There’s nothing like crawling into bed, wrapping yourself in your blankets, and cuddling your head in your pillow.
But before you get too comfortable, you may want to know that your bed isn’t entirely dissimilar to a petri dish.
The combination of sweat, saliva, dandruff, dead skin cells and even food particles make it the optimal environment for a wide variety of germs such as bacteria, fungi, viruses and even tiny bugs.
Here are just a few of the things that lurk under our covers.
Our beds can harbor a wide variety of types of bacteria.
For example, a study of hospital bed linen found that Staphylococcus bacteria are common.
These bacteria are usually harmless but can cause serious illness if they enter the body through an open wound – and certain types of Staphylococcus can do more harm than others.
Take Staphylococcus aureus, which is quite contagious and can cause skin infections, pneumonia, and acne.
Not only has S. aureus been found to live on pillowcases, research also shows that some strains are resistant to antibiotics.
Research also shows that in addition to Staphylococcus, E. coli and other similar bacteria known as gram-negative bacteria are also common in hospital beds.
Gram-negative bacteria are a serious health problem because they are very resistant to antibiotics and if they enter the body can cause serious infections in humans, including urinary tract infections, pneumonia, diarrhea, meningitis, and sepsis.
Some strains of E. coli can also be very contagious, causing urinary tract infections, travelers’ diarrhea, and pneumonia.
For this reason, it’s important to wash your hands properly after using the toilet to prevent these bacteria from spreading to other parts of your home.
Of course, hospitals are very different from our home environment.
But that doesn’t mean that these bacteria aren’t still able to invade our beds.
In fact, around a third of people carry Staphylococcus aureus in their body.
People carrying S. aureus can excrete the organism in large numbers, which means that Staphylococcus bacteria can be passed into your bed at home fairly easily.
You lose around 500 million skin cells a day while you sleep in bed.
These skin cells can attract microscopic dust mites and be eaten by them. These mites and their droppings can cause allergies and even asthma.
Bed bugs can also be a threat.
Although these tiny bugs (about 5 millimeters long) don’t transmit disease, they can cause itchy red bite marks – along with a variety of psychological effects, including anxiety, insomnia, and allergies.
Bed bugs can be carried into the house on soft surfaces such as clothing or backpacks, or by other family members.
Washing and drying bed linen at high temperatures (around 55 degrees Celsius) kills dust mites, but bed bugs may need to be professionally eradicated.
They can also bring germs into your bed from contaminated household items such as clothes, towels, toilet or bath, kitchen surfaces, or even pets.
Bathroom and kitchen towels are home to a variety of types of bacteria, including S. aureus and E. coli.
Improper washing can also transfer these germs to other items – including our bed linen. Diseases such as gonorrhea can also be transmitted through contaminated towels or bed linen.
Germs lurking in your towels can easily get onto your bedding. Different types of microbes survive on fabrics for different periods of time.
For example, S. aureus can survive for a week on cotton and two weeks on terrycloth.
And species of fungi (like Candida albicans, which can cause oral thrush, urinary tract infections, and genital yeast infections) can survive on fabrics for up to a month.
Influenza viruses can also survive on fabrics and tissues for eight to twelve hours.
Some other types of virus, such as vaccinia virus, can live on wool and cotton for up to 14 weeks.
Correct and regular washing is the key to preventing germs from developing into a real health hazard.
But how often should you change your sheets?
Since we cannot wash our bed linen every day, you can air your bed linen every morning.
Because moisture builds up in them while you sleep, pulling back the comforter to allow the sheets to breathe before the bed is made means that your sheets and mattress will become a less attractive nesting place for bacteria and dust mites.
Mattresses can also be a great source of bacteria and microbes as flakes of skin, food debris, and fungus build up over the years.
Since a mattress is difficult to wash, using a washable cover – and washing it every week or two – can help reduce the number of microbes that live there.
Vacuuming the mattress and bed base monthly also helps remove allergens and dust. Turn your mattress over often – or buy a new one if it’s over 10 years old.
It is recommended that you wash your bedding every week (or more often if possible) – especially if you spend a lot of time in bed, sleep naked, or sweat a lot at night.
It is also recommended that you change pillowcases every two to three days.
All bed linen should be washed at warm to high temperatures (approx. 40-60 ° C) to effectively kill germs.
Avoid overloading washing machines, use enough soap, and make sure the bedding is completely dry before use.
Showering before bed, avoiding naps or going to bed sweaty, removing makeup, and skipping lotions, creams, and oils right before bed can help keep laundry cleaner between washes.
Not eating or drinking in bed, keeping pets off bed linen, and removing dirty socks will also help.
Manal Mohammed, Lecturer, Medical Microbiology, University of Westminster
This article was republished by The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.