In Defense of Hammocks

MAUES, BRAZIL - NOVEMBER 26: A passenger checks her cell phone in her hammock while waiting to depart in a transport riverboat in the Brazilian Amazon from Maues to Manaus on November 26, 2013 in Maues, Brazil. The approximately 20-hour journey in the riverboat costs about $25 USD and includes three meals while most passengers sleep in their own hammocks, usual for Amazon riverboat travel. Riverboats ferry people and cargo throughout the Amazon and often serve as the primary form of mass transportation. Manaus' Arena Amazonia will be a stadium venue during the forthcoming FIFA 2014 World Cup Brazil. Manaus is the largest city in the Amazon holding around 2 million and is the main hub for transport in the Upper Amazon basin. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
SourceMario Tama/Getty

In Defense of Hammocks

By Shannon Sims


Fifteen minutes a day in a swaying nap sack could result in world peace.

By Shannon Sims

Last year, a popular Brazilian cartoon depicted a woman reclining in a hammock and haranguing someone at the other end of her cellphone: “Hey, bank? Have y’all deposited my family welfare, my school welfare, and my unemployment checks yet?” The lowlife in the hammock became a meme during the presidential campaign, especially among conservative, anti-Rousseff types. “Vote for Dilma for more of this,” they snarked as they shared the image on social media. 

Poor hammocks. Once again they had become entangled in the image of an underemployed, government-mooching Brazilian. This maligning of the hammock happens elsewhere too, like in the rhetoric of U.S. Republican presidential candidates who raise the specter that, as Paul Ryan has put it, the social safety net will become “a hammock that lulls able-bodied people to lives of dependency and complacency, that drains them of their will” … 

Sorry, we were just dozing off there. We meant to say the following: All of this hammockial aspersion is a shame, because in reality the world would be a much better place with more hammocks. 

The hammock brings with it a variety of health benefits.

For starters, it’s a culturally rich symbol in Brazil — a form of “intangible cultural heritage,” according to Célia Corsino, a director at the Brazilian Institute for Historical Patrimony and National Artwork. “[F]rom pillar to pillar was a hammock attached by hooks, high up, in which they slept,” Pêro Vaz de Caminha reported to the Portuguese throne in 1500. Three centuries later, slaves carried aristocratic ladies around in hammocks, and today, in remote areas, hammocks are used to take the dead to their final resting places, and then buried with them. When the U.S. Civil War interrupted cotton exports, a cotton industry sprouted up in northeast Brazil, and with it, new hammock factories. 

The symbol of the hammock resonates loudly in northeast Brazil, where the afternoon heat bakes the country, zaps energy and drives folks into porch hammocks. In a place so warm that mattresses emanate heat, a hammock is by far the coolest way to recline. And in a region so poor that large families live in single-room homes, mattresses are out of reach. But it’s easy to install metal hooks in the wall, so that at night family members can layer above one another, softly swinging in their hammocks. It’d be hard to sleep comfortably otherwise, says Northeast musician Manassés de Sousa.

Those poor Brazilians are on to something. The hammock brings with it a variety of health benefits, including deeper, faster sleep, thanks to that rocking movement, which researchers say stimulates brain waves. I didn’t fully realize the value of a hammock until I injured my back. Now I use it as a cheap form of physical therapy. It stretches my vertebrae open and lets them breathe.

Even if you don’t have a medical problem justifying a hammock, there is reason to spend time in one. If every superduper important person on Wall Street spent just 15 minutes in one, doing nothing, imagine the concepts they could generate, the empathetic revelations they might discover. So enough with the correlation between hammocks and lazy living. As is so often the case, those on the receiving end of prejudice had something wonderful to offer all along.

Would the world benefit from a daily hammock session? Let us know.