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How to work in bed

Thai Book RestWinston Churchill did it. So did Henri Matisse, Mark Twain and F. Scott Fitzgerald while writing his Last Tycoon. The philosopher René Descartes did, too—but only till noon. All these productive people worked in bed.

If you, too, find yourself taking laptop, writing paper or work-related reading to bed with you, here are some ways to work in bed as productively, and comfortably, as if you were sitting at your desk—perhaps more so.

Use pillows for posture

Alexandra Stoddard, the author most recently of Choosing Happiness, wrote several of her 22 books in bed, and with nine pillows.

Working in bed requires more support for your back and neck than sleeping, of course, and it's best not to use your sleeping pillow. Here's where the many ergonomic pillows now available can pay off. Because you're sitting on a soft surface—your bed—you need the extra lumbar support that a wedge pillow, or one with extra filling, puts behind your lower back.

Ideally, the pillow should be extra long, enough to contour from your lower spine to your shoulder and back. The goal is to sit up fairly straight, as if you were sitting in a chair. It's the kindest thing you can do for your lower back.


Light for working, not just reading

Your lighting needs to be just as good here as if you were at your desk or in a reading chair. Your direct, or task, light should cast no shadow on your work material and create no glare. Reposition it if either one occurs. It may be that the shade needs to be higher on a night table to disperse more light—in which case, you could place it on a sturdy book or two to elevate it. Or try a wall lamp. Alexandra used a swing-arm version when she worked in bed.

Ambient light is also important. Working in bed, you tend to use more space than merely reading in bed. Have more than just a reading lamp to illuminate your work area.

Elevate your work space

Lap desks, bed trays or cushions for your laptop are helpful stand-ins for a desk surface. They'll elevate your work surface slightly, which will help you maintain good posture and work longer. Lapalot

Transition from work to sleep

Some sleep experts will admonish you not to work in bed at night, especially if you suffer from insomnia. But if it's a habit you don't wish to break, try inserting some decompression time to help you transition between work and sleep. For many of us, this takes the form of reading. Okay, there's TV, too (just don't watch any scary movies).

Find your best time

Of course, working in bed doesn't have to be only a nocturnal activity. Like Descartes, Alexandra Stoddard worked in bed in the mornings. That gave her the whole bed to herself to spread out her papers—a generously sized work surface, indeed. Don't be like Descartes, though, and not rise till noon. Get up out of bed every half hour or 45 minutes and stretch your legs. It keeps the blood flowing—and often, the creative juices, too.

"And so to bed," wrote Samuel Pepys in his diary. And so to work.