Sleep Hygiene - Can Dirty Sheets Cause Illness?


Cleanliness during your downtime in bed is a health concern everyone should consider, especially when we spend roughly 33 percent (or one-third) of our lifetimes in bed. Also, considering we aren't aware of what we do in our sleep, our bed sheets and pillows are a prime deposit spot for bodily substances such as dirt, mucus, drool, hair, urine, and fecal matter. After hours of being in bed daily, it's no surprise our beds are a breeding ground for a broad spectrum of microorganisms. But is there that much of a risk?

  • Pets may not be doing any cleanliness favors.

For many pet owners, sharing beds with them is one of the ways to show love and care for. However, doing so will undoubtedly result in a build-up of fur and dander, which may be especially problematic during the warmer months as they shed more. In addition, the build-up of your pet's fur and dander is essentially ringing the dinner bell for dust mites. In addition, as you sleep soundly under a warm blanket, you may unknowingly attract another nuisance, especially if you don't wear long clothing to bed - fleas. Usually, flea bites cause mild irritation and itching, but they have been known to transmit severe or life-threatening diseases.

  • Beds are the prime spot for bacterial parties.

A bed can be considered a human-sized petri dish if secretions of saliva, dead skin cells, and sweat are left alone long enough. The pillow you are sleeping on may be filthier than a toilet seat. Pillowcases that have not been washed for seven days were shown to have 17,000 times more bacterial colonies than the samples tested from toilet seats, as shown by laboratory testing.

  • You may be sick longer on dirty sheets.

Your bedding may be to blame if you've ever had a persistent stomach illness or cold that seemed to linger. Life longevity can vary significantly for bacteria and viruses on soft materials, surviving only a few minutes to several hours. Hours of external exposure to the same pathogen that made you sick can put additional strain on your immune system, which delays recovery. For example, between 8 to 12 hours is the survival time for Influenza viruses on tissues and fabrics, while Staphylococcus aureus can thrive on cotton bedding for seven days.

  • Dust mites love to feed off of us - quite literally.

Did you know your body sloughs off 500 million skin cells daily? When we toss, turn over, and get in and out of bed, our bodies shed the most. These dead skin cells can quickly build up throughout our beds and sheet the longer they go between changes and washes. As more dust mites reproduce and feed off of a seemingly infinite supply of dead skin cells, the likelihood increases of allergic reactions, as well as shortness of breath and flare-ups of an itchy skin condition called eczema.