There’s nothing quite like crawling into bed, wrapping up in your blankets, and nestling your head into your pillow. But before you get too comfortable, you might want to know that your bed isn’t all that 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 whole host of germs such as bacteria, fungi, viruses, and even tiny bugs to grow.
Here are just a few of the things that lurk beneath our covers.
Our beds can play a host to a vast variety of bacterial species.
For example, research looking at hospital bed linens found that Staphylococcus bacteria were common. These bacteria are typically harmless, but can cause serious illness when they enter the body through an open wound – and certain species of Staphylococcus can cause more harm than others.
Take Staphylococcus aureus, which is fairly contagious and can cause skin infections, pneumonia, and worsen acne. Not only have S. aureus been found to live on pillowcases, research also shows that some strains are resistant to antibiotics.
Research also shows that alongside 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 as they’re highly resistant to antibiotics and can cause serious human infections – including urinary tract infections, pneumonia, diarrhea, meningitis, and sepsis if they get into the body.
Some strains of E. coli can also be very infectious, and may cause urinary tract infections, traveler’s diarrhea, and pneumonia. This is why washing your hands properly after using the toilet is important to prevent transferring this bacteria to other parts of your home.
Of course, hospitals are very different from our at-home environment. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t still possible for these bacteria to get into our beds. In fact, around a third of people carry Staphylococcus aureus in their bodies.
People that carry S. aureus can shed the organism in large numbers – meaning it’d be pretty easy for Staphylococcus bacteria to be transferred into your bed at home.
You shed around 500 million skin cells per day – while sleeping in bed. These skin cells may attract and be eaten by microscopic dust mites. These mites and their droppings can trigger allergies and even asthma.
Bedbugs can also be a danger. Although these tiny bugs (around 5mm long) haven’t been shown to transmit disease, they can cause itchy red bite marks – alongside a variety of mental health effects, including anxiety, insomnia, and allergies.
Bedbugs can be carried into homes on soft surfaces, such as clothes or backpacks, or by other family members.
Washing and drying bed linens on a high temperature (around 55°C) will kill dust mites, but bedbugs may need to be professionally exterminated.
You can also bring germs to your bed from contaminated household items – such as clothing, towels, the toilet or bath, kitchen surfaces, or even pets.
Bathroom and kitchen towels play host to a variety of bacterial species, including S. aureus and E. coli. Improper laundering can also spread these germs to other items – including our bed sheets. Even diseases like gonorrhea can be transmitted through contaminated towels or bedding.
Different microbial species will survive on fabrics for different periods of time. S. aureus, for example, can survive for a week on cotton and two weeks on terry cloth. And fungal species (such as Candida albicans, which can cause oral thrush, urinary tract infections, and genital yeast infections) can survive on fabrics for up to a month.