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Scientists compared bacterial levels in chimps' and humans' beds — here's what they found

By Leah Groth ; Updated May 22, 2018

A new study shows chimpanzee beds have a far lower amount of body-produced bacteria than human beds do. (Seriously, when was the last time you changed your sheets?)

How much more are we talking? According to research done by The Royal Society, only 3.5 percent of bacteria found in chimp beds originated from their feces (yuck), mouths or skin, while human beds contained a staggering 35 percent of body-produced bacteria.

Researchers came to this conclusion after testing bacteria taken from 41 chimp nests and comparing that to previous research about human beds. While the chimps’ beds obviously had vastly different biodiversity than those of humans, containing a greater diversity of microbes, they were significantly less likely to harbor fecal, oral or skin bacteria.

“We found almost none of those microbes in the chimpanzee nests, which was a little surprising,” explained Megan Thoemmes, lead author and doctoral student at North Carolina State University. Just because chimp beds aren’t filled with as much bodily bacteria, they still weren’t clean. They had plenty of bacteria in their sleeping space, however, most was from their surrounding forest habitat. It just didn’t originate from their bodies, which can be explained by the simple fact that chimps build their nests 30 feet off the ground every night, while humans sleep in the same bed on the same sheets, mattresses and pillows for weeks at a time (if not longer).

You’re probably horrified right now, but hold on — this isn’t necessarily bad. According to Dr. Michelle Barron, M.D., medical director of infection prevention and control at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital, these new findings are not worth losing sleep over. (See what we did there?)

“The naturally occurring bacteria that live on our skin are typically protective and dead skin cells, and dust mites are not known to cause infections,” Barron explains to LIVESTRONG.COM. “Certainly, they can sometimes aggravate allergies, but so can pets, carpets or sitting out on a windy day.”

So how often should we be changing our bedsheets, anyway? “There are no scientific studies that have evaluated how often bed linens should be changed,” Barron continues. “I would recommend washing sheets, comforters, etc. whenever visibly soiled. Beyond that, it really comes down to personal preference and if there is a specific underlying medical issue that dictates that it should be done on a specific interval or frequency.”

According to Barron, the kind of bacteria you should be more concerned about isn’t the type found in the bedroom, but in the kitchen. Those dish towels, cloths and sponges you use to clean up your cooking spaces are far more likely to make you sick, as they can be contaminated by bacteria from raw meats transferred to your hands or other surfaces.

Barron recommends washing them whenever they are visibly soiled and using a disposable towel for cleaning all spills related to raw meats. You can also throw your sponge in the dishwasher or periodically microwave it to kill all the dangerous bacteria.

So while the idea of sleeping in your own fecal, oral or skin bacteria might not make for sweet dreams, you really have nothing to worry about. Take that, chimps! You’re not better than us!

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