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What happens when you work from bed for a year?

The allure of working from bed is strong – but turning your mattress into your office can trigger a slew of health problems, both psychological and physical.

For many people, working from home, or ‘WFH’, has also come to mean ‘WFB’ – working from bed. Getting dressed and commuting to an office has been replaced by splashing water on your face and cracking open a computer as you settle back under your blanket. A staggering number of people are setting up shop on their mattresses; according to a November 2020 study, 72% of 1,000 Americans surveyed said they had worked remotely from their bed during the pandemic – a 50% increase since the start of the crisis. One in 10 reported they spent “most or all of their workweek” – 24-to-40 hours or more – in bed. This is especially true of young workers; in the UK, workers aged 18 to 34 are the least likely to have a proper desk and chair, and are twice as likely to work from bed than older workers.  But WFB isn’t just for lack of a proper chair – many simply love the cosiness and ease of the set-up. On Instagram, the #WorkFromBed hashtag pulls up thousands of photos, many of them featuring smiling people snuggled up in their pyjamas with cups of coffee, maybe even breakfast on a tray. But the reality is that turning your bed into your office can trigger a slew of health problems, both psychological and physical. And even if you don’t notice them now, adverse effects – possibly permanent – could emerge later on in life.

Ergonomic nightmare

It’s important to acknowledge that working from home is a privilege that isn’t afforded to hundreds of millions of people. Plus, for some remote workers, space for a full workstation just isn’t available, meaning working from bed may be their only choice. But experts say that regardless of whether working from bed is avoidable or not, the ergonomic advice is the same: it’s not good for your body, so it’s very important to vary your posture and support different parts of your body wherever possible.

Breaking your brain

When you work from bed for a year, it doesn’t just potentially wreck your body. It’s possibly bad for your productivity and sleep habits, too. “As sleep specialists, we tend to recommend that the bed should be for the three Ss: sleeping, for sex or for when you’re sick. That’s it,” says Rachel Salas, associate professor of neurology and sleep expert at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland.

A problem for everyone?

The most pernicious issue, however, is that all those potential problems may show up in some WFB workers, but not in others. “Some people will swear that it’s not an issue for them: they can work in bed, they can sleep in bed,” says Salas. “They can do whatever they want in bed and it doesn’t negatively affect their sleep.” Genetics, environmental factors, how bad the habits are and how long you do them, your age: all of these play a role in whether working from bed for a year or longer is actually going to be bad for you. “It’s not a dose-response relationship,” says Hallbeck. And although working from bed may not necessarily be something you can change – or want to change – it’s important to keep in mind that your body and brain may not feel the fallout at the moment. But they could, someday. “They won’t feel it right now,” says Hallbeck, especially of younger workers who WFB. “But as they age, it will pop up.” It may feel like one more thing to worry about in the Covid-19 era. But if this period has taught us anything, it’s that, as far as health goes, it’s better to be safe than sorry. “If you don’t have any of the negative effects, great,”says Salas. “But that might not always be the case.”

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