Humans take hot showers, wash their sheets, and use soaps, disinfectants, hand sanitizers and all sort of other cleansers to keep themselves free of dirt and germs. And yet, after all that effort, chimps win in the clean bed department, at least when it comes to personal bacteria. Yes, according to a study in Royal Society Open Science, chimps sleep in beds that contain less saliva, skin and fecal bacteria than humans.
From National Geographic:
By swabbing abandoned chimpanzee nests in Tanzania's Issa Valley, scientists learned that just 3.5 percent of the bacteria species present came from the chimps’ own skin, saliva, or feces. In human beds sampled in a previous study in North Carolina, the number was a whopping 35 percent.
These findings might seem illogical – how can beds of over-sterile humans be filled with more bacteria from skin, saliva and feces than those of chimps? The answer turns out to be quite simple – chimps make a new bed every night while most humans sleep in the same sheets night after night, letting all that unsavory bacteria build up.
Humans, on the other hand, tend to sleep on the same sheets night after night, accruing bacteria over time. Then there are our mattresses and pillows, which collect massive amounts of dust mites and dead skin over the years.
Also, while chimps sleep among environmental bacteria from the surrounding forests, humans have more or less eliminated outside bacteria from our sleeping quarters, meaning the stuff that comes from us makes up a bigger percentage of the filth. And in the long run, that may not be a good thing. “[Humans] have created sleeping places in which our exposure to soil and other environmental microbes has all but disappeared, and we are instead surrounded by less diverse microbes that are primarily sourced from our own bodies,” the authors write in the study.
Having to choose between sleeping outdoors and making a new bed from scratch every night or sleeping in my comfortable pillowed bed in a pool of my own bacteria, I'll brave the latter. I've survived this long, and at least I can't see it.