The critics are coming for Gen Z’s latest ‘bed rotting’ trend, but one behavioral scientist calls it the ultimate ‘anti-productivity’ hack

Fortune Well July 24, 2023

Lifestyle

The critics are coming for Gen Z’s latest ‘bed rotting’ trend, but one behavioral scientist calls it the ultimate ‘anti-productivity’ hack

Some call it ‘Netflix and chill’ or vegging. I call it horizontal time. 

Whatever you call it, getting cozy and lying in bed for an extended period of time—and maybe drifting in and out of sleep, eating, talking on the phone, or watching a show—is not a new concept. But like everything else, Gen Z has given an old phenomenon a new name, albeit a not-so-appetizing one: Hello, bed rotting. The phrase has garnered over 100 million TikTok views. 

In an era of optimization, TikTokers are saying no thank you to hyper-productivity and introducing “rot girl summer.” 

 

But the critics have weighed in, suggesting that this is another example of Gen Z’s laziness. And a CNN article says the trend “reveals the toxic side of self-care.” 

Is bed rotting really that bad? The answer is complicated. Some experts say bed rotters are onto something, but there may be a right way to think about it.

 

The ‘anti-productivity’ hack 

The onslaught of self-care rituals posted everywhere—think elaborate morning routines filled with expensive green juice and yoga—have turned taking time for yourself into a daunting, time-consuming, and pricey endeavor. 

So while the term bed rotting makes me think of a decaying piece of takeout left in a bag next to the bed, maybe that’s the whole point. 

“It sounds like a bit of a reaction against all of the healthy, wellness, self-care-type trends that we hear all the time. It has a much more grimy feel to it, and, because of that, it does suggest that people are getting a little fed up with all of the clean living, clean eating, et cetera,” Audrey Tang, a psychologist with the British Psychological Society who studies burnout, told Refinery 29. 

For Shainna Ali, a certified mental health counselor and author of Designing Healthy Boundaries: A Guide to Embracing Self-Love, Building Better Boundaries, and Protecting Your Peace, this trend doesn’t come as a shock. 

“We all need time to recuperate and rest,” she tells Fortune. “That has been trending in recent years, especially when we think about burnout.” 

Slowing down, listening to your body, and taking stock of when you need to take a break have been shown to help energize you at work and home. 

“It is the end of optimization. It is anti-productivity,” Vanessa Hill, a behavioral scientist and creator of the YouTube series BrainCraft, says in a recent TikTok. “Bed rotting is 100% backed by science, just sink into your sheets and stay there.” 

 

Don’t get trapped under the covers 

While “rest is a requirement, not a reward,” Ali says you have to be careful the pendulum doesn’t swing too far in the other direction. “The swing can cause more harm than good,” Ali says, noting that everything still requires balance. 

She recommends going into a bed-rotting mindset with a plan. 

“There’s no limits or boundaries on how long or what you would need,” Ali says. “There’s no reflection: ‘What am I doing this for? Why am I doing this?’ How long are you going to stay there?” 

Have an intention and set a boundary, like planning to stay in bed for an extra couple of hours, calling a friend, or taking a nap. However, if you get caught in the draining activity of doom-scrolling and don’t set any limits, you may end up feeling worse than when you started. 

What’s more, active rest, like getting outside, socializing with others, and exercising can also serve us, Ali says. 

“It doesn’t need to go from chronic burnout to bed rotting,” she says. 

 

‘Bed rotting’ illustrates a larger youth mental health problem 

Experts also warn staying in bed for a prolonged time can be a sign of depression and can disrupt sleep patterns. 

“It can really lead to kind of dissociation from one’s surroundings,” Joanna Grover, a licensed clinical social worker and author of The Choice Point, tells Fortune. “I’m sorry that young people even have this option.” 

For those struggling with an underlying mental health condition, Grover says proactively treating it first is essential. 

“I would want to rule out depression,” she says.  

But Hill tells the critics on her platform to “just let the people rot.” I suppose if you’re rotting correctly with a boundary and being reflective, it may not be so bad. 

“You’re allowed to live life under a blanket,” she tells her audience. “Just rest and be soft.” 


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