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How to improve ergonomics when studying at home – five tips

Being a student is hard on the body. It can be difficult to find ergonomic workspaces at university, and when studying remotely, many simply work at home on the sofa or at the kitchen table. Here are five ways in which you can improve your ergonomics while studying, without professional office chairs or expensive tech.

Vary your working position

When it comes to ergonomics, the most important thing is not actually how you sit, but that you change your position often. There is nothing wrong with sitting on the sofa for a while, or with your legs crossed – as long as it feels comfortable. You could work standing up for a while, or lie down for a few minutes while going over what you have just read. The most important thing is not to spend too long sitting in the same position. If there are a group of you working together, perhaps you could swap places or even rooms with each other occasionally – not being surrounded by your usual distractions can also be good for concentration. There are of course a number of things that you can do to take the pressure off your neck and back when you are sitting down at a computer. For example, it is a good idea to have the top of the computer screen at eye level. The head is heavy and having to hold it up while leaning forward and downwards causes unnecessary strain on the neck. At the same time, it is not good to work with your arms too high up, so only place your laptop on a stack of books if you have access to an external keyboard and mouse.

Another way of making it easier to sit in a good position is to roll up a towel and place it under your legs while sitting, or by the small of your back, so that your hips tilt slightly forward and your back is supported, a little bit like sitting in an office chair.

If you still find yourself leaning forward a lot, remember to do some ‘opposite movements’ from time to time, for example by interlocking your hands behind your neck and pushing your head, so that you get a double chin.

Plan movement 

Plan as much movement as possible into your day. All movement is good – even if it is just a few steps across the room to grab a glass of water. Maybe you could run to the laundry room or make your bed during a planned break, do some sun salutations or toe lifts.

Doing good, realistic planning is generally an excellent ergonomic measure. If you feel stressed or fall behind, you tend to take fewer breaks and to sit for longer in front of the computer or the books. Your body then gets tense, not just because of the stress but also because of the static working without breaks.

Read more about how to write an effective to-do list
While you are planning, you can also plan some longer workouts, such as brisk walks or gym sessions. Book an activity along with a friend, that way it is easier not to prioritise something else.

If several of you are studying together, you can schedule some so-called, ‘walk-and-talks’ – discussing your studies while going for a walk. Problem-solving often works better on the move. If you are worried about forgetting what you talk about, you can always make a voice note on someone’s phone.

Read more about exercise and stress on the Student Health Centre’s website.

Visit the Student Health Centre’s website –

Don’t forget lighting

Light is also important to your working environment. If the light is poor, you tend to squint and strain to see better, which can lead to aches in the body. As a student with limited finances, it is not always possible to do anything about the lighting, but small and inexpensive changes can make a big difference.

It is a good thing if it is fairly light in the room where you are studying. If you don’t have a good ceiling light, try directing a small lamp towards the ceiling to spread the light out. If you are writing by hand or reading a book, it is good to have a reading light.

Light is good, especially daylight, but you should avoid having it shining straight into your eyes. For example, it is often better to have a window to one side of your workstation than in front of or behind you (if you are sitting at a screen which might reflect the light). A simple way of understanding whether or not you have a well-lit environment is to do the so-called ‘cap test’. This involves putting your hands in front of your eyes like the visor of a cap – if that feels nice, your eyes are probably a little strained.

Don’t forget noise

The overwhelming majority of us read, write and solve problems best in relatively quiet surroundings. Contrary to what many people believe, it seems that for example listening to music while studying does not work that well. Some research has shown that the music attracts focus from the brain, even though you might not notice it yourself since the music puts you in a good mood.

Sounds that compete with your studies for your attention also cause you to become tense and make concentration difficult. If, for example, you need to talk to someone in a Zoom classroom, it causes the brain stress if you need to talk over other sounds in your surroundings.

A fairly quiet study environment is a good thing, then. An exception might be if you have ADHD or other concentration difficulties – white noise might then help you to focus. It does not work for everyone, or in all situations, but it might be worth a try if you find it difficult to concentrate in certain environments. You can find white noise tracks on YouTube or Spotify, for example.

Feeling lonely can also be bad for your back

One often-overlooked measure to improve your working environment is to have others around you who you can both work and take breaks with constructively. Those studying digitally need to make a bit more of an effort to make contact with their fellow students, but that extra effort is worth it. Studying alongside others is not just enjoyable – it also helps learning.
Make it easy for others in the group to contact you; contribute to an atmosphere where you can get in touch to ask questions, undertake study sessions with each other, or indeed take breaks together. Teaching yourself about the digital tools you use in your studies can be a worthwhile investment, enabling you to use them to communicate with one another and facilitate collaboration.