock, most report having less pain, or no back pain.

I suffer from lower-back pain (probably due to my desk job), and I can say I’m able to sleep in a hammock, and if I manage to get in the right position, I’m able to feel very comfortable through the whole night.

Being comfortable for one night and sleeping long term is not the same thing. However, some cultures sleep in a hammock every night–so it’s not something that’s unheard of.

Should I Try Sleeping In a Hammock?

When many of us think of camping, we imagine either being in a tent or in a recreational vehicle. That said, not everyone likes or has access to these options.

RVs cost a lot of money. You can get a high-end tent for $500, but an RV can cost between $10k to $100k or much more. Even if you get a trailer RV, they often require a large vehicle (Trucks are very expensive) to pull them, and they tend to feel more like a traveling hotel room than an actual camping setup.

If you’re fortunate to have the means to have an RV, this is perfect for some campers, but others prefer to “rough it”, instead.

At the other end of the spectrum, some people don’t want to sleep in tents. Tents can be a bit bulky and for those going to a local drive-in campsite, perhaps they don’t enjoy sleeping on cots or air mattresses. (ever slept on a cot in a tent? Read our article here on how you can do it without damaging your tent floor)

This is where the camping hammock comes in. You may see people only occasionally using them, but a high number of those who do swear by them. Some claims made in favor of hammocks may even include improved posture and less back pain both at night and during the day.

You might look at that funky “C” shape of a hammock and find yourself wondering how they could possibly be better for your back than a mattress of any kind. However, hammocks can feel really nice on your back. Just keep in mind that they may not be for everyone.

Benefits Of Sleeping In A Hammock

I love sleeping in a hammock–and I’m not alone. Plenty of campers swear by hammock sleeping. Whether or not a hammock is right for you might take a little trial and error, but it also just might be the best sleep you’ve ever had.

Here are some major benefits to sleeping in a hammock:

  • Incredible comfort. Some mattresses irritate your pressure points, like your knees, hips, lower back, etc–meaning that you get less sleep and move around more to try to ease the pain. Although not a guarantee for everyone, hammocks can be very comfortable for some body types.
  • Falling asleep more quickly. Studies show that a bed that gently rocks (such as a hammock in the wind) causes you to fall asleep more quickly! How cool is that.
  • Cooler sleep. Hammocks are really great in hot weather because the air can move underneath the hammock. In fact, those who sleep in hammocks often have to take measures to not get too cold. Anything below 65F needs a blanket or some form of insulation.
  • Feeling of freedom. If you haven’t tried it, you might not understand it, but there is an incredible freeing feeling of sleeping in a hammock. You just feel more connected with the world around you that you don’t experience inside or in a tent.
  • Off the ground. For some people, laying down or getting up off the ground is an ordeal. A hammock can be set up at any height two support poles (or trees) allow.

Potential Negative Side Effects Of Sleeping In A Hammock

While plenty of people are likely to gain from sleeping in a hammock, it may not be for everyone. For some, it might actually do more harm than good.

This might be due to hanging or sleeping on the hammock incorrectly. In fact, it can be tricky to get comfortable in a hammock–because it’s so flexible, you might take 5 minutes to settle down into the perfect position.

It might also just be that hammock sleeping isn’t for you. Everyone is different.

Those who have a bad time sleeping on their hammock might experience the following issues:

  • Increased discomfort at night. Tossing and turning may not help if a hammock just isn’t right for your body.
  • Neck or back pain during the day. You might find that you’re having more spinal pain in general than before. This is especially true if you don’t achieve the “flat lay” in the hammock or if your neck isn’t in the right position. A small pillow can make a big difference here. Check out our article on hammock pillows, here.
  • Headaches or grogginess from a lack of sleep. Not sleeping well can result in feeling off throughout the day.
  • Muscle stiffness. The hammock might be too difficult to stretch out in, resulting in muscles that are kept in uncomfortable positions overnight.
  • Issues getting into the hammock, staying in, or getting out. Hammocks can be a bit tricky. They aren’t recommended for people with mobility issues that may keep them from getting in or out.

To learn more about both the benefits and side effects of sleeping on a hammock, Healthline.com has some great information.

Worse Back Pain From Sleeping In a Hammock

I wanted to mention that out of the 50 people who answered, 4 people said they had worse back pain. Setting up a hammock is a little tricky, so it’s possible they didn’t have the correct hammock lay and angle–but it’s also possible that their bodies just don’t do well with hammocks. You’ll have to experiment for yourself to find out for sure.

How To Lay Flat In A Hammock

Now, you might be raising an eyebrow at the idea of actually sleeping in a hammock. After all, isn’t a hammock just a nice summertime napping spot? The curve of a hammock resembles a canoe–wouldn’t that destroy your back?

hammock-in-park-with-ridgeline-between-edges-of-hammock-so-hammock-has-20-degree-sag
The canoe shape of a hammock doesn’t look appealing for your back at first. This sag is crucial, though–and in fact I don’t think I had enough sag on this hammock that day.

If you’re imagining sleeping in a hammock the standard way – right down the middle with your feet and head resting a bit higher than your midsection – you’d probably be right.

That said, that actually isn’t the recommended way to sleep in a hammock. At least not if you’re sleeping in it overnight.

To begin with, think about how your hammock is set up. This is another scenario in which you want to work against what might feel right to you. In other words, try letting the hammock remain loose rather than stringing it up as tightly as possible to keep your back straight. Trust me on this. You want the hammock to have some sag in it, like the picture I have above.

If you’re having some trouble finding the balance between a tight hammock and a loose hammock, it might be useful to try out using a hammock ridgeline. Discover more about these useful tools in our article on the topic here.

For reference, I’ll show the image I have above here again:

feet-hanging-off-one-side-of-hammock
Notice how my feet are not in the middle of the hammock but slightly off to the side, with my head on the opposite side (not shown in picture). This is an example of a slight diagonal lay, which helps the back portion of the hammock go taut, giving you back support.

Once your hammock is all set up, lay in it as you normally would. Then, shift your head to one side and your feet to the other so that you’re actually diagonal on the hammock. This is where the sweet spot is.

When you’re diagonal, the hammock stretches right underneath your back and you you get more support without feeling like you might as well be sleeping on concrete. You’ll be able to stretch out and sleep in whatever position is most comfortable for you.

If you’re not used to sleeping in a hammock (and in my opinion even if you are), this might take a few minutes to get the lay just right.

Cheating To Get a Flat Hammock

Another option is to not go with a standard hammock at all. Check out Haven’s Hammock Tents–they are built to have the same flat design of a tent floor but you’re suspended in the air.

Tips For Sleeping Comfortably In Your Hammock

Learning how to sleep in your hammock diagonally is a good start, but it’s not the only tip you’ll need for getting the most out of your hammock. Remember, sleeping out in the wilderness doesn’t have to be uncomfortable!

Try these tips to make your hammock as comfortable as possible.

  • Protect your knees. Sleeping in a hammock on your back – even diagonally – can cause your knees to start to feel like they are bending the wrong way. To prevent this, just bring along an extra pillow or blanket that you can place under them.
  • Stay warm. From simple blankets, hammock sleeping pads to hammock underquilts, there are a variety of options for making sure that your hammock stays warm. Take some time to discover what will work best for you and you’ll be sleeping like a log in no time. Learn more about underquilts and sleeping pads in our article here.
  • Try adding a sleeping pad. A sleeping pad will add a little rigidity as well as provide essential insulation against the wind on the underside of the hammock.
  • Learn about different hammock types. There are a wide variety of hammocks out there, from simple camping hammocks to covered hammocks, hammocks for two people (REI links), and more. Each can provide a slightly different experience, so take your time to explore!
  • Mind your space. People come in all shapes and sizes, so not every hammock will work for everyone. Consider your own height, weight, and personal preferences to choose the right hammock to fit your needs.

In terms of hammock quilts, it might be difficult to choose the most ideal design. Both underquilts and top quilts can be incredibly useful, just in slightly different ways. To get a better understanding of which one is ideal for you, check out our article on the subject here.

Peter

Peter is a software developer who loves to take every opportunity to go outside that he can get. Peter grew up going on long backpacking excursions with his family every Summer and now enjoys staying at the beautiful Texas State Parks and swimming in the amazing Texas Rivers.

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