What with the leaden skies and killer virus circulating outside, holing up in your bedroom may seem like a perfect strategy for seeing out the rest of winter. For some of those forced to work from home, the bedroom is also currently doubling as a workspace. So how do we stop working from bed interfering with our sleep and sex lives?
A major consideration is lighting. Even on a dull overcast day in winter it is at least 10 times brighter outside than indoors. Now that we are no longer commuting to work, depriving ourselves of that daylight could have consequences for our sleep and daytime alertness.
Exposure to bright daylight helps to keep our body clocks synchronised with the time of day outside. Without it, these clocks can drift – particularly if we’re exposed to bright light during the evenings – meaning we feel sleepy later. One study found that on average, office workers who were exposed to more daylight – especially during the mornings – took 18 minutes to fall asleep at night, compared with 45 minutes for those who spent their mornings in dim light. They also slept for an extra 20 minutes, had less disturbed sleep, and reported fewer symptoms of depression.
Bright light also boosts our alertness through an independent mechanism. So, it is important to get outdoors for some exercise during the daytime, as well as moving closer to a window, where possible. During the evening, keep lights warm and dim to promote sleep.
Working in the bedroom also risks bringing work-associated clutter into your sleeping space, which could be an added source of stress if it serves as a reminder of the tasks you have failed to do, or tomorrow’s deadlines. This could have a detrimental impact on your sleep, so try to at least tidy away any work-associated paraphernalia at the end of each day, and create some time to relax in the run-up to bedtime.
It is not only sleep that may be affected by working from bed. Although some couples report having more sex than they did before the pandemic because they are spending more time together, others are struggling with small spaces and clashing work routines, say psychologists Katie Anderson and Deborah Bailey-Rodriguez of Middlesex University, who are studying the impact of Covid lockdowns on romantic relationships. “Being in the same space all day with the same person goes against thousands of years of evolution, so be compassionate with yourselves,” they advise. “Whether you’re having more or less sex, it’s a huge change to adjust to.”
Sexual desire is largely responsive, meaning that it is affected by what’s going on around us. If we are working, parenting, doing Joe Wicks, trying to relax and sleeping all in the same space, this can make it difficult to shift context and get turned on. “A lot of people are reporting a negative impact on desire at the moment, and that’s largely due to the lack of context shift,” says Kate Moyle, a psychosexual and relationship therapist and host of The Sexual Wellness Sessions podcast. “Once they’re doing it, they really enjoy it, but it’s the ‘getting to doing it’ bit where I think the pandemic has had such a massive impact. There’s no separation, which makes it more difficult for us to shift headspace.”
Moyle suggests manipulating your bedroom environment to help trigger that shift. Think about appealing to different senses – altering the bedroom lighting, its fragrance, the texture of the clothes you’re wearing, even creating a soft bedding space on the floor. You could also try listening to an audio erotica app such as Dipsea or Ferly to help bring sex to the forefront your attention.
Finally, play to your strengths. For those who don’t have children at home during the day, lockdown may provide greater flexibility about when and where you can snatch intimate moments with your partner: “If you’re tired at the end of a long busy day, but you have more energy in the mornings, use lockdown to your advantage if this also works for your partner. Or perhaps during the work lunch break if you have a similar routine,” Anderson and Bailey-Rodriguez suggest.
• Chasing the Sun by Linda Geddes is published by the Wellcome Collection (£8.99). To order a copy for £8.36 go to guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply.