Mini Pause #4: How Dust Mites Disrupt Your Sleep

Dust Mites & Making Your Bed: Are You Making Your Sleep Worse?

TL,DR (too long, didn’t read)

Dust mites thrive in a warm and moist environment, which is precisely what making your bed in the morning facilitates. Dust mites worsen allergies, disrupt REM and deep sleep, cause systemic inflammation, and can drive skin irritation like eczema and dermatitis. In fact, a dust mite is probably chowing down on something yummy in your eyebrow right now. Yep, it is going to be that kind of newsletter today, my friend.

WHY

In my podcast conversation with Mike Feldstein about air quality, he mentioned something that made me have an unexpected, audible gasp while we were recording. The gasp was more of a visceral noise of disgust and was totally involuntary as the idea was so incredibly repulsive.

Mike explained that our homes are designed to be sealed tight — to filter out the cold, rain, snow, and bugs, etc. So, once something gets in, it’s hard to get out. Things like dead insect parts, dust mites, pollen, bacteria, and viruses — even our dead skin cells. All of this gets trapped in our bedding, our curtains, our carpets, and our clothing. And, if you’re not actively doing something about it, it never leaves!

I’ll pause while you, too, digest this (dead insect parts?!). Blech.

It’s nearly impossible to rid ourselves of this unless we are willing to live in homes that are penetrable to the cold, wind, moisture, and not use bedding or clothing. Which I’m pretty sure none of us are willing to do.

WHAT

Dust mites burrow themselves into any and all porous materials — carpets, mats, curtains, our hair, eyebrows, our clothing, bedding, comforters, pillows, and rugs. You name it and a dust mite has called it home. They survive by breaking down our dead skin cells into something they can eat.

They are also terrible for our health.

Dust mites worsen allergies, disrupt REM and deep sleep, cause systemic inflammation, and can drive skin irritation like eczema and dermatitis. Many people often confuse allergies with an allergic reaction to dust mites. And since this idea was so repulsive to me, I went down a bit of a rabbit hole and discovered two truly unnerving pieces of data:

  • We are not allergic to dust mites, per se. We develop an allergy to the fecal matter dust mites produce. We also develop an allergy to the dead corpses of dust mites that still reside in our mattresses.
  • Over the eight- to 10-week lifespan of one dust mite, it will produce 1,700 to 2,000 fecal particles.

I’m sorry. I know. More blech.

And even if you don’t have an allergy to them, just the visuals of the above facts are just… well, gross.

If you are someone who deals with allergies, I don’t need to tell you that they can impact your quality of life, and your sleep in particular.

For women in our perimenopausal and menopausal years, we’re typically struggling with sleep. Allergens like dust mites only hinder sleep quality and quantity even more.

Overnight, while tucked in your sheets, you naturally generate heat and sweat. If you’re suffering from night sweats or hot flashes, this further increases the heat and vapor produced overnight. Ovulation and the onset of your period are also natural times in your cycle where core body temperature rises and increase the heat and moisture you produce.

Your bedding, pillows, and mattress absorb this excess heat and moisture, essentially serving up a gourmet feast to dust mites.

HOW

While we can’t get rid of dust mites entirely, there are some ways we can reduce their impact on us.

  • Washing your linens weekly on a allergen cycle

This cycle typically has a higher temperature and the wash cycle is longer, with the intention of killing allergens embedded the sheets (the dust mites and their poop). I typically add a ¼ cup of vinegar to the load, too.

  • Unmake your bed!

I know many a guru has touted the benefits of making your bed in the morning, and you love the hit of dopamine that occurs when you can check off a to-do box first thing in the day. But, given that women have more times in our life where we run hot, we know this contributes to the dust mite population in our home.

Instead of pulling the covers up when I’m making my bed, I started layering them at the bottom of the bed. It’s still “making” the bed, just in a different way. I’m letting the bulk of the mattress air out and get cold.

  • Crack open a bedroom window in the morning (especially if it is near your bed)

In the morning when I wake up, I pull all the covers off the bed and I open the window right next to my bed while I head downstairs to have a coffee and cold plunge. This way I give my bed around 30 minutes of a fresh blast of air from outside and allows for any heat and moisture to evaporate.

This is when air pollution and pollen counts are generally low, so it’s a great time to air out the bedroom with fresh air.

  • Buy a mattress vacuum

I have this one from Amazon and while the sheets are in the laundry, I will vacuum the mattresses.  It is actually shocking the amount of dust and debris it captures.

  • Invest in an air purifier like Jaspr

This is a medical grade device used in dentist offices and commercial buildings that’s now available to purchase for family homes. I have one running in my bedroom at all times and on vacuum days because I know things are getting disrupted and thrown up into the air, I use the “turbo” setting which is a deep clean of the air that runs for about 15 minutes.

I started noticing a difference in my sleep after about three days of having the unit in my bedroom. My Oura ring was telling me I was getting more deep sleep and my chronically low HRV, while still not the greatest, jumped by about 10 points after just three days of use.

Using the Jaspr has been the easiest (laziest?) way I have ever contributed positively to my health. (If you’re interested in a unit for your own home, use my code ESTIMA to get a discount.)

NOW

Push the image of the dust mites and all their disgusting glory out of your mind and choose any of the above options in the “HOW” section.

You can start small, and work your way up from the no-cost options (unmaking your bed, opening a bedroom window in the morning) up through the cost options that are right for you.

Which dust mite intervention are you going to start with? Reply to this email and let me know!

Question of the Week

Q: How many calories are ideal pre-workout?

One of our Bettys asked about pre-workout calorie intake. She’d heard Dr. Molly Malloof, who I also admire, recommend just 150 calories. She then asked if I agreed with that recommendation or would suggest a larger meal?

CALORIE DECISION MATRIX

A few things can inform this decision: What time are you working out? What kind of workout is it? How long will your workout be? What is the intensity of the workout?

Most of my workouts are early in the morning. While I used to almost exclusively work out fasted, I have changed my mind on this because of the noticeable difference being fed has on my performance in the gym.

For a weight lifting workout I always like to have more carbohydrates and protein 45 minutes to an hour before I get to the gym.

So my pre-workout will include either my overnight oats recipe (which you can find here), or simply steel cut oats with a scoop of protein powder, a banana, and a coffee. This clocks in at around 350-400 calories.

I find 150 calories a little on the light side as a means to enhance my performance at the gym. Although this might work well for her and her schedule and workout format. My weight workouts are on the longer side, about 75 minutes. When I do legs, it’s closer to two hours.

LISTEN TO YOUR BODY

Some of you have mentioned that you do not like to eat first thing in the morning and the literature seems to support that with respect to cardio. There’s not much difference on body composition whether you are fasted or fed. So, you do you, boo.

However, for lifts, eating before you work out can augment your energy and performance during said lifts. Does that mean you are doing it “wrong” if you do not eat? No. We gotta do what we gotta do based on the constraints of our lives. A fasted workout is better than no workout at all.

If you are someone who wants to play with a pre-workout and you exercise in the morning, start small first and see how you feel.

Here’s a small sampling of options to try when you don’t want to feel like there is a brick in your stomach in the morning:

  • One banana & 1 Tbsp nut butter
  • One or two rice cakes with peanut butter & jelly
  • Overnight oats
  • Protein shake with milk and berries
  • Add a CorePower drink to your coffee
  • Greek yoghurt with berries
  • Sourdough bread with lox and cream cheese (this is my son’s favorite!)

YOUR TURN!

I’ll be answering your questions every week right here in the Mini Pause! Let me know what’s on your mind. I’ll be checking for both questions and feedback at support@drstephanieestima.com.

What I Recommend: PELUVA

You build all your weightlifting workouts on the foundation of good foot mechanics. This allows full articulation and range of motion in your feet and leads to better ankle mobility, knee tracking and hip mechanics. Since our feet comprise about 25% of the bones in our body, having a shoe with minimal correction during a lift session is super important.

My choice for a minimal shoe is Peluva. They’re functional and good looking. Use code DRSTEPHANIE to get 10% off your purchase.