A hard truth I (and probably many others) have had to face over the past two years is that working in bed is not a sustainable habit. And believe me, I’ve been trying to make it work: When I started working full-time from home in 2020, I spent weeks logging in from the comfort of my pillows and fluffy duvet. I grabbed my laptop in the morning, rolled under the covers and started my day, only getting out of bed for toilet breaks and a cup of tea.
A year and a half later I was in physical therapy for pelvic alignment issues, caused in part by poor working posture. My physical therapist strongly discouraged working in bed, which I mostly didn’t do by this point anyway (it turns out after a while staying in bed 24 hours a day gets boring). Now, if I work in bed for even half a day—even if I add extra lumbar support and sit as upright as possible—I feel the effects the next day as pain flares up in my lower back.
As more of us work and learn from home in this COVID-changed world, I know I’m not the only one wondering if there’s a posture or position that makes working in bed bearable for your body might. According to Supreet Shah, DC, MS, CCSP, a chiropractor at TruSpine in San Francisco, it really does exist — you just need a few extra pillows to make it happen.
Is Working In Bed Bad For Your Back?
It’s “really, really hard” to maintain good posture when working from bed, Shah tells POPSUGAR. That’s because even the most comfortable mattress tends to be less supportive and more uneven than a chair, which can lead to issues with floppy posture and misalignment of your hips and spine. “In the end we sink into the mattress,” explains Dr. shah The soft surface and the lack of support both under the bottom and behind the back inevitably lead to a rounding of the spine, which puts a strain on the back muscles. (While some doctors say you can work lying flat on your back without straining your back, for those of us who use laptops, that position isn’t as realistic.)
For the moment, or for a shorter period of time (e.g. an hour or two instead of six or eight), it can feel comfortable leaning against your pillows with your laptop on your lap. But the longer you stay in this position—back and shoulders rounded, weight unevenly distributed on the mattress—the more you overstretch your back muscles. Then, when you stand up and use those muscles, “there’s a higher tendency to throw your back out or pull something,” says Dr. shah “It puts your spine and back in a more vulnerable position when we’re lying in our beds all day.”
Aside from your spine health, it’s worth noting that sleep experts also advise against working in bed, as it causes your brain to associate your bed with work, not sleep. That can make it harder to relax at night when you’re actually using your bed to snooze.
How to work from bed with good posture (and no back pain).
dr Shah doesn’t recommend working from bed, but if you need to use your mattress as a work station during the day (or simply prefer it to a desk or table), he suggests the following setup to reduce the stress on you back. All you need are four pillows – preferably large, firm, and supportive (like typical sleeping pillows, rather than throw pillows). Here’s what to do:
- Place a pillow vertically behind your back. This pillow helps you retain some of the natural curve of your spine so you don’t bend forward as much. Lay it lengthwise along your spine and against the headboard or wall behind you.
- Put a pillow under your butt. This pillow should run horizontally under your butt and the backs of your thighs to provide extra support and a slightly firmer surface to sit on and “takes a little pressure off your back,” says Dr. shah
- Place another pillow horizontally under your knees. This pillow puts your knees in a bent position. This allows your hamstring muscles to relax, “which in turn reduces the pull on your lower back,” says Dr. shah
- Place the last pillow against your chest and under your arms. The final pillow is placed between your chest and arms, providing a place for your elbows and upper arms to rest. It should feel like you’re gently hugging the pillow between your triceps and chest while leaving your forearms, wrists, and hands free. This is to keep your arms and torso from breaking in over your screen, says Dr. Shah: “Having this pillow to rest your arms on keeps your arms in a more neutral position.”
The idea is that these pillows “should keep your body and spine in a more neutral position,” says Dr. Shah to keep the muscles in your back from tightening or overstretching and exposing you to pain or injury. You can place your laptop on your lap, another pillow, or a lap table or laptop stand (Dr. Shah recommends the MOFT laptop stand). Having the screen at eye level is ideal, he says, but that probably won’t be possible if you’re working in bed. Using a laptop stand is a “good alternative”.
These tips are designed to relieve your back when you have to work in bed, but generally speaking, a more stable seat is always better. “A stable chair that isn’t too soft – that would be a good option for long-term spinal support,” says Dr. shah And no matter what sitting position you choose, if you’re working a sedentary job, make sure you take breaks to stand up, stretch, or even roll out your muscles with a foam roller. Do you still have back pain despite a solid ergonomic setup? Consider making an appointment with a doctor or chiropractor to see what’s going on with your posture and positioning. “[Chiropractors] can help reduce pain levels,” says Dr. shah “But we can also give you more [personalized] Tips, because every person is unique.”