As someone who’s spent over three daily hours commuting to and from work, only to find herself dying to escape the hellish panopticon of open-plan offices, the idea of working from home sounded like a distant dream. But we all know by now how dreams have a way of coming true and then proceeding to become nightmares.
As WFH and remote work became a new reality for white-collared workers as the pandemic grew last year, people started turning everything from dining tables and sofas to even bathrooms into home offices. But while everyone was trying to ace these WFH wars, the one thing we kept coming back to were well-meaning chiropractors advising us to ditch turning the bed into the messy, possibly crumb-covered office that many of us seemed to be doing—out of a lack of choice and space, or just out of sheer laziness and dedication to those sheets we spent a fortune on.
“When we use our bed for other activities, like working,... we create an association with wakefulness. We want the bed to be a cue for sleep, and working in bed weakens this association,” behavioral sleep medicine therapist Annie Miller told Healthline.
But as an Indian student stuck in a cold and lonely European country through this pandemic, I wondered how bad it could actually all be. To pretend like my satiny bedspread was actually a warm hug from the mother, feeling cosy in the duvet, and with the bonus of a nap only a pillow away—the bed seemed to win over my much more sensible desk in every way. Moreover, working from bed (WFB) is a time-honoured tradition upheld by some of the most accomplished: Frida Kahlo painted masterpieces from her canopy bed; Winston Churchill dictated to typists while breakfasting in bed; Edith Wharton, William Wordsworth and Marcel Proust drafted prose and verse from their sheets. So to battle the loss of productivity and the brain fog that the pandemic has come with and hopefully find the same creative spark that Wharton did, I decided to lie down on the job for a week.
On Sunday night, I went to bed early in preparation for the next day. I thought if I was well-rested, I wouldn’t feel like a zombie while working from bed.
Right off the bat, I missed my usual view. To make waking up early in the winter a little bit easier, I look forward to watching the sunrise from my desk. I felt like I’d been robbed of that productive mindset that beating the sun at showing up in the morning usually creates. But the extremely boring view of my neighbours’ doors that my bed did provide made it easier to focus more on work.
Counsellor Kerry Quigley, accredited by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, has also linked working from bed to lower anxiety. “Working from the comfort of your bed can feel like a safe calming space, particularly when anxiety is an issue,” she’s said.
But as someone who struggles with anxiety daily, I wouldn’t say it helped. As I tried to sit upright and balance my laptop in my lap, a voice in the back of my head surprisingly kept telling me I was in the wrong place—and that maybe I should’ve stuck with the obvious choice of the desk. I’d decided early on that I would try my best not to lie down while trying to work, because I’d be setting myself up for a full-blown coma. But I repeatedly caught myself retracting to my horizontal savasana only my Yoga teacher would be proud of.
Now, I live in a relatively small student apartment, and my single bed is placed against two walls in my studio. I’m not one of those heathens who’d let their beds float in the middle of the room, of course. By propping myself up against the wall that doesn’t double up as my headboard, I was able to create the illusion that I wasn’t sitting in bed but in any other spot. I was able to fool my brain into sitting upright for long enough to be done for the day.
How I felt physically: 8/10
How I felt mentally: 7/10
The next day, however, wasn’t as easily done. This week came soon enough after the holidays for me to still be feeling the aftereffects of my relentless holiday binge. I felt dull and bloated, and not getting out of bed for the most part of the day only made me feel shittier.
I also kept falling prey to longass doomscrolling sessions, which usually take up the major chunk of my time awake in bed.
So, to feel less like a stuffed toy and more like a real person, I moved to my desk during meal times. The half-hour break from what had become both my “paradise and warzone”, to quote Zayn Malik, came much needed. I can only imagine how much more of a blob I would’ve felt like had I continued to stuff my face while still in bed.
“I hate it,” I wrote to my friend later, spread across my bed.
One of the greatest pitfalls of working from your bed is the havoc incorrect posture can wreak when it comes to your physical health as well as your sleep schedule. I stepped outside to do some stretches for correct posture, which also made me feel slightly more human.
Although I try not to slump in my daily life and usually maintain a good posture, when you’re in bed all day, not necessarily supported by a backrest, even the slightest slump can have serious ramifications, and five minutes worth of exercise might not make up for hours of slouching. I would discover this painfully soon.
How I felt physically: 6/10
How I felt mentally: 6/10
The next morning, I couldn’t have left my bed if I wanted to, because after a night of twisting and turning in a space that was now more about deadlines rather than falling dead asleep, I woke up with a neck and shoulder ache so bad I couldn’t move. Ergonomics experts have for long warned us about the physical implications of trying to multitask in bed.
I spent my day holding myself up somehow, with a heating pad tied around my neck, praying for the week to end. What came as a major relief was borrowing a huge, firm pillow from a friend that acted as a solid base for me to lean on when propping myself up on one elbow wasn’t doable anymore.
“Get out of bed and take a shower,” my friend remarked during a video call. I smiled awkwardly.
I still wasn’t accustomed to working from bed and on my short walks away from it (which was all I could manage), my feet would now unknowingly take me to my chair. But I didn’t know that was all about to change.
That evening, as I looked up desks and laptop stands to help improve my experience, I found someone in my own building who was selling an IKEA bed tray. Both my pocket and my aching neck were overjoyed. That night, I set up my shiny new tray table to stream a show in the background as I drifted off to sleep, hoping for a better, less painful workday.
How I felt physically: 3/10
How I felt mentally: 4/10
The table proved to be a godsend. I could sit up with my legs in a criss-cross position, or extended under the table, and feel like I was working on a legit desk. In the absence of an uneven surface against my back, even my posture felt better. The best part was not feeling like I would pass out if left unattended (by my own mind, lol) for so much as a minute.
I don’t want to overstate the impact of the table, but I don’t think that’s a possibility. I was nearing the end of the work week, and by this time I’d tried all the positions humanly possible that would still allow me to use my laptop in bed. But turns out, a mock desk setup was all I needed.
I was much more energised even after over eight hours of work, and made use of these energy reserves to squeeze in another quick stretching session. I also slept better, not having been dangerously close to dozing off every few hours during the day.
How I felt physically: 6/10
How I felt mentally: 6/10
By the end of the work week, I had come close to perfecting the recipe. A firm pillow, some sort of a bed table, and short breaks to take a stroll or do some light stretching turned out to be important ingredients for the perfect mix of work and rest.
As I reflected on my work week, I realised it had been quite a ride. However, I no longer felt the persistent urge to leave my bed and dive straight onto my chair. I felt like a real person again, free of backache or sore spots in my shoulder. Tell that to your well-meaning chiropractor.
How I felt physically: 8/10
How I felt mentally: 8/10
In the days that have followed this experiment, I have continued to shuffle between my bed and my desk, reserving my bed for the first couple of ungodly hours in the morning where I’d rather be swallowed by my sheets than stare into my screen. But I don’t think I’ll go back to working from my bed full-time.
On many days, I felt generally low, not having moved much until a majority of the day was over. While I didn’t experience a major dip in my productivity levels, I did feel like life had slowed down in general.
However, fellow creatives would agree that working from bed isn’t all bad. “I am a completely horizontal author,” American author Truman Capote told The Paris Review in 1957. “I can’t think unless I’m lying down.”
As a writer, I concur. I’ve never had as many ideas that turned into real pieces as I did this week. Perhaps my creative juices do find it easier to flow when I’m in a horizontal position.
I also realised how privileged I was to have a space large enough for me to have a dedicated work spot and not have to work from my bed out of compulsion. Florence Nightingale spent over 50 years homebound and bedridden, still managing to develop hospital policy and remain an authority in her field. People with disabilities and several chronic illnesses have been able to work from their beds for years, so it is definitely achievable.
But if like me, you find yourself dreaming of a desk, invest a little money in a bed tray, and you’ll be good to go.
Follow Snigdha on Instagram.