The Unmade Bed Dust Mite Theory.

The Unmade Bed Dust Mite Theory

One day a few years ago, my mom or aunt or someone made the mistake of mentioning this little tidbit to me: dust mites are much less likely to thrive in an unmade bed.
Music to my ears, people. (Also, “The Unmade Bed Dust Mite Theory” could totally be a band name.)

A National Sleep Foundation study estimates that about 71% of people make their beds daily (or “almost every day”) 1—I am absolutely not one of these people, and I fall into the 29% that are like, “Hey, I’ll be back tonight. Less work now AND less work later.” (Also, how many of the “almost every day” group are actually making their beds three-ish days a week and claiming that’s “almost” every day?). That’s about all I can find for stats—the rest of the internet’s discussion on “How many people make their bed everyday?” is a zigzag between the “Reasons You Should Make Your Bed Everyday” and “Reasons You Should Not Make Your Bed Everyday” camps—I’ll leave you to explore most of these on your own. Is it, however, as I was told, better for dissuading dust mites from taking up residence by not making your bed?

Most of my search terms are pretty caveperson-esque: “making bed dust mites” calls up a lot of results with primarily inflammatory titles, like the above—“Scientists Say Making Your Bed Is Gross” (not an actual title, but basically the same message and tone as the rest of them!). Dust mite allergies affect around 6% of Americans,2 so, I’m probably not the only person with a dust mite allergy who’s hoped to the Science Powers for truth in the unmade bed myth! Given the questionable titles of most of the available articles, though, I turned to the academics for an answer… Unfortunately, and with the help of Science Alert, I was able to find just one study that adequately explained where this information might have come from.

Ten years ago, researchers studied variabilities within the bedroom (there are lots, which vary even more from season to season and hour to hour… never mind house to house!), and within the bed itself,1 and how this affects dust mite populations (answer: conditions can range from super favourable for dust mite survival or super unfavourable… and it’s hard to predict this, as dust mites reproduce most predictably outdoors. 1 Here’s the deal—we have apparently 1.5 million dust mites chilling out in our beds.3 Nice, right? Ideally, washing your bedding regularly, including your pillows, and using dust mite covers can help if you have a dust mite allergy, as either high heat, steam (or, freezing) is the best way to kill dust mites. The first key point I learned is that dust mites need water to survive. Clearly, they’re not getting this in its liquid form, but instead, through the air in the room.1 They can also get this water through consumption of moist skin cells lost during sleep, which rapidly produce tiny bits of mold and provide nutrition for dust mites.1 As a 2001 research article stated, and I am sure this statistic applies to Americans, too, “The average Canadian consumes 3 L of fluid per day, more during the playoffs” (a note highly amusing to this Canadian!), and up to 1 litre of fluid (about the same as a quart) may be lost during sleep–making beds a perfect place for a midday meal for a dust mite–at least theoretically.4

The researchers, I’m sure, didn’t want to give their kids an excuse to not make their beds. And, while it is yet to be published, a follow-up study actually on making beds is apparently in the works, to demonstrate whether or not this does have an effect.3 However, the theory presented is that not making your bed gives the mites a chance to “dry out” by allowing airflow within the bed during the 16ish hours a day you are not occupying it, rather than trapping the mites under blankets immediately after waking, prolonging the time it takes for those more water-filled skin flakes to dry up, and enabling dust mites to feed on the water they need to survive in more ample qualities than room air. Science Alert, however, did consult an independent researcher who notes that most homes have a balanced level of humidity that is advantageous to dust mites (as opposed to the desert, which is not), and maintains that he does not see leaving your bed unmade to be a significant deterrent to dust mite reproduction… Certainly disappointing, but hopefully only a theory!3

So, sadly—for all of us in the 29% of non-bed-makers—I don’t have any definitive data for now. But, you can trust that I’ll be keeping an eye out for the follow up study. I’d really like to have a conclusive, research-backed reason to not make my bed (Although, the article cited from 15 years ago is a fun read that provides many reasons, dust mite related and non, for not making your bed, from injury to respiratory issues!). Instead, I’ll just make the most of the inconclusive nature of the research so that I maintain an actual reason to not make my bed!

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