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Should I stay in bed all day when I’m sick?

Quick Answers

Staying in bed all day when sick can help the body rest and recover, but too much rest can also be counterproductive. Here are some quick tips:

– Listen to your body and rest if you feel very fatigued or achy. Staying in bed for a day or two can help fight infection.

– Don’t stay in bed for more than a couple days. Long periods of inactivity can cause muscle atrophy and weakness.

– Balance rest with gentle activity like walking around your home. This helps circulation and prevents complications like blood clots.

– Stay hydrated, eat nutritious food, take medications as needed, and consult a doctor if symptoms persist or worsen. With self-care, most minor illnesses resolve within a few days.

When you’re sick with cough, cold, flu or another minor illness, your first instinct may be to stay in bed all day until you recover. Getting extra rest makes sense when you feel fatigued and achy. However, there needs to be a balance between resting and gently staying active when sick. Too many days of complete bed rest can lead to complications and a longer recovery. Experts generally advise resting only when necessary, and getting some light activity each day when sick. Here’s a closer look at the pros and cons of staying in bed when ill.

The Benefits of Rest

Staying in bed provides benefits when you’re sick, especially in the first 24-48 hours of an illness. Benefits include:

  • Conserving energy – Your body needs extra rest to fight infection. Staying in bed when fatigued allows your body to direct energy towards your immune response.
  • Body aches – Many illnesses cause muscle aches and pains. Resting in bed can provide relief when your body aches.
  • Fever – Fevers prompt your body to rest. Give into this instinct when running a temperature.
  • Contagion – Staying home in bed reduces the spread of contagious illnesses like the flu.

During the peak of an illness, the body gives cues like fatigue and malaise that signal the need to rest. Listen to your body and get extra sleep if you are able. However, also be aware that prolonged bed rest has risks.

The Risks of Prolonged Bed Rest

While short periods of rest are beneficial, studies show that staying bedridden for multiple days has adverse effects including:

  • Muscle loss – Long bed rest causes rapid loss of muscle mass and strength.
  • Bone loss – Days in bed leads to increased bone loss and risk of osteoporosis.
  • Joint stiffness – Lack of movement thickens joint fluid, causing stiffness.
  • Weakened immunity – Moderate activity helps circulate immune cells.
  • Mood issues – Inactivity and isolation can contribute to anxiety and depression.
  • Blood clots – Immobility slows blood flow, raising clot risk.
  • Bed sores – Days in bed without shifting position can lead to sores.

Studies of hospital patients highlight the problems linked to continuous bed rest. One study found that muscle strength decreases by 5% per day of strict bed rest. Another showed bone density drops by as much as 1% per week of inactivity. While sickness requires more rest at first, experts advise gradually resuming light activity as you feel able.

Guidelines for Resting at Home When Sick

When home sick, how much time in bed is ideal? Experts suggest the following guidelines for getting adequate rest without overdoing it:

– Stay in bed during the most symptomatic period, usually the first 24-48 hours of illness. Rest while feverish, achy or fatigued.

– Other than bathroom trips, aim to stay in bed for prolonged rest about 1-2 days when sick.

– Beyond the first couple days of an illness, limit time resting in bed to nighttime sleep.

– During the day when sick but able to be up, rest on the couch periodically, but avoid spending the full day in bed.

– Balance daytime rest breaks with periods of light activity like short walks around the home.

– Drink fluids, eat nutritious meals and take medications as directed. Monitor symptoms and call a doctor if illness persists or worsens.

– If illness causes prolonged fatigue, weakness or high fever lasting over one week, seek medical advice before resuming normal activity levels.

The key is staying in tune with your body’s need for rest while avoiding too many continuous hours in bed when sick at home. Listen to your body, but also minimize time bedridden as able.

Light Activities to Do Each Day When Sick

While the body needs extra rest when fighting illness, complete inactivity for days can actually delay recovery. Light physical activity provides benefits like improved circulation, muscle health, mood and more.

Here are some examples of light activities to aim for each day when sick:

  • Get up and walk around the house periodically, even if just short laps from room to room.
  • Do some gentle stretching or yoga poses in bed or on the floor.
  • Sit up to eat meals instead of eating in bed.
  • Sit outside for fresh air if weather permits.
  • Change positions, alternating periods sitting up vs. lying down.
  • Do light chores like dusting, folding laundry or washing dishes.
  • Take a warm shower.
  • Do some reading, writing or other hobbies out of bed.

Aim for physical activity every few hours when home sick, even if you need to rest in between active periods. Just 5-10 minutes of gentle activity periodically through the day can help prevent complications of prolonged bed rest.

Tips for Getting Quality Rest When Sick

Along with light activity, be sure to prioritize quality sleep when sick. Follow these tips to make the most of time spent resting in bed:

  • Use extra pillows to prop yourself up if coughing or congested to promote drainage and comfortable breathing.
  • Drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated.
  • Consider using a cool mist humidifier to moisturize and soothe airways.
  • Wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothing and keep blankets nearby to stay cozy.
  • Use over-the-counter medications as needed per directions for cough, fever, body aches, etc.
  • Block out light and noise that can disrupt sleep.
  • Alternate cycles of about 1.5 hours asleep and 30 minutes awake if unable to sleep for long periods.

Quality rest will help you wake feeling refreshed and ready for gentle activity. Pay attention to factors for optimal sleep while home sick in bed.

The Role of Telemedicine When Sick

Advances in telemedicine make it possible to consult a doctor directly from home when sick. Telemedicine allows patients to connect with providers by:

  • Video chat
  • Phone call
  • Text messaging
  • Email

Doctors can often diagnose common illnesses like flu, pinkeye, bronchitis and sinus infections with telemedicine appointments. Benefits of telemedicine when sick include:

  • Obtaining care from home when ill
  • Discussing symptoms with a provider
  • Receiving treatment recommendations
  • Getting prescriptions sent electronically if medications are needed
  • Avoiding the exertion of travelling to an in-office visit
  • Preventing contagion by staying out of healthcare facilities

Telemedicine makes it easier to connect with a physician and get personalized care advice when home sick. Patients can follow up with their regular doctor or use telemedicine platforms offering virtual appointments.

When to See the Doctor In-Person When Sick

For mild illnesses, telemedicine often enables patients to recover at home with provider guidance. But in-person evaluation is advised in situations like:

  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Severe abdominal or chest pain
  • Fever over 103 F
  • Symptoms lasting over one week without improvement
  • Signs of dehydration or inability to keep down fluids
  • Worsening illness or new concerning symptoms develop
  • Underlying chronic medical conditions putting one at high risk
  • Infants with fever, vomiting or other worrisome symptoms

It’s better to err on the side of caution if very high fever, breathing struggles, severe pain or other warnings signs arise. Call a doctor’s office or urgent care for guidance, and go in if advised for diagnostic testing or intravenous treatment.

Home Remedies to Use When Sick in Bed

Certain at-home remedies can provide symptom relief when sick in bed, including:

Warm Compresses

Applying warm, moist compresses can alleviate sinus congestion, earache pain, sore throats and muscle aches. Drape warm, wet washcloths over affected areas for 10-15 minutes as needed for relief.

Saline Rinses

Saline washes help thin out mucus secretions from the sinuses and chest. Use saline sprays, drops or rinses as directed to promote drainage and soothe inflamed nasal passages.


Humidifiers add moisture to the air, helping loosen secretions and prevent dryness that can irritate coughs. Clean humidifiers regularly to prevent mold growth.


Drinking extra fluids prevents dehydration and thins out mucus. Sip warm broths, water, ginger ale and caffeine-free tea while sick in bed.


Studies show zinc supplements may shorten the duration of colds by interacting with the rhinovirus. Follow package directions for suggested dosing.

Chicken Soup

Warm broth provides fluids and the steam can help clear nasal congestion. Chicken soup may also have anti-inflammatory effects to soothe cold symptoms.

OTC Medications

Over-the-counter drugs like NSAIDs, antihistamines, decongestants and cough suppressants can treat various cold and flu symptoms. Use as directed on the label.

Throat Lozenges

Sore throat spray and medicated lozenges containing anaesthetics or antiseptics help numb and coat the throat for temporary pain relief.

Preventing Complications of Bed Rest When Sick

While sick in bed, regularly shift positions, stretch, and take short walks around the house to avoid potential complications like:

Blood Clots

Immobility thickens the blood, increasing risk of deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism. Every couple hours when resting, pump your feet up and down and wiggle your legs to boost circulation. Stay hydrated. Notify your doctor of calf pain, swelling or redness.

Joint Stiffness

Lack of movement dries out joint fluid. Periodically do gentle range of motion exercises for ankles, knees, hips, fingers, wrists, elbows and shoulders.

Muscle Atrophy

Long bed rest causes rapid loss of muscle tissue. Every few hours, contract leg, buttock and core muscles, and do full body stretches. Move through your joint range of motion.

Pressure Sores

Laying or sitting in one position without shifting weight can decrease blood flow and lead to bed sores. Change positions at least every 2 hours. Use pillows to offload pressure points.


Inactivity and dehydration slow the bowels. Drink fluids and eat high fiber foods. Walking and gently exercising the abdomen can also stimulate bowel function.

Mental Health Effects

Isolation and inactivity can negatively impact mood. Combat this by staying connected with loved ones by phone or video chats while sick.

How Long Should You Self-Isolate When Sick?

To avoid transmitting contagious illnesses, follow these general self-isolation guidelines when sick:

  • Stay home until fever has resolved for at least 24 hours without fever-reducing medication.
  • Avoid going out until nasal discharge/coughing/sneezing has significantly improved.
  • Stop isolation only once symptoms have mostly resolved or turned mild.
  • Continue hand hygiene, masking and social distancing when emerging from home isolation when still mildly symptomatic.
  • Follow local health authority directives if guidance on isolation duration is provided for specific illnesses.

The CDC recommends ending home isolation for COVID-19 using the above criteria, in addition to 10 full days passing since onset of symptoms. Always stay home from work and school when clearly sick to avoid spreading viruses and bacteria.


Listening to your body’s need for rest is wise when you’re sick, especially during the first couple days of illness. However, studies show prolonged bed rest also delays recovery. Most experts advise gently getting up periodically when sick at home. Light activity for 5-10 minutes every few hours helps prevent muscle loss, stiffness, weakened bones and mood effects without overexerting yourself. Along with light activity, utilize home remedies, over-the-counter medications and telemedicine to support recovery. Stay hydrated and consult your doctor if symptoms persist or worsen. Getting adequate restorative rest while avoiding too many continuous hours in bed aids the body’s natural healing process.