What If You Stayed In Bed Forever?

VOICE OVER: Noah Baum WRITTEN BY: George Pacheco
Bed rest is rarely a bad thing... But what about spending your whole life in bed? In this video, Unveiled finds out what would happen to your body if you spent every single hour of every single day tucked up under the covers. From horrific bed sores to crippling mental health problems, this one is not for the faint hearted. It's the ultimate pyjama party, only it never ever ends! What do you think? Could you stay in bed forever?

What If You Stayed in Bed Forever?

There it is: that groggy, but universal feeling when your early morning alarm hits, and it's time to start the day. Most of us can relate to not wanting to get out of bed; preferring to stay relaxed in our warm and cushiony cocoon, content to sleep the day away. But you can have too much of a good thing.

This is Unveiled, and today we're answering the extraordinary question; What if you stayed in bed forever?

On a small scale, the majority of us have already experienced the effects of over-sleeping, at least to some degree. We spend a third of our lives asleep, and this is normal… but there are also those particular times, like on a Monday morning before a busy week, perhaps, when we try to sneak just a little bit more sleep than usual. And often, on these days, we experience some short-term effects of extended bed rest.

Have you ever found that comfy spot and felt relaxed enough to sleep eight, nine, ten or more hours of your day away? Afterwards, do you remember any head or muscle aches? Perhaps a feeling of soreness in your lower back and joints? Don’t worry, you're not alone, because these are the earliest symptoms and signs that you've been dozing for too long. Whenever we spend longer than usual tucked up in bed it can affect our blood flow and muscle health in a BIG way. So, say you were laid up for a week, some of those muscles that aren't being used can lose ten to fifteen percent of their strength. And, over longer periods of time, they’ll only continue to weaken.

Extended time beneath the sheets can also cause bedsores to develop, which aren't at all pretty. Also known as pressure ulcers, they occur when certain parts of the body don't receive the proper level of blood flow, thanks to an undue amount of pressure in that region. Bedsores start out as red, blotchy patches on your skin, but as they get worse, the skin gets thinner and more fragile, potentially resulting in wet, open wounds and blisters. The most extreme cases of bedsores have even been known to harm the muscle and bone underneath the skin, as part of deep tissue damage.

The immediate effects of uninterrupted bed rest don't stop at the skin and muscles, either. An extended period of ongoing stasis also decreases the body's endurance. Anyone who gets a lot of cardiovascular exercise knows how brutal and exhausting it can be to go running for the first time after taking a break from the sport. Now, imagine the difficulties you’d have if you hadn’t even left your bed for, say, a month? The depleted muscle mass, damaged skin and decreased fitness would make performing even the simplest tasks so much more difficult.

This hasn't stopped people from pushing their luck, though, as proved by the various examples of bed rest studies conducted by organizations like NASA. Back in 2014, Andrew Iwanicki made headlines when he was paid eighteen thousand dollars for a seventy-day bed rest study, before writing about the experience for Vice. But, Andrew was just one of over fifty people who volunteered for that particular study, and there have been lots more since.

The purpose behind these studies is usually to examine how long-term weightlessness could affect astronauts when on prospective deep space missions, or during long-term residency at a space station. Volunteers spend their time in bed with their heads angled downwards at six degrees, but they must do all of their normal daily activities while in this position. Eating, reading, showering and even going to the bathroom all must take place from the bed, all while participants are in constant interaction with scientists testing their muscle responses, fluid levels, mood and emotions.

The fluid levels are particularly important. It doesn't matter how comfortable you feel, any sort of extended bed rest will adversely affect blood flow throughout the body, prompting not only bed sores but also severe problems with your heart. Symptoms of severely hampered blood circulation can include cramping, tingling or numbness, while blood clots can break away from places like your legs and move to the heart, potentially causing a heart attack or stroke. In Andrew’s case, dramatic changes to his circulation made it difficult for him to even stand, once his 70 days was up.

If a person were to remain in bed forever, the immense circulation issues could eventually lead to them developing conditions such as peripheral artery disease or atherosclerosis, both of which can be fatal. In terms of just generally how you’d physically feel, previous bed rest experiments have led their subjects to describe a sensation as though their veins were elastic. So, there’s also that.

And remember, most of what we do know comes from controlled case studies like these, carried out in the name of science, where there’s at least a semblance of safety for everyone involved. If you really did choose to stay in bed forever, then there’d be no ‘cut off point’ for the physical changes you could go through. So, without at least some sort of bed-bound exercise routine to ensure correct circulation, the problems could get worse and worse.

This also isn't taking into account the intense mental and emotional strain such an experience might place upon a person. The European Space Agency teamed up with NASA in March 2019 for more sleep studies, this time calling for twelve men and twelve women to volunteer for a sixty-day experiment, in exchange for nineteen-thousand dollars.

The 24 subjects would be, once again, under constant examination by scientists. And, this particular study reportedly sees them spend some time in a centrifuge, to gain an even greater insight into what life as an astronaut is like. But, aside from the high-tech back-drop, there’s also an increasing emphasis on monitoring the psychological strains and experiences that extended rest can cause. It’s believed that there are links between feelings of isolation, depression and a tendency to ‘stay in bed’, so it’s feared that extended rest (or, perhaps, extended space travel) could exacerbate situations to a dangerous and potentially life-threatening level. So, these studies also work toward understanding how best to limit these negative effects.

Although the human body is very adaptable, the stories of those who have, either voluntarily or otherwise, experienced long-term bed rest are enough for us to assume that doing so forever would eventually kill us - with the risks rising as we aged. Even if we were young and healthy enough at the onset to withstand bed sores and blood flow issues, we’d all eventually grow older and more susceptible to various physical problems. Our body would literally break down, weakening much more quickly because of a dramatic decline in any physical activity. From there, we’d be at increased risk of developing potentially deadly skin, muscle or bone conditions; neurological problems; gastrointestinal failure; and/or cardiovascular disease. And, even if we avoided all of those, there’d still be heightened possibility of lapsing into dementia, mania or a deep, and potentially fatal, depression.

Hitting the snooze button two or three times isn't going to kill you. Similarly, bed rest is an essential part of the recovery process for lots of diseases and injuries, diagnosed by thousands of doctors and nurses on a daily basis. But it, like everything else, can be taken to a dangerous extreme. And that’s what would happen if you stayed in bed forever.