Big Germ on Campus: College Students’ Bedding Rife with Microbes

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SleepBetter.org and Carpenter Co. published the following release on June 24, 2011:

Richmond, Va., June 24, 2011 – Never mind the bed bugs.  A closer look at the pillows and mattress pads at the nation’s college campuses reveals a veritable petri dish of microscopic mischief: hundreds of thousands of bacterial, yeast, fungi and mold colonies partying atop college students’ beds.

The first-ever scientific study of college bedding from throughout the country – SleepBetter.org Investigates: Fungus Among Us – discovered that, on average, the pillows in the study had 350,000 potential live bacteria colonies and 91,000 potential live yeast and mold colonies.  The mattress pads were even nastier: with 2 million potential bacteria colonies and 330,000 yeast and mold colonies on average.

“These findings are enough to have college students pulling all-nighters…for fear of going to bed,” said Dr. Lisa Shives, a nationally recognized physician who specializes in sleep medicine. “These high levels of bacteria, yeast and mold mean that students’ pillows and mattress pads are reservoirs for vast colonies of nasty microbes. Given the potential health issues associated with these microorganisms, this study should serve as a wake-up call for anyone with old bedding, whether or not in college, to throw them out.”

Men’s pillows were statistically almost twice as microbe-infested as women’s – 480,000 potential bacterial counts vs. 290,000, respectively.  However, the worst offending bedding belonged to a female college senior whose pillow contained a teeming reservoir of 170 million potential bacteria counts and nearly 40 million potential yeast and mold counts.

The study identified a “who’s who” of bacterial fauna, with 241 different microbes identified.  While the majority of the microorganisms were those expected to thrive among sloughed-off skin cells, dust mites and bodily fluids, there were others that were far more problematic, including Shigella, a food poison that causes dysentery and is typically transported on feces; Moraxella catarrhalis, which can cause bronchitis, sinusitis, and laryngitis; and Cladosporium molds which under the right circumstances can cause skin lesions, keratitis, nail fungus, sinusitis, asthma, and pulmonary infections.

The raw data from the study is available on SleepBetter.org, including the “outlier” samples whose potential live microbial counts were in the millions and excluded from the averages. In addition, there is a slide show of petri dishes and sleep tips and information for college students on how to get better sleep on the www.sleepbetter.org site.

The study, which involved the testing of 50 pillows and nine mattress pads from current college students in 25 states, was commissioned by SleepBetter.org, an online resource of sleep-related information created by Carpenter Co.  Independent testing was conducted by Connecticut-based Specialized Technology Resources, Inc. (STR), whose laboratories and offices are in 30 countries around the world.

National Survey Findings

The release of the findings coincides with the release of the results of a national survey of 1,000 students from around the country who were polled about their sleep habits and bedding.

As an explanation perhaps as to why college students’ bedding is so rife with microorganisms, the survey found that 41 percent of college students never washed their pillows and 43 percent never washed their mattress pads.  Their sheets and clothing fared better: 46 percent of those polled said they washed their bed linens once a month while 45 percent said they wash their clothes after each use.

The survey also found:

  • 25 percent of college students allow pets to sleep in their beds
  • 50 percent of students shower at night, with the other 50 percent showering in the morning
  • 83 percent of students surveyed have had their pillow about a year or more
  • 63 percent of respondents attached at least a little bit of sentimentality to their pillow
  • 48 percent said they do not get at least 7 hours of sleep each night

“Just as sleep is a critical component of success in college, so is keeping healthy,” said Dan Schecter, vice president of consumer products at Carpenter Co. and creator of SleepBetter.org.  “While many parents spare no expense in providing their children with the resources they will need in college – computers, books and other equipment – they often neglect to give them the best possible sleeping environment.  As this study and survey make clear, students can be doing much more to improve the amount and quality of sleep they are getting each night.”

Study Methodology

STR’s detailed scientific methodology is available upon request.

Survey Methodology

These are some of the findings of an Ipsos poll conducted May 26- June 1, 2011. For this survey, a national sample of 1,014 college enrolled adults aged 18-24 from the Ipsos’ U.S. online panel were interviewed online. Weighting was then employed to balance demographics and ensure that the sample’s composition reflects that of the college student population according to Census data and to provide results intended to approximate the sample universe. A survey with an unweighted probability sample of this size and a 100% response rate would have an estimated margin of error of +/- 3.1 percentage points 19 times out of 20 of what the results would have been had the entire population of enrolled college students of the United States had been polled. All sample surveys and polls may be subject to other sources of error, including, but not limited to coverage error, and measurement error.

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About Carpenter Co. / www.SleepBetter.org

 

SleepBetter.org is dedicated to helping people sleep better. Designed as an online resource, the Web site creates a forum for visitors to define, discuss, and discover solutions to their particular sleep needs. SleepBetter.org’s quest is to continually gather pertinent sleep information, then share this knowledge with the general public. The site also shares tips on the best sleep related products, both in stores and online. SleepBetter.org has created the Sleep Better seal as a way to easily identify products recommended for their superior quality or scientifically based design. Created by Carpenter Co., the world’s largest producer of comfort cushioning products, SleepBetter.org provides information and advice that visitors can use to sleep better. For more information, please visit www.SleepBetter.org.  You can also connect with SleepBetter.org on Twitter and Facebook.

About STR

Specialized Technology Resources, Inc. was founded in 1944 and provides testing, audit, certification, and responsible sourcing services to help ensure that clients have the highest level of confidence in the quality, safety, and social standards of their products and systems. Based in Enfield, CT, STR has sophisticated laboratories and offices in over 30 countries across five continents, and the reach to provide audit services in over 140 countries around the world. Visit STR at www.STRQuality.com.

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