If you’ve never learned how to sleep in a hammock, you might not like it, as it could be quite uncomfortable. Hammocks have been around for hundreds of years and you’ve always seen people sleeping in them, but the one time you tried it, you either couldn’t get to sleep or you woke up sore. However, you can learn to sleep in a hammock very comfortably.
You’ll need the right gear and the right amount of sag in the hammock for it to be very comfortable. Hammock angle is another factor in being comfortable. Finally, the length of the hammock is important if you are on the tall side. Even if you sleep on your side or stomach, you can sleep comfortably in a hammock. And this opens up all kinds of places to sleep, including on your porch on a night with perfect temperatures or in the woods while you are hiking.
Get the Right Gear
First, you have to have the right hammock. While most pictures of vacation places with hammocks show rope hammocks, stop and think about that for a minute. A rope is hard and hard surfaces are not comfortable. On top of that, guess what’s going to happen when you lie in that hammock for more than a few minutes—you got it—you’re going to have rope marks all over your body. Eventually, your flesh will sink through the ropes and you’ll start feeling those knots no matter how you move. Yep, even if you’re skinny.
The other type of hammock you really don’t want is one with spreader bars. You’ll easily flip out of one of those. A gathered hammock that is the proper size and that is properly set up can be more comfortable than your bed.
If you plan on relaxing more than 10 minutes in a hammock or plan on sleeping in it, make sure you choose a hammock made with a comfortable material such as parachute material. Parachute nylon is also breathable, which means you’ll be less likely to sweat in your sleep. Other benefits of parachute nylon are that it’s not prone to rotting or getting mildew all over it and it dries quickly. If you don’t want parachute nylon, choose a material that is solid or at least tightly woven.
Accessories you might consider if you plan on sleeping in your hammock include:
- A sleeping pad;
- An under quilt or sleeping bag;
- A bug net;
- A comfortable pillow; and
- A comfortable blanket or sheet to cover yourself at night.
A sleeping pad helps keep the cool currents under you from cooling you off but can be bulky. You also have to let out a lot* of air to make it work with a hammock as it takes up extra room in the hammock. Using cotton or cotton-blend fabric between you and your hammock adds another layer of warmth and comfort, and it doesn’t take up as much space as a sleeping pad. Don’t forget, cool air will circulate under the hammock, making you too cool to sleep comfortably if the nights are cooler. A sleeping bag or under quilt will help keep the cool air from getting to you. If you’re not picturing this, think of those bridge warnings you see in northern climates: “Bridge freezes before road.”
A bug net is necessary if you don’t want to wake up with 10 million itchy bites all over your body. You can forgo the bug net if you’re brave enough to camp when the weather is cold, but for warmer nights, you’d be crazy to leave home without it.
If you are used to sleeping with a pillow even when your head is raised or if you sleep on your side, you’ll want a comfortable pillow to bring along with you. This will make your night even more comfortable, so if you have room, pack one. You won’t be sorry.
The Sag is Good
First, we’re talking about sag in a hammock, which means that it doesn’t have spreader bars. You might be thinking you can’t get into a hammock without those spreader bars or that you’re going to fall out of one without spreader bars. Quite the opposite: It’s the hammock with spreader bars that will flip you out in the middle of a good night’s sleep.
The traditional form of the hammock is one without spreader bars. This is the type of hammock that has been used for centuries. The spreader bars were added to keep the hammock open and spread out at all times and to give it a more bed-like appearance. While a hammock with spreader bars looks inviting, this is the type that will flip you right on your face into the ground.
On to the sag… when you have a hammock with no spreader bars, you might be tempted to hang it as tight as possible between the two posts or trees. That would be a huge mistake. The sag is important for a couple of reasons:
- The tighter you pull the hammock between the posts, the more pressure you’ll put on those posts or trees.
- You won’t get the weightless feeling of sleeping in the air if you pull the hammock so tight that it’s almost flat.
- Without the sag, the sides will be tight against you when you get in. Those hammock walls could give you claustrophobia even if you’re not claustrophobic.
- The tighter you pull the hammock, the less room you’ll have.
Keep the natural curve of the hammock between the posts. Of course, you don’t want to hang it so it’s almost folded in half—that’s just too close and too much sag.
Additionally, when hanging the hammock, be sure it’s high enough off the ground so you’re not sleeping on the ground. Don’t forget, it’s going to stretch when you get into it. And if there are two of you, it’ll stretch even more.
You’re probably still thinking that it looks like you’re going to be folded in half while you are sleeping. Once you’re in the hammock, turn your body at about a 30-degree angle. Put your feet about a foot to the left and your head about a foot to your right. The hammock opens up and gives you plenty of space. However, you won’t be able to do this if the hammock is too tight as the sides will keep you hemmed in. And, when you angle your body in the hammock, you’ll find that you’re laying flatter than if you were to keep your body straight.
If you find you keep sliding toward the middle of the hammock, raise the feet 8 to 12 inches to level your body out. Likewise, if you feel like too much of a banana, turn your body. Once you do that, you may have to adjust the height of the head or foot of the hammock.
If you find that your knees are locking up, try putting a pillow under your knees.
Side and Stomach Sleepers Fear Not
You can definitely sleep on your side in a hammock. However, sleeping on your stomach is another thing, unless you have the long hammock and are a short person. You can easily sleep on your side as long as you position your body at an angle as described above. However, if you are much taller than 5’ 6”, you’ll have trouble with a hammock that is less than 10 feet long. Your body will want to bend, creating an unnatural curve in your back and then you’ll end up sore in the morning.
As for sleeping on your stomach, it’s possible at an angle in the hammock, but unless you have your arms down along your side, you’re going to lose circulation in the one that’s above your head and the other one will fall out of the hammock. Generally, you want a hammock that is at least 4 feet longer than you are tall, especially if you are a side or stomach sleeper.
Do You Need a Sleeping Bag in a Hammock?
Technically, you don’t need a sleeping bag in a hammock, but if you want to stay warm when the nights get cool, it’s a good idea. Some people use a sleeping pad, but they take up enough space in the bottom of the hammock that your body is bent unnaturally as if you were sleeping in a hammock that is too short or that has the ends too close together. An under quilt or a sleeping bag is more comfortable and takes up less space than a sleeping pad. A benefit of the sleeping bag is that you don’t have to carry extra quilts with you to cover up with.
Can Sleeping in a Hammock Hurt Your Back?
If you have the wrong size hammock or set it up wrong, sleeping in a hammock could hurt your back. Be sure the hammock you purchase is long enough and set up properly so that you feel like you’re sleeping on a cushion of air.
Also, if you have your feet or head up too high, you could also wake up sore. Part of setting the hammock up properly is making sure the ends are even and you find trees with enough space between them.
Sleeping in a Hammock with a Partner
Some hammocks are wider than others and are called doubles. They are supposed to allow you to sleep with a partner, however, depending on the size of the both of you, that might not be practical. Two shorter people may be able to sleep in a hammock quite comfortably, but if both of you are pushing 6 feet tall, you might be a bit cramped.
You can purchase specially made hammocks, but it’s easy to make a mistake in size when you are doing that. If you are purchasing your first hammock, start with something off the shelf and start with something that is 4 feet longer than you are tall. If that doesn’t seem to work, go with a longer hammock or even a wider hammock.