When I tell people that sleeping in a hammock is actually healthier than sleeping on your back, and that they too can enjoy a deeper sleep in a hammock, most people blow me off. That’s alright; I’m not losing any sleep over it. But really, anyone looking to sleep better on camping and backpacking trips should continue reading. You’ll likely be surprised with what you learn. After all, there’s a reason so much of the South and Central American population has slept in hammocks for centuries, and it’s not just to escape the bugs on the ground.
Before I start listing off tips for sleeping more comfortably in hammocks, I realize I need to convince you why to consider hammocks in the first place. In a nut-shell, sleeping with your head elevated and body slightly upright promotes breathing and increases brain activity. But I’m not going to try to get technical or scientific with my reasoning. I would sound ridiculous and you wouldn’t believe me. Instead, here’s why the doctors say it’s healthier to sleep in a hammock (www.npr.org):
Neuroscientists at the University of Geneva rigged up a bed so it would sway gently from side to side every four seconds, considerably slower than the pendulum on a cuckoo clock. “This rocking is very gentle, very smooth, oscillating every four seconds,” Sophie Schwartz, a professor of neurology who led the study, told Shots. “It’s not rocking like you would see some mothers rocking their babies, it’s more gentle.”
A dozen adult research subjects napped on the bed for 45 minutes while scalp electrodes recorded brain activity. During one nap the bed swayed; for another, it was stationary.
The scientists weren’t too surprised to find that people fell asleep faster when the bed rocked. But they were surprised at the big difference that rocking made in brain activity.
Rocking increased the length of N2 sleep, a form of non-REM sleep that takes up about half of a good night’s rest. It also increased slow oscillations and “sleep spindles.” Sleep spindles are brief bursts of brain activity, which look like sudden up-and-down scribbles on an electroencephalogram.
There you have it. Even the pros know sleeping in a hammock is healthier than sleeping flat. That doesn’t mean everybody will ‘perform’ the same in their sleep, but as I always say, “You never know ’til you go.” So try it out yourself. Hang a hammock in your room, backyard or a nearby park and climb in. Then nod off for awhile and see how you feel when you wake up.
If that sounds much easier than you’ve found in your own experience, maybe you need a few tips on how to comfortably sleep in a hammock. I remember my first few hammock experiences, and they were not pleasant. That’s because I was doing it all wrong. Then again, I never would have thought it was possible to lay in a hammock incorrectly.
Tips for sleeping in a hammock comfortably:
First things first, don’t get a hammock made of rope or other rough material that’s going to be distracting and painful to hang in. The best hammocks I can recommend would be from Eagles Nest Outfitters, and they’re made of a super-soft and comfortable nylon material that won’t leave ‘chain-link’ impressions all over your skin. They’re also really durable and stretch well without losing their integrity, and they dry out fast after being rained on.
Don’t pull your hammock too tight when you hang it. A common misconception is that the tighter your hammock is stretched, the flatter your sleeping position will be. This is incorrect. You’ll end up squished by the sidewalls and spend the night rolling around frustrated. You’ll also still be folded in half like a sandwich made with one slice of bread and way too many ingredients. Hang your hammock with a bit of slack – not too loose, but just loose enough so it has a little ‘give’. Besides, you don’t want to lay too flat. That defeats the entire theme of my argument that it’s healthier to sleep at a slight angle, with your head elevated.
This is a pretty cool diagram to help you hang your hammock, but don’t go by this exactly. It’s more of a guide. For exact calculations, visit the website. You can even download the Hammock Hang Calculator app for your smartphone so you have it in the field!
Side-sleepers rejoice! This probably comes as a surprise, but you can actually sleep quite comfortably on your side in an ENO hammock, just as you would your own bed at home. The key here is to hang your hammock properly so you can enjoy any sleeping position (see diagram).
Want to really add some luxury to side-sleeping outdoors? Check out the Nemo Nocturne or the Nemo Rhapsody (for women). Their spoon-shape follows your body’s natural curves and are recognized throughout the industry for being a side-sleeper’s best friend in the backcountry.
Don’t want to move off the ground because you dread the thought of saying goodbye to your comfortable inflatable sleeping pad? No worries! Bring it in the hammock with you for even more comfort. Simply add the ENO Hot Spot to prevent your sleeping pad from sliding around under you while you dream.
Afraid sleeping in a hammock will bring critters? Pull the hammock in and wrap it around your body to keep the insects out. Or if you’re really bugged by bugs, get a hammock with an insect shield and sleep soundly while those little buggers buzz around outside.
Not sure your hammock will hang where you need it to? Be sure to pick up a set of ENO Slap Straps that are made specifically for hammocks and help expedite the hanging process.
Below is a great chart to help you decide which ENO hammock to choose. Some people like the ENO Singlenest Hammock as a one-person backpacking hammock, but I prefer an ENO double hammock that I can use on both solo treks and group camping trips. You never know when you’ll want company in your hammock!
You’ve got you ENO Hammock Hanging Kit and you’re ready to set up. Now what?