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Airbeds are convenient. Luxury versions are also crazy comfy. But are they also healthy? This is an interesting question and there is no absolutely straight-forward answer. Airbeds can be great for you, effectively mitigating a variety of medical issues. On the other hand, they can be dangerous in certain situations – especially for toddlers under the age of two. We will go over all the important aspects when it comes down to this issue and look at the most relevant scientific studies in this regard.

How do air mattresses affect your sleep?

We spend about half of our life sleeping. And good sleep can make the difference between a great day and a terrible one. You definitely want to make sure that you are getting the most out of those precious sleeping hours. Now, this is probably not an issue that is too relevant when you are only using your airbed in very special circumstances. But when you are sleeping on air on a regular basis, then you should definitely know how it affects your sleep. First, it should be clear that only high-quality airbeds at home (or Air Hospital Beds) should be considered for a regular – or permanent – sleeping option. An early study by Okamoto et al. (1997) investigates the effects of an air mattress upon sleep quality and bed climate. The study was published in Applied Human Science: Journal of Physiological Anthropology. In an experimental setting, they find that sleep estimation of the subjects (healthy females aged between 18 to 23) was good under all conditions. Specifically, it was tested how sleep patterns differ with respect to room temperature and humidity. Different types of air mattresses don’t yield significantly different results as compared to a regular Futon bed. However, the researchers find that relative and absolute humidity were higher for air mattresses.

So, sleeping directly on air mattresses can be harmful because they are usually not made out of especially breathable material. Possibly, you will experience more sweating than usual, which can be really critical when you are camping somewhere in humid climate. We spoke with some of the main airbed manufactures. They are aware of this issue and are increasingly focusing on using materials that are lowing humidity. But as a basic rule you should always use regular sheets on top of the mattress. This already helps a lot. If you are heavily sweating at night, you want to make sure to invest in a more expensive airbed, which is made out of breathable materials. Also, make sure that the room has good ventilation if possible. When your are camping, you need to make sure that you have air flow moving through the tent. In case that you the windows are zipped shut, moisture will build up. This could negatively affect your sleep.

Are air mattresses good against back pain?

It depends. When you are regularly sleeping on low-quality airbeds, then it is very likely that you will suffer some back pain and soreness. Poor air mattresses don’t have a solid internal air coil structure. This will cause you to sink into the mattress as your body weight is not evenly distributed across the entire surface area of the mattress.Sufficient body support is essential. When people wake up with a sore back, stiff neck, or aching limbs it is probably because a bad mattress that doesn’t provide the level of support they require.

Therefore, you have to make sure not to sleep on air mattress that loses air during the night. Fortunately, air mattresses improved hugely in this regard over the past few years and have also become much more durable. But again, cheap, low quality airbeds are more likely to lose air and not support your body enough. Higher priced models come with special pumps that monitor the level of air pressure over the night and add additional air when necessary. In fact, these types of airbeds can be great for you and effectively mitigate back pain. Moreover, there air mattresses that are specifically designed to address back pain and soreness. Alternating pressure air mattresses are used in hospitals to provide the ideal amount of support for patients. And when you think about it there are even more arguments why air mattresses are good for treating back pain. First, you can easily adjust the level of support by simply adding more air. Some airbeds for permanent use even allow you to define the air pressure on each side of the bed according to your- and your partners preference. Also, air mattresses don’t have springs that can dig into you while you sleep. This can be a major cause for back pain. Internal air chamber technologies have become so advanced, that they provide much greater comfort than regular beds for similar prices.

Prevention of Pressure Ulcers (bed sores)

Air mattresses are very commonly used in hospitals to prevent bed sores. In fact, there is extensive research that supports that air mattresses have a positive effect in this regard. Paramount to the prevention of pressure ulcers is reducing the amount and duration of pressure or shear, which can be achieved by the use of patient repositioning or by a support surface. An active support surface is a powered surface that achieves load distribution by cyclic inflation and deflation of air cells.  Alternating pressure air mattress are shown to be effective to reduce bed sores. For example, Demarre´ et al. (2013) document the effectiveness of air mattresses for a sample of 264 patients in Belgian hospitals.  This study published in the journal of Research in Nursing & Health provides convincing evidence for the advantages of air mattresses.

Age restrictions for Airbeds

Due to the low price of airbeds, they are increasingly popular as permanent beds in American low-income households. A low-cost air mattress costs as little as $15 as compared to $95 for a cheap box spring bed. This trend can be dangerous for toddlers argues a recent essay in the American Journal of Public Health (2017).  Accordingly, infants can suffocate on air mattresses, even when the mattress is fully inflated.

The authors conclude that: “The continued evolution of the air mattress market in the United States, which constructs air mattresses as desirable, low-cost, and technologically advanced adult sleeping environments, places infants at great risk for sleep-related death.”

The Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends that infants under the age of 15 months should not be put to sleep on an inflatable air mattress. Accidental suffocation of infants happens about 9 times more frequently in regular beds. It is crucial that parents monitor infants with great care and provide adequate sleeping surfaces.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development on safe infant sleep.

Okamoto et al.,1997: The effects of air mattress upon sleep and bed climate. 

Doering & Ward, 2017: The Interface Among Poverty, Air Mattress Industry Trends, Policy, and Infant Safety

Moon, 2017: Air Mattresses Are Not Appropriate Sleep Spaces for Infants