Sleep Hygiene: Pillows Are Overgrown with Bacteria, Fungi and Bugs

Sleeping is a favorite activity for many people. After a long day of work or taking care of a household, sometimes it’s nice to crawl into a comfortable bed and sleep for a few hours. What most people don’t realize is that the pillow they snuggle up with could contain millions of bugs, bacteria and fungi. Duncan Bain is the technical director of Gabriel Scientific, a manufacturer of hygienic pillows. Bain says, “If you had to come up with a medium to cultivate bacteria, besides a Petri dish with agar a pillow is pretty much as good as you can get.”

Hospital Pillows

A study was done on the pillows used in hospitals located in London. The surfaces of the pillows were often contaminated and had organism living on them. These included things like the flu, chicken pox, leprosy and strains of E-Coli. Organisms that could cause problems with breathing and the urinary tract were also found on the pillows.

They found that the pillows also had staphylococcus hominus, with a density of 1 million per liter. Dr. Arthur Tucker was one of the researchers on the study, and he described these levels as being a “bio-hazard.”

David Woolfson is a co-founder of Gabriel Scientific, a company that manufactures hygiene friendly pillows. Woolfson says, “It is not just a problem for hospitals. It is an issue for anyone who wants to get a good night’s sleep.”

The study showed that bacteria and many germs easily get inside into the pillows through tears and can live there. They found that 33% of the weight of a pillow could be comprised of dead skin cells, bugs, dust mites and dust mite feces. Bacteria easily grow within a pillow, and the pillow is often never washed.

Sleeping On a Zoo

Ashley Woodcock is a professor of respiratory medicine at the University of Manchester in England. Woodcock says, “”It’s a zoo inside your pillow, I’m sure.” They studied 10 pillows. The pillows were anywhere between 18 months – 20 years old.

He stated that the pillow is like a zoo because he found more than a million fungi spores within the pillows. The million spores produced more than 16 different types of fungi, which included bread and shower mold. Many people use “hypo-allergenic” or synthetic pillows because they feel that they are more hygienic. His study showed that these pillows often produced more fungi than organic down pillows.

Pillows and the bedroom in general is often a rich habitat for dust mites. These dust mites live off fungi found in pillows. After the dust mites eat, they leave dust mite feces. The fungi also absorb the dust mite feces. Humans also supply skin flakes, bodily fluids and bacteria that dust mites and fungi feed off. When people sleep, they also add 20 gallons of sweat into their bed. This adds to the zoo effect, allowing even more microorganisms to breed.

Cleaning a Pillow

It is not enough to simply change the pillowcase. Many pillows have organisms living within the actual pillow, so changing the pillowcase only applies superficial changes. Changing pillows occasionally is helpful.

It is advisable to shake a pillow often and to let it sit in the sunlight. If you have a pillow protector, you should wash it regularly. It is also helpful to vacuum the pillow every couple weeks. All these precautions can help reduce the amount of bacteria and other growths.

Sources:

Sleep Hygiene: Bugs and Bacteria in Pillows

Sleep Hygiene: The Zoo Effect

Sleep Hygiene: How to Clean Pillows