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Why you should change your habits on changing your bed sheets

A cadet pulls his sheets tight to get his bed ready for inspection at the Hawaii National Guard Youth Challenge Academy in Kapolei, Hawaii. A recent survey by a British mattress company found that single men in the U.K wash their sheets about once a quarter. (Tech. Sgt. Shane A. Cuomo/Air Force)

You work out like a fiend, carefully choose the right foods, bathe and brush your teeth regularly and have lots of other healthy habits.

But how often do you change your bedsheets?

A recent survey by a British mattress company found that single men in the U.K wash their sheets about once a quarter, a schedule that not only may wreck their social lives but creates an environment ripe for icky parasites and a host of unhealthy microbes.

In its survey results, the memory foam mattress company Ergoflex found that men ages 18-25 changed their sheets about every three months, in contrast to single women, who usually wash them about every two weeks.

This nonchalance toward swapping out bed linens appears to have had an impact on some men’s social lives, with 17 percent of single men reporting that prospective dates had been “put off” by the state of their sheets.

But issues with relationships aside, does it really matter how often someone changes their sheets? The jury appears to be out: Martha Stewart describes the decision as a “personal preference” but says weekly washing is advisable to “remove dirt and dust.”

A few years ago, Norma Keyes, director of fiber quality research at Cotton Inc., told me that once a week or every two weeks is fine.

Four times a year, however? Not the right answer if you want to avoid infiltrations of dust mites, bed bugs, bacteria and other unhealthy organisms.

“Romantic ambitions aside, we were more alarmed by the potential health risks that unhygienic bedsheets could cause, considering in particular two unwelcome nighttime companions – dust mites and bed bugs,” wrote Ergoflex blogger Steven Willis.

When people sleep, they shed flakes of skin that dust mites love to eat. These small microscopic arthropods thrive in warm dark environments like bedding, mattresses and pillows and are among the most common causes of asthma and allergic reactions.

The mites themselves don’t cause the allergies, their bodily processes do:

“The causes of these reactions can be the dust mites feces, which contain digestive enzymes, or the exoskeletons of the dust mites; neither particularly pleasant to think about when you climb into bed at night,” according to Willis.

Ick.

People who don’t change their sheets often may also overlook the signs of bed bugs — another parasite that feeds nightly on humans, causing itchy rashes and other allergic reactions.

Bed bugs are brought into homes from elsewhere, usually coming in from a nearby apartment or home through duct work or ceilings or hitchhiking a ride on luggage or other material brought in from elsewhere.

They are a real concern to facilities and barracks managers, so much so that military entomologists have attended “Bedbug University,” sponsored by industry promoter Bedbug Central to learn how to prevent infestations of these blood-sucking pests.

The Marine Corps has been the hardest hit by the bedbug resurgence, which began in New York City in 2007. In 2010, several dorms, barracks and an office at Camp Lejeune, N.C.; Quantico, Va.; and Camp Pendleton, Calif., were treated for the nocturnal creatures.

In late 2012, eight of the 1700 rooms at the Naval Academy’s Bancroft Hall were found to be infested.

While washing sheets regularly will not prevent or eradicate an infestation, it does allow a person to check for the signs of one, including dark spots in mattress seams, small blood smears on sheets and shed exoskeletons.

Still too lazy to wash your sheets at least every two weeks? Finding a partner can help, according to the survey. Couples in a long-term relationship apparently change sheets about every two weeks. And in those instances, more than 80 percent of the people doing the laundry are women.

Patricia Kime is the health reporter for Military Times. She can be reached at pkime@militarytimes.com.

Patricia Kime

Patricia Kime is a health writer for Military Times. Reach her at pkime@militarytimes.com.

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