You’re never truly alone when you're in bed. Your sheets and especially your mattress are home to a complex ecosystem of creepy crawlers that range in scale from those that can be seen by the naked eye to those that can only be detected using a microscope. According to researchers at the University of North Carolina, nearly 500 species of insects inhabit your home, and a good deal of these squatters concentrate on your mattress. Why wouldn't they? It’s dark under those sheets, warm, comfy and sometimes damp from perspiration — just the kind of place bugs like to hang out.
As disgusting as that sounds, it gets worse. These pests are actually thriving in your bed thanks to an endless and extremely rich food supply: you. In fact, they gorge themselves nightly on a veritable buffet of your body’s cast offs: hair and skin cells, sweat, tears, earwax, drool, mucous and other such detritus. Then there’s the blood — tangy, iron-rich liquid goodness that, technically speaking, is not a waste product but the distinction is lost on hungry arthropods, the scientific classification under which most of the vampire buggers fall.
Itchy? Disgusted? Sure. But there are a number of things you can do to prevent a major infestation. As such, here are twelve key tips for keeping the creepy crawlers out of your bedroom. Oh, and if you're not the squeamish sort, then you can read on for a rundown of the most common bugs that may be snuggling up with you when the lights go out.
1. Treat Yourself to a New Pillow Every Two Years
In addition to microscopic mites, pillows can harbor all kinds of bacteria, molds, and yeasts. Wash your pillow every three months in in hot water (122-130F). After two years pass, toss it.
2. Choose a Mattress that has Hypoallergenic Properties
And you should buy a new one every seven to ten years.
3. Eliminate clutter
That goes for messes near, on or under your bed, which simply provides bugs other places to nest and hide.
4. Keep your sleeping quarters cool and dry
Setting the thermostat too high can cause you to sweat as you sleep — up to a half pint a night — which creates the kind of dampness bugs love. Plus, the optimal environment for your sleep sits somewhere around 65-degrees.
5. Air it Out
Allow your bed to air out for ten to fifteen minutes before making it each morning. If you have a ceiling fan above the bed, turn it for a few minutes to circulate air.
6. Wrap Your Mattress
… and box spring, and pillows in allergen-blocking bed coverings. These are made of tightly woven fabric or vinyl that microscopic mites can’t escape. Once zippered in, the bugs will be enclosed and eventually die.
7. Clean your Bedding (at least) Once a Week
...and use very hot water (122-130 F) to eliminate any hangers on. Stick to a similar schedule with your pet’s bedding.
8. Run the Vacuum Regularly
More specifically — use it across the floor every other day. Vacuums with double-layered micro-filter bags or a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters are best since they keep most of the dust that’s sucked up from becoming airborne. If you have pets, focus a little harder on the rooms where they sleep. To get rid of spiders, vacuum the corners of your home and knock down webs with a broom.
9. Install Screens
And not just in your bedroom but in all of your windows and doors. This will keep out a lot of bugs, including the flying insects that entice spiders.
10. Never Eat or Drink in Bed
This is a no brainer: Food crumbs are the equivalent of sending out invitations to ants, cockroaches and rodents.
11. Evict Your Pets
From the bed, that is. They can potentially bring in any number of hangers-on into the sheets. But if you can’t help cuddling with them, then at least make sure to treat them for fleas and ticks, which means using flea collars or bathing them regularly using preventative shampoos. Also, be sure to have them inoculated for roundworm and hookworm.
12. Check the Crevices
When changing your sheets, check the crevices of bed frames and along mattress seams for bed bugs or the evidence they leave behind: reddish-brown staining. If that's the case, call an exterminator ASAP. And start stocking up on a lot of Ziploc bags.
Now that you know how to prevent the bugs, here's a rundown of the bugs for which you should be aware. Fair warning: Only the curious minded and those bent on self-torture should read on.
About 10 million mites inhabit the average mattress, feasting off the 5-10 grams of dead skin cells humans shed each week. Mites are generally harmless to humans, but they can cause or affect various types of skin conditions including eczema, atopic dermatitis and rosacea. Mite droppings, which are present in mattresses in the billions, are inhaled as we sleep and are the source of allergy and asthma attacks as well as headaches, fatigue and depression.
Scabies are a particular kind of microscopic mite known as a Sarcoptas scabiei that thrive in warm places like beds. Females of the species cause a highly contagious and extremely itchy skins infection in humans that is the body’s reaction to their terrifying mission: burrowing into your skin to lay their eggs. Infants, toddlers, the elderly and those living in crowded conditions are the most at risk for infection.
Scientists recently discovered a fossilized louse egg on a strand of human hair that was 10,000 years old, a fact that tells us something about the staying power of lice. Mothers of school age children can concur. There are 5,000 species of lice, all members of the Phthiraptera family. But the ones that make their home in the hairy parts of our bodies and scalps and move across our mattresses or on clothing fibers from one person to another are commonly referred to as body lice. The less mature of us may reffer to them as “cooties" but just don't call him late for dinner: Lice feed on your blood about once a day using a small straw-like toothed appendage. The furious itching we feel is the result of the body’s reaction to their saliva.
There seem to be as many myths about spiders as there are species of the eight-legged wonders. One that turns out to be true, given the aforementioned North Carolina study, is that you’re never more than ten feet away from a spider, even in your own home. What isn’t true about spiders is the notion that we accidentally ingest several of these bad boys each year as we sleep. Entomologists agree that while spiders may be bold enough to crawl on us, they respect us as giant predators and know enough to steer clear of our teeth-filled mouths.
The arthrapods are found on every continent in the world except Antarctica, and there are approximately 45,000 species. That sounds frightening, but their pervasiveness is actually a good thing. They're responsible for ridding us of other common household pests such as ants, termites, mosquitoes, bees and wasps. The majority of household spiders are not dangerous but there are occasions when a brown recluse spider will bite a sleeping human. Brown recluses are mild-mannered species of spider that is also fairly venomous. They leave their nest on a nightly basis, climbing down walls and sometimes winding up in our beds on the hunt for the other bugs that may reside there. We may get bit when we roll over on them in our sleep. It’s that simple. Only a small percentage of all such bites are venomous, causing swelling at the point of contact, severe pain, tissue damage and, in very rare cases, anaphylactic shock.
As we all likely know by now, bed bugs are flat reddish-brown insects that feed on human blood, and are sent from Hell to torture us. They are the stars of today’s bedroom-centric headlines and Internet slideshows, but for good reason: the bed bug has made quite the comeback after nearly being wiped out in the US during the 1940s with the aid of DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane), a pesticide that was banned in 1972. Since then, and as a result of booming international travel, shipping and unchecked immigration into the US, bed bugs marshaled their forces over the last several decades.
In addition to having evolved a resistance to most pesticides, the pests are prolific multipliers and enthusiastic travelers, routinely hitching rides from bed to bed on clothing, bags and shoes. The fact that their bites cannot generally be felt is no consolation to those who suffer nightly attacks. Although bed bugs are not known to transmit diseases such as MRSA, Zika or hepatitis, the jury is still out on whether they can transmit arboviruses such as encephalitis.
Recent polls show that nearly three-quarters of adult pet owners sleep with their animals. That’s understandable given how comforting they are, but you should know that doing so automatically increases the odds bugs will make their way into your bed. Research conducted by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta on the topic of zoonosis, or the transfer of diseases from animals to humans, indicates there are some dangerous trespassers to consider.
Roundworm and Hookworms
Roundworms or nematodes are small parasitic worms that are so common in dogs that almost all have them at one time. Dogs are most susceptible as puppies, just before they get their heartworm shots. Adult roundworms make their home in a dog’s intestines, but they can also make their way into the lungs and other organs. Like roundworms, hookworms attach themselves to your dog or cat’s intestinal tract, where they feed on blood. Pets pass these parasites onto their sleeping owners in residual fecal matter that contain the parasitic eggs. In humans, these destructive worms can cause, among other things, immune system and neurological issues.
How common are fleas? Americans spend nearly 4 billion dollars a year to kill the tiny jumping blood suckers, which lie in wait to attach themselves on hairy creatures like dogs and cats who take them into your bed. Once there, they frequently make the leap to the hairy parts of your body, where they use a tiny needle-like mouth to pierce your skin in search of a bloody meal. Because fleas can go from feasting on rats and mice to dogs and cats and then you, they have the potential to transmit deadly diseases like the bubonic plague, spotted fever and typhus. More commonly, however, fleabites result in rash, swelling and anemia. Fleas lay their eggs away from their hosts, on carpets, furniture and bedding where the hatchlings can latch onto you or your pet and continue the life cycle.
There are 800 species of ticks in the world and all of them are out for blood. Ticks attach to their hosts by inserting parts of their mouth into the skin and then excreting a sticky bodily fluid that helps them stay aboard. Depending on the type of tick that’s feeding, it will feast for hours or days and then drop off, leaving a visible welt. Dropping off onto your bed means it’s free to latch onto you. Given all the recent news about mosquitos that can carry Zika and West Nile virus, it’s easy to conclude mosquitoes are the leading transmitters of disease to humans, but you’d be wrong. Ticks are the champion belt-holders in that regard. They may have been keeping a low profile since 1982 when it was discovered they transmitted Lyme Disease, but they are responsible for passing along an overwhelming number of truly dangerous diseases via their saliva. These include Lyme Disease, Colorado Fever, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Heartland Virus and Meningoencephalitis.