Last Updated On October 29th, 2018

For many of us, air mattresses are reserved for rare camping trips and the occasional house guest who decides to stay over. But what about using an air bed long term? It’s more common than you might think, especially for those moving to new areas or for people on a lower income who may not have the money to purchase an expensive mattress.

While large traditional mattresses usually start at many hundreds of dollars, an air bed can be had for $50. Therefore, it’s easy to see why some might decide to use an airbed day in and day out. But is it safe and if not, what can you do to improve the situation?

What Is An Air Mattress?

A queen size air mattress on the floor

An air mattress or air bed is mostly a giant balloon in the shape of a mattress which is inflated with air and then closed to retain it throughout the night. You can thereby sleep on the upper surface relatively comfortably because when fully inflated it becomes stable and can easily support your weight.

Benefits Of An Air Mattress

While most of us don’t use them extensively, there are certainly some benefits that an air bed has instead of traditional foam or coil mattresses.

Save Money

If you’re on a tight budget, an air bed can be a lifesaver. It’s far more comfortable than sleeping on the sofa, and it’s available at a fraction of the cost of a traditional mattress. The cheapest air beds start at $20 or $30, while even the cheapest mattresses will cost ten times that, before you even begin to look at bed frames and headboards.

But for those who are planning to use their air bed every day, it’s worth stretching your budget slightly to find a higher quality product that will last. Potentially the most significant downside of air beds is that they aren’t as durable and therefore if you’re buying a cheap product it will likely need to be replaced sooner rather than later.

To prevent this, it’s worth investing in one of the highest quality air mattresses possible, which are far more comparable to traditional beds and have superior spinal support, durability and firmness control. Importantly, they don’t cost that much more and will save you money in the long term because you need to replace them far less frequently.

Save Space

Living in a very tight space can be challenging. Tiny apartments are particularly common on the east coast of the US in cities like NYC where a couple of hundred square feet might be all the room that you get. In this case, it might not be feasible to have a bed permanently in the room.

Air mattresses can be very quickly deployed and deflated, often in less than two minutes. The benefit of this is that you can efficiently deflate the bed in the morning and suddenly there’s far more livable space so that you can cook, wash and enjoy your apartment.

Single and twin air beds are ideal for this situation, and they will usually fold up small enough to fit into a backpack, making them perfect for storing in a drawer or a tiny closet. At night you can come home and inflate the mattress in only a couple minutes, making your apartment feel bigger than it would if you had a permanent bed frame.

Risks Of Sleeping On An Air Mattress Long Term

A fully made up air mattress with pillow and bedding

With few people choosing to sleep on air beds long term it’s hard to know the precise risks that you face. However, sleep scientists have been looking at the importance of body support and temperature regulation for decades, and therefore we have a fairly good idea of the health impacts of improper spinal alignment and sleep.

Poor Body Support

At night we usually spend an average of eight hours in bed, and therefore we need to think carefully about how our body is being supported. It’s not just your spine either; hips, shoulders and other joints also need to be supported by the mattress to prevent the aches and pains that many of us feel the next morning.

The problem with air mattresses is that you’re laying on air, not a dense foam or coil springs and therefore there is little resistance. The goal is not for your body to feel comfortable, it’s to ensure that your spine is kept straight through the night and your other joints don’t feel too much pressure.

To achieve this state you need to choose the right type of mattress for your body and sleeping position. Those who sleep on their backs tend to need a firmer mattress, while side sleepers usually demand a softer foam or memory foam that reduces the pressure on your hips and shoulders while letting your side sink in to keep the spine straight.

Unfortunately, the air mattress doesn’t offer adequate support in any of these areas. There is practically no ‘give back’ from it, which can reduce the pressure for side sleepers which is beneficial, but it will offer very little help for your spine. Therefore, it is wise to sleep on your back on air mattresses because it’s more similar to a firm coil or spring mattress.

Lack Of Temperature Regulation

Scientists have known for years that the temperature of our sleeping environment is critical to falling asleep quickly, getting long deep REM cycles and feeling refreshed the next morning. There is a specific range of temperatures which the room should be, roughly between 60 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit and to deviate from this can prevent you from sleeping well.

Air beds don’t help with this because they tend to sleep hot. The surface is usually constructed using synthetic materials such a vinyl which don’t breathe well at all, preventing air circulation and therefore causing you to get warmer.

Traditional mattresses allow for heat dispersion to the mattress itself and also to the air surrounding you. But the air trapped inside of the mattress takes on the temperature in the room, and therefore in warmer evenings, it’s akin to sleeping on a hot water bottle.

In contrast, during the winter the air inside the bed will become cold, and therefore you’re sleeping on a cold surface, which can drop your temperature below the desirable level. To combat this, you can use heat in the room to manage the temperature or use thick cotton sheets as a barrier between you and the cold air bed.

Improving Your Air Mattress Experience

A lady getting her air bed ready

Regardless of these two risks, you might decide that an air mattress is still the right decision, in which case you should take precautions to improve the experience as much as possible. By following this advice, you can simulate the feeling of sleeping on a traditional mattress, which for long-term use can give your mental and physical health a boost.

Deflate and Inflate

While an air mattress is designed to stretch and expand with the air that you’re pumping in, the surface can only take so much pressure before it breaks. When it is left full of air at all times the surface material, and the lining of the balloon will stretch, causing the material to become slightly thinner, especially when it is left inflated for long periods.

To prevent this, it is wise to deflate and inflate the mattress regularly, preferably on a daily basis. This routine is how these beds were designed to be used. By deflating it repeatedly, the material can contract and not be stretched out constantly, allowing it to last longer.

Typically, air beds first break by refusing to retain air, not because of a large gash or hold in the upper surface, but because of tiny micro-tears in the air balloon. These tears occur because of constant stretching from remaining inflated day in and day out.

Use A Mattress Topper

Low-cost mattress toppers and pads can be bought relatively cheaply from a variety of places. Both memory foam toppers and fiber-filled pads will add an extra level of comfort to the bed. For those who wake up feeling achy after a night on an air bed, a foam topper can be a game changer.

For side sleepers and front sleepers, a foam topper is particularly crucial because it has some ‘give’ which will reduce the pressure on your joints and allows the spine to be aligned at night. A cheap topper like this can be the difference between a comfortable sleep or waking up periodically.

Adding this extra comfort and ensuring physical health is vital, especially if you’re using the air mattress for everyday use whereby the adverse effects will build up causing back pain.

Invest In Quality Sheets

Although sheets won’t have any impact on the health if sleeping on an air mattress nightly, it can help with comfort, the feeling, and temperature control. It can become disheartening to use an airbed each night and adding a little bit of luxury with some soft sheets that you can regularly wash to keep the bed clean; it can improve the experience drastically.

Choosing The Best Air Bed For Everyday Use

A couple talking on their air bed

If you’re using an air bed only once or twice, it doesn’t matter which you choose. But for long-term use where you’re using it every day, it’s vital to choose the best air bed which will care for your body and leave you feeling refreshed the next morning.

Poor sleep can have a serious impact on not only physical but also mental health. Therefore, ensuring that you get a good rest is critical. To achieve this, you need to consider the firmness adjustment of the bed, the convenience of the product and how long it will last. After all, the value of an air bed is negligible if it needs to be regularly replaced.

Firmness Adjustment

Air beds have come a long way since you were a child. No longer do they only fill up to a certain limit, now you can electronically adjust the firmness of the bed so you can get fully comfortable.

For those that don’t sleep on our backs and therefore do not want a firm surface, being able to adjust the firmness without leaving it only partially inflated, can make a drastic difference. The very best air beds go a step further and use multiple chambers to allow for variable support across your body.

By using multiple chambers with different levels of air, you can add support where you need it and keep your spine perfectly straight. This adjustment is crucial for long-term use because while the pain is negligible in the first week, sleeping on a poor-quality air mattress for months can be incredibly damaging for your spine.

The Durability Of The Surface

Taking care of your bed will prevent it from breaking early, but regularly sleeping on a synthetic surface will cause it to break down slowly. Choosing a bed with a durable upper layer will help to extend its lifetime, driving down the cost per night and saving money in the long term.

It’s easy to see the durability of the surface just by looking and feeling it. You want a bed that has a thick, sturdy and strong surface which is on top of the air balloon, rather than sleeping directly on the air. Some premium beds also have upper memory foam layers, and this is a great sign that there is plenty of support and thickness between you and the air chamber.

Electrical Pump

The days of manually pumping up an airbed should be long behind us. Most middle to upper tier beds now come with incredible efficient pumps, not only to push air into the chamber but also to draw it out. Electric pumps turn an otherwise time-consuming task into a huge benefit because you can quickly deflate and pack the bed away, giving your home more room.

Manufacturer Warranty

Regardless of the quality of a product, there is always a chance that something will go wrong. If this happens, you want to know that you’re covered. Looking for beds that have at least a year or multiple year manufacturer warranties will allow you to sleep sound, plus gives you an indication into how long the manufacturer believes their products should last for their customers.