Sleep Hygiene

Good mattress hygiene can both contribute to a restful night's sleep and save you some serious headaches, and it's now more important than ever. These days mattresses are made with a lot of smart technology. They tend to last a long time, and it's not unusual to get ten or more years out of a high-quality mattress. Because your mattress can have a long life span, it has a lot of time to gather dust, debris, mold, moisture, and other things that can create health hazards.

The ugly truth is that when you sleep, you can sweat off a lot of moisture (as much as a pint a night) and slough off a lot of hair and skin. If you make a habit of snacking in bed, then you add crumbs of food to the mix. Lastly, most homes are now climate controlled, and so bedrooms are at a comfortable temperature year-round, both for you and for small spores, molds, bacteria, and even insects.

Allergies and Dust Mites and Bed Bugs, Oh My!

Given the ideal environment your bed and mattress offer for sleep, what other residents are likely to take up residence in your bedroom and what impact can they have on your health?

Many people suffer from allergies - to pollen, to food, to animal dander, and to dust. Many allergies also stem from dust mites. Dust mites are very small insects that can be found in homes around the world. They are tiny relatives of spiders and ticks that have eight legs, no eyes, and are more or less just a stomach on legs. Dermatophagoides farinae is the scientific name for household dust mites. It's unpleasant to think about, but dust mites eat the skin that falls off people every day (and night). They eat enough of it to produce twenty or so small pellets of fecal waste. Humans can breath in this waste and it can cause allergic reactions. These reactions in turn can make you feel tired, irritate respiratory function, and lead to a lousy night's sleep.

There can be millions of dust mites in a single mattress. And dust mite infestation in homes is not uncommon- as many as 44 million American households are thought to have dust mite problems.

Bed bugs (Cimex lectularius) are another unpleasant tenant in bedrooms with unhygienic sleeping conditions. Their name is cute - it even shows up in a nursery rhyme (good night, sleep tight) but dealing with them is far from cute.

They are small - usually just a fraction of an inch long - and nocturnal, hiding during the day. At night they come out and attach to human beings. They inject a coagulating agent and numbing substance and not unlike a large mosquito will suck the blood out of sleeping people. Most of the time people awaken with small itchy welts. Sometimes they can have allergic reactions leaving large hives and severe skin irritation. In extreme cases bed bug bites can cause anaphylactic shock in reaction to the substances they inject while feeding.

Treatment and Prevention.

Bed bug bites usually heal themselves and treatment with ointments (like cortisone) can minimize discomfort. If you have an allergic reaction, see your physician. Similarly, treatment of allergies due to dust mites is often over-the-counter symptom relief from antihistamine.

Once you've treated the symptoms, you should move on to eliminating any current infestations and preventing new ones. If you suspect you have bedbugs or dust mites, put your pajamas and bed sheets in the freezer for at least 24 hours. Then wash them in hot water. This should kill any organisms on your clothes and sheets.

Next give your bedroom (and house) a thorough cleaning. For bed bug infestations, consult an insect exterminator.

To prevent future infestations:

  • Vacuum your home weekly
  • Don't eat food in bed
  • Inspect older, antique or second hand furniture before bringing it into your home
  • Change your bed linens at least once per week
  • Eliminate bird and bat residences near your home - bedbugs often live with birds and bats
  • Caulk cracks and crevices around your home
  • Make sure your mattress hasn't turned into a site of infestation

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