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Why we need to stop working in bed

Actress and playwright Mae West once famously said, “I do all my writing in bed; everybody knows I do my best to work from there.” While her phrasing’s a little saucy, she did indeed write some of her plays from the comfort of her bed. I also write, a lot of the time, from halfway under the covers. Now that we’re in quarantine, and a large chunk of the U.S. is working from home, the lines between work, recreation, and relaxation are blurred. And while we all might have meant to set up a real work space, the bed feels like fair game. In fact, it’s been where a lot of us are snacking and doing almost everything else. Is eating and working in your bed unhealthy?

The short answer is, well, yes. This has been the rule from the beginning of all (bed)time: Your mattress is for sleep and sex. And nothing else. Multi-tasking in the sack can have both physical and emotional repercussions such as insomnia.

“Working from bed should be avoided at all costs,” starts Ruth M. Maher, a Georgia-based doctor of physical therapy and professor at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. Maher tells me that I don’t have to look far to find a plethora of studies that support her point. “In fact, the data can be applied to individuals working from their bed during lockdown,” Maher continues. It’s been proven that inactivity — much like laying in bed all day, even if you’re on Zoom — leads to detrimental effects on your bones, your heart, your lungs, your muscles and your nerves.

As dark as this already sounds, there’s more. Too much inactivity can cause joints to become stiff, which could limit your ability to do normal daily tasks, Maher says. And honestly, she must be watching me via webcam, because I’m having this very problem.

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There’s good news though, if you feel yourself going down this dark path. Body deteriorations from physical inactivity can be mitigated with regular exercise, according to Maher. Jumping into a fitness routine when you’ve been laying around all day is easier promised than done. But also, by finding another place to work – one without a pillow top, you can truly mental and physically separate “work” from “home.”

“There is no doubt that lockdowns related to COVID-19 have played havoc with our emotional, social and physical wellbeing, so my recommendation is to have a separate area solely for work — preferably not in the bedroom at all. In fact keep it in an area separate from any place that you find relaxing,” Maher says, adding that for those living in small spaces, try setting up space just for work even if it’s a particular pillow that you put on a chair in your bedroom to signify that you are now At Work. Put it away, along with your work laptop, at the end of the workday. Make sure you can’t see it. Out of sight, out of mind.

About that last part, the mind: I was wondering if hanging out in bed too much might also wreak havoc on your emotional state. When it comes to sleep hygiene, working or eating in the sheets is never recommended. “In fact, when someone says they are having trouble sleeping, this is one of the first things we ask about,” says Georgia Gaveras, an Atlanta-based psychiatrist and cofounder of Talkiatry, a mental health service provider.

Here’s why. “You learn to associate locations with certain feelings sometimes. If work causes stress and you are in bed when you experience that stress, you can then learn to associate it with unhealthy feelings,” she says. Even if you like your job, you don’t want that frenetic energy of creating and meeting deadlines to be linked to the one place you’re supposed to feel the most relaxed.

Gaveras doubles down on this message, and takes it a step further. “If you are working in bed and associate that with frustration or stress, you don’t want that to bleed into moments of intimacy with a partner.” So if I have a bad day at work, and I want to share myself up with the Boy, using the same exact space for both activities probably won’t end well for either of us.

Ultimately, do what makes you and your body feel good right now. Based on the information both doctors gave me, I’m planning on working in my bed a lot less, because while it seems great, literally all of my current physical ailments seem to be stemming from my penchant for a bed-office. I'll simply find a place that makes you most productive. or at leas venture over to the couch.