When our kids were in school, they all had desks for studying. But did they sit at the desks to study? The answer was frequently “no”—they preferred to study while lounging on their beds, particularly as they got into middle school and high school. I felt that they would study, read and write more effectively, with better concentration, if they were at the desks, but I quickly gave up that battle. Despite lounging on the bed to do homework, they all had excellent grades. Was I wrong in wanting them at their desks?
Apparently, I was, according to Heidi Mitchell in a recent Wall Street Journal article entitled “Is It Healthy for Teens to Study in Bed?” She consulted a number of experts in education psychology, sleep medicine and ergonomics and you, like I, may be surprised to hear what they said. Basically, if you’re not distracted by discomfort, you study just as effectively on the bed as you do at a desk.
“Lying down or sitting upright doesn’t impact your brain function—your posture doesn’t matter,” says Atul Malhotra, a physician and professor of medicine at the University of California, San Diego. A study at the University of California, Davis, found no difference in grade point average between those who worked at their desks and those who studied in bed. The study’s authors concluded that the assumption that studying in one position is preferable to another is false.
Harris Cooper, a social psychologist specializing in education, says, “If they are getting their homework done and It is of quality, then knowing what environments work for them will prepare then to be lifelong learners in various locations.” He suggests that parents and teens track progress over time—if they’re doing well with studying in bed, all’s fine.
One concern that I suspect we parents may share is that studying in bed can get too cozy, promoting drowsiness which interferes with learning. When someone reads a book just before falling asleep, and puts the bookmark on page 89, it’s common not to remember in the morning what happened on page 88 but they’ll remember what was on page 87, Dr. Malhota says. What we read as we’re falling asleep generally doesn’t register—I know I always have to read the last page or two again the next day. He suggests to his teen daughters and to anyone who does homework on the comforter at night go back a few pages or ten-minutes-worth of work in the morning to review and redo.
He also doesn’t mind a little lie-in studying in the morning: “You’re often free from distractions in bed…before the day’s chaos begins.” Studying in the morning before arising may be a good opportunity to learn and retain new information.
Ergonomics expert Janice Fletcher emphasizes that effective studying, wherever you do it, requires that you be comfortable, not distracted by muscle fatigue or other discomfort. Among those who realize that a lot of studying takes place in bed are industrial designers who have come up with across-the-bed tables that angle laptops and books for comfortable reading, reading pillows that cradle the neck, back and arms, and even hard-top pillows for resting a laptop on. A soft light can prevent harmful glare on the eyes. If your child is a bed-studier, you might ask them if they experience any discomfort as the time passes—if so, explore some of these options.
For homework involving lots of papers and books, a desk or table might be more effective, but generally bed-studying is effective. So, don’t worry if your child prefers to sprawl on the bed for homework. It turns out that works just a well as a desk. And allowing your student to make choices is a good thing—learning to figure out what works best for you is an important life lesson.
A graduate of Stanford University, Mary Waldmann and her husband Raymond raised three children who are now independent, well-adjusted and happy young adults. Before becoming a mother, she was a successful real estate broker, political consultant and public relations executive, and worked as a part-time communications consultant when her children were young. Mary is the author of Six-Word Lessons on Winning with Today's Media , Six-Word Lessons for Intentional Parenting, and Six-Word Lessons for Compelling Speeches.
See the Authors!