Sleeping on an Air Mattress Long Term – Is It a Good Idea?
Air mattress is everyone’s favorite backup sleeping option and portable bed. You can’t use your regular bed, for some reason? You have guests, but not enough beds? You’re spending a night outside, but don’t feel like sleeping in a bedroll?
If asked, the majority of people would say that they prefer “regular” mattresses (innerspring, foam, latex) though their reasons for this are usually vague.
The possibility of (worsening) back pain due to a lack of body support provided by an air mattress is the most common among their concerns. On the other hand there are people that sleeep on an air mattress long terms just for this reason – to aleviate back pain.
If chosen right it will comfortable, affordable, easy to store when you’re not using it and simple to move and set up once you need it.
Overall, air mattresses are practical and a great temporary replacement.
However, using an air mattress long term, as a permanent bed, is not quite as common.
If you are looking for a good one
We tested and reviewed 106 models over the last 13 months – you can see the results by clicking the link below.
Back pain and air mattresses: misconceptions and facts
Back pain is a very common ailment. According to studies, up to 80% of people will experience some type of it at least once.
Its causes can be very different: strained muscles, structural spine problems, other medical issues, poor posture, varying everyday activities and lifestyle elements.
Your mattress can indeed affect your condition or even cause back pain on its own, but this has little to do with its type. It’s all about the body support it provides.
It’s all about spine alignment
When you sleep, the weight of your body should be distributed evenly as possible.
Putting extra pressure on any single area can lead to restricted blood flow, pressure upon nerves and muscle constrictions. Furthermore, your spine has its ideal „neutral“ position when it’s not contorted, and all three of its natural curves are in good alignment.
Sleeping in a way that keeps your spine out of this position can result in soreness and back pain.
Your mattress is important on both accounts: it should provide optimal support for your body so it can remain in the desired position throughout the night.
The Goldilocks effect of an air bed
A mattress that is too firm will not allow you to distribute your weight across its surface. Your body will put too much pressure on certain points (shoulder and hip bone if you’re sleeping on your side; lower back if you’re a back sleeper), and your spine will not be adequately aligned unless you’re sleeping flat on your back.
On the other hand, if your mattress is too soft – you will sink into it too deeply and unevenly, which results in a very uncomfortable and straining bent position for your spine.
The Goldilocks effect: neither opposite is good, so you need to find the point that is “just right” somewhere in the middle.
Sleeping on an air mattress long term – the adjustable firmness argument
This is where one of the best features provided by air mattresses comes into the picture: you can adjust their firmness.
An inflatable mattress can be set as firm (more air) or soft (less air) as you please and this makes all the difference in terms of sleep ergonomics.
Custom firmness is their biggest PRO: the best air mattresses are firmness-adjustable, and higher-end models allow you even more precise customizations (like temperature) . Other types of mattresses can’t give you these options: you can choose between the available models, but their firmness cannot be changed.
This is also why that concern about air mattresses being universally bad for your back should be dismissed as a huge misconception. No type of mattress is „universally bad” and especially not the one which allows you to set its firmness (and thus, support) in a way that’s most convenient specifically for you.
It comes down to choosing right
That being said, it should be noted that nothing is perfect or “universally good,” either.
Bottom line is that sleeping on air mattress long term comes down to two things – your doctor giving you a green light and then choosing the right bed.
So, yes: long term sleeping on an air mattress could be bad for you, individually, but it could also change tyour life if you have back pain and if you choose the right airbed. That is why you should always consult your doctor before making any decisions which could affect your condition.
Of course, there are other PROs and CONs of long term sleeping on an air mattress, but this concern is widespread enough to justify discussing it separately.
Choosing the right air mattress for long term use
Let’s make a quick checklist of what would be a good air mattress to sleep on long term:
- It’s a quality air bed that will not leak or develop punctures
- It has a sturdy inner design that doesn’t allow sinking to the middle
- It keeps the spine aligned
- It’s convenient to add a topper to or already comes with a topper (pillow top of preferebly, memory foam)
If an airbed does tick of all of the boxes above, it’s very likely to be a good solution as a permanent bed.
A few more PROs and some CONs:
Sharing your air mattress with another person can be tricky due to motion transfer issue. When one sleeper moves, the other one feels it through the mattress, which can disturb or even wake him up.
Also, customizing firmness could lead to disputes between sleepers whether the mattress is too firm or soft.
On the flip side, higher quality full-size or larger air mattresses have dual chambers so that both sleepers can set their individual firmness.
On average, air mattresses are significantly less costly than same-tier models of different types of mattresses, though top-tier models can still be quite expensive.
Quality air mattresses will last longer than most other types. Additionally, with air mattresses, there is no sagging (forming of a dent on its surface due to it slowly giving way over the years of usage), typical for all other mattresses. Any sag can easily be fixed by simply inflating it.
Sleeping on an air mattress feels a bit different: unlike all other types of mattresses, they are filled with air, gas. This could be either a PRO or a CON. Some folks find them to be amazingly comfortable („like slipping on a cloud“).
Probably the biggest CON. While other types of mattresses need little maintenance, air mattress does require a bit of work. You’ll need to set it up right (including finding optimal firmness), and then make sure that it remains that way.
Lower quality air mattresses will slowly lose some air over time, becoming less firm, less comfortable, and affecting the quality of your sleep (and possibly back condition).
You will need to re-inflate them on a regular basis (though higher-tier models do have a built-in secondary pump which auto-intervenes when needed). Like any other inflatable object, an air mattress can be punctured, causing it to deflate, which will require repairs. Also, its pumps could need replacing after a while.
Air mattresses are made of unbrethable materials, such as vinyl.
This type of material can trap heat when it’s warm (making you feel hot and causing you to sweat) or it can leave you feeling cold in the winter (because it doesn’t absorb your body heat as other materials would).
That’s why, if your plan is to sleep on air air mattress long term, a topper or a pad is must-have.
You can see our selection of best mattress toppers and pads here.
Final thoughts aboout choosing the right air mattress for long term use
If you have any additional questions about sleeping on air mattress long term, be free to drop us a line in the comments below.
We can’t replace your doctor, but if they do give you a go-ahead to make an inflatable mattress your
permanent bed, we can certainly help to choose the right one.
What about alternate pressure hospital care mattresses….
That’s a whole separate topic because the medical models are designed specifically for that – prolonged use. We have a separate guide on medical (both alternating pressure and low-air loss airbeds) – you can see it here.
I hope that helps
I’ve been sleeping on an air mattress for about 3 months now. It’s temporary but the last month I’ve been having the worst sleep bc of nightmares. I used a CPAP machine a couple of years ago but lost a considerable amount of weight and didn’t seem to need it anymore. I started using it again, so I’m wondering could it be bc of long-term use of an air mattress?
I too have snoring problems (borderline apnoea) which made my work on this site harder because some of the beds I personally slept on did cause my snoring to worsen. So, it’s safe to say that long term sleep on an inflatable has something do with your snoring problems coming back.
Now, I’m not a doctor but my personal take is that it much have something to do with the fact that a vast majority are not as supportive as a regular bed. I don’t know your circumstances, but if it has to be an airbed, go with an extra firm & supportive one – like the second one on this list of heavy duty models.