TikTok has finally landed on a word to describe that most guilty of everyday pleasures — laying in bed and doing nothing. It’s called “bed rot.”
According to one user (a self-proclaimed “expert long before TikTok”), bed rotting “is when people decide to stay in bed all day doing immobile activities that include sleeping, watching TV or being on the phone.” TikToks of bed rotters are shot from beds, reclining on pillows, or show people tucked under covers, surrounded by snacks and glued to a laptop.
Some TikToks are shot through with irony: a makeup tutorial captioned “Grwm [get ready with me] to rot in bed all day.” Others touch on self-acceptance: “Normally in the past if I stayed in bed all day, I would feel guilty,” one TikToker says, “but now that I learned this is a thing, I am no longer going to feel guilty for bed rotting.”
Jessi Gold, MD, MS, an assistant professor in the department of psychiatry at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, told MedPage Today that her “understanding is that it’s sort of like a Gen Z self-care.”
“It was posted in a bunch of TikTok videos as sort of partially funny, partially true — that their coping skill was to sleep all day,” she said.
After Gold (who is on the MedPage Today editorial board) shot her own TikTok on bed rotting, MedPage Today spoke with her about the social media phenomenon itself and its implications for healthcare professionals.
Gold said that she had only recently heard the term brought up in a handful of sessions, but the habit is nothing new. “I do think that most of us can probably point to a time where that’s what we did. It just didn’t have a trendy name,” she noted.
The term may have ignited public discourse for different reasons, she added. An increasingly online world has pushed once-private topics — like mental health — to the forefront of a collective conversation, which can provide a feeling of togetherness.
“These terms kind of originate when people are trying to find an explanation for something that they’re doing, and they like labels — labels help them feel less alone and more understood,” said Gold. “Especially [on] social media, they really like mental health terms, in layman’s speak, because it allows them to bond over attachment or relationships … in a way that feels like they’re not by themselves.”
That said, too much passive “bed rotting” can flag a deeper problem. “Isolation, sleep, fatigue, oversleeping, are symptoms of depression. When you’re super, super anxious, you basically have been running a marathon for a long period of time, so you’re tired and so you might want to sleep,” Gold explained. “And there’s also an avoidant component of sleep, which is if I’m sleeping, I actually then don’t have to think about what all my stressors are that I’m dealing with, or that I have feelings.”
Fatigue could also signal another health problem, like low iron, low B12 levels, thyroid problems, or the flu, she said. “There are a lot of things where fatigue is the primary symptom,” she noted, adding that it can be useful to take a step back and examine the reason behind the bed rotting: “if you turn to it all the time … you probably want to start looking into that and asking yourself why you’re doing it.”
Moreover, the act of bed rotting itself can result in negative health effects. Too much at night could seriously damage sleep hygiene, Gold said, and if “you come home at 5:00 and you just go sit in bed until the morning, eventually, that’s actually going to make you sad. Our brains are going to go like, ‘Well, why am I doing that? I’m alone. Nobody else is here. I have nothing else to do. I’m bored.’ Whatever it does, it doesn’t do good things for your mental health … We’re social species.”
Recent surveys have suggested that Americans, especially younger people, are spending less time out socializing and more time alone and online. But what counts as “too much” passive solo time for one person may not count for another. Though diagnostic tools for depression, for example, ask patients about their sleep habits over the last 2 weeks (“feeling tired or having little energy,” “trouble falling or staying asleep, or sleeping too much” from “not at all” to “nearly every day”), an affirmative answer on one component doesn’t mean a patient is depressed.
After ruling out other health issues that could cause fatigue, “frequency is a helpful measure in mental health, and interference in day-to-day life is a helpful measure for mental health,” Gold said. It’s also important to assess how different the behavior is from your baseline habits, she added.
Gold, whose clients include many healthcare professionals, said they can be particularly susceptible to “bed rot” because of how demanding their jobs are.
She herself has even fallen prey to the pull of a bed or couch. “I have two speeds, and one is 100 and one is zero, and there’s no in-between,” Gold said. “And that’s probably something that healthcare workers and people who are overly ambitious struggle with, which is knowing how to shut down and not be achieving consistently, but also not be sleeping all day and doing nothing.”
Healthcare providers working with patients who bring up “bed rotting,” however, should approach it with curiosity rather than dismissing it as a “silly slang word,” she said. “Most of the time when my patients use words that I don’t know, it just makes you feel old — but they don’t care when you ask. I think they would rather you be like, ‘I’ve heard that term from social media. Can you tell me more about it?’ than to shut off because that wasn’t something that we learned on the checklist at medical school.”