Two kids were talking: “I don’t think my Mom knows much about children.” “Why do you say that?” “Because she always puts me to bed when I’m wide awake, and gets me up when I’m sleepy!”
It is a statement that countless children have heard from adults as boys and girls head off to their bedroom, “Sleep tight, and don’t let the bed bugs bite.” What does all that mean? “Sleep tight” goes back to the days of rope beds. It order to sleep well, the ropes had to be tightened on a regular basis (if the ropes became too slack, the bed would sag and the occupant would have a very uncomfortable sleep. So one of the regular household chores was to use the bed wrench to tighten the ropes every day so they remained taut. (Some even believe that a passive aggressive way to get rid of unwanted guests was to let the ropes sink lower and lower, until the bed became so uncomfortable that the guests would leave.) “And don’t let the bed bugs bite” comes from such bugs living in the mattresses and biting you in your sleep, so don’t let them do so by wearing a full nightgown.
But the truth is, we bring far more microbes to our bed than we get from our mattress. When we burrow under our blankets and snuggle up to our pillows, the trillions of microbes that make up our microbiome are right there with us and left behind when we get up.
And how bad can it be? Even worse than the bed of a chimpanzee! Megan Thoemmes is a doctoral candidate for a Ph.D. in microbiology. She recently presented a study to the Royal Society of Open Science in their May, 2018 meeting. In her research, she compared the amount of bacteria left behind in the bed of monkeys compared to the amount of bacteria left behind in the bed of humans. For the monkeys, she travelled to the African nation of Tanzania and over a period of time, swabbed the sleeping quarters of 40 such animals. For the humans, she travelled to America and over a period of time, swabbed the sleeping quarters of 40 different individuals. And her findings? “In general, bacteria found so abundantly in human beds was almost non-existent in chimpanzee beds.” How can that possibly be? According to Ms. Thoemmes it has something to do with the fact that monkeys change the leaves in their tree beds far more often than humans change the sheets in their home bed. But it has much more to do with the eco-balance in creation; that the antidote for living bacteria is in nature’s air. And because the monkey is outside all the time, whatever bacteria it leaves behind is being countered by nature’s air. However, because humans are far more inside, often with all the windows closed (think central heat or central cool), the same bacterial countering is not regularly taking place.
The bottom line? If we are going to “sleep tight and not let the bed bugs bite”, it wouldn’t hurt to make sure the sheets are being changed. But for overall health – inside and outside the bedroom – open up some windows.