How Do Bed Bugs Know When You Are Sleep


Bedbugs are small insects that often live on furniture or bedding. Their bites can be itchy, but do not usually cause other health problems.

Check if it’s bedbugs

Jeff March / Alamy Stock Photo

Bedbugs can hide in many places, including on bed frames, mattresses, clothing, furniture, behind pictures and under loose wallpaper.

Signs of bedbugs include:

  • bites – often on areas exposed while sleeping, like the face, neck and arms
  • spots of blood on your bedding – from the bites or from squashing a bedbug
  • small brown spots on bedding or furniture (bedbug poo)

Bedbug bites can be red and itchy. They’re often in a line or cluster.

Otto Pleska / Alamy Stock Photo

Some people have a reaction to the bites. They can be very itchy and there may be painful swelling.

How you can treat bedbug bites

Bedbug bites usually clear up on their own in a week or so.

Things you can do include:

  • putting something cool, like a clean, damp cloth, on the affected area to help with the itching and any swelling
  • keeping the affected area clean
  • not scratching the bites to avoid getting an infection

You can ask a pharmacist about:

  • using a mild steroid cream like hydrocortisone cream to ease bedbug bites (children under 10 and pregnant women should get advice from a doctor before using hydrocortisone cream)
  • antihistamines – these may help if the bites are very itchy and you’re unable to sleep

Non-urgent advice: See a GP if:

  • the bites are still very painful, swollen or itchy after trying treatments from a pharmacist
  • the redness around the bites is spreading

You may have an infection and need treatment with antibiotics.

Coronavirus update: how to contact a GP

It’s still important to get help from a GP if you need it. To contact your GP surgery:

  • visit their website
  • use the NHS App
  • call them

How to get rid of bedbugs

contact your local council or pest control service – it’s unlikely you’ll be able to get rid of bedbugs yourself because they can be resistant to some insecticides

wash affected bedding and clothing – use a hot wash (60C) or tumble dry on a hot setting for at least 30 minutes

put affected clothing and bedding in a plastic bag and put it in the freezer (-16C) for 4 days (alternative to hot washing)

clean and vacuum regularly – bedbugs are found in both clean and dirty places, but regular cleaning will help you spot them early

do not keep clutter around your bed

do not bring secondhand furniture indoors without carefully checking it first

do not take luggage or clothing indoors without checking it carefully if you have come from somewhere where you know there were bedbugs

Page last reviewed: 21 January 2019
Next review due: 21 January 2022

10 Things You Didn’t Know About Bedbugs

Learn the surprising truth about these pesky pests.

The old rhyme "Good night, sleep tight, don’t let the bedbugs bite" has become a frightening reality lately. With bedbug outbreaks so common they’re hardly even newsworthy anymore, people are on high alert for the tiny insects. But with increased awareness comes an onslaught of rumors, myths and flat-out fallacies. So Woman’s Day went to the experts to differentiate fact from fiction, and found out everything you never knew about bedbugs.

1. The term bedbug is a misnomer.

The Latin name for bedbugs is Cimex lectularius, which means "bug of the bed." But don’t let that fool you—the pesky creatures can be found anywhere. "Bedbugs want to feed on you at night while you’re still, so they’re commonly found in your bed," says John Furman, president of New York City–based pest management company Boot-A-Pest. "But I always say the bed is 70 percent of the infestation and the rest of the room is the other 30 percent. They can be all over your apartment—in the sofa, behind picture frames or in the crevices of baseboards."

2. Bedbugs don’t discriminate.

"There’s an unnecessary stigma associated with bedbugs," says Susan Jones, PhD, associate professor of entomology at Ohio State University. "Anyone can get them. They’re not associated with poor housekeeping or a certain poverty level or anything like that." So if you have them—or know someone who does—remember that it has nothing to do with personal hygiene habits. "Every woman whose home I treat tells me how often they shower, how clean they are, that they get manicures—none of that matters," reports Jeff Eisenberg, founder of Pest Away Exterminating.

3. Bedbugs haven’t been proven to transmit any harmful diseases.

Unlike with many other pests and insects, research has not yet proven that bedbugs do anything more harmful than give you the heebie-jeebies. But that doesn’t mean people should brush them off as no big deal. Dr. Jones believes the research is "incomplete and inconclusive." And Eisenberg insists they are a mental health risk. "People can become so obsessed with bedbugs they don’t sleep for weeks—they miss work, they spend hours Googling the topic. I call it bedbug paranoia." Bedbugs have also been shown to aggravate allergy and asthma symptoms in people who already suffer from them.

4. No two people’s bedbug bites will look the same.

It’s easy to notice a suspicious bite and head straight to the Internet to diagnose yourself. But just because a website tells you bedbug bites look a certain way doesn’t mean your bites will follow that pattern. According to Dr. Jones, bites often appear in a grouping of three or a "1-2-3—breakfast, lunch, dinner" pattern, but many people—around 30 percent, according to Furman––don’t react to bites at all. And others may have singular scattered bites.

5. Bedbugs aren’t truly nocturnal.

Though these pests like to come out before dawn, don’t think you can wait up all night to outsmart them. "A bedbug is an opportunist, and while their peak feeding time is between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m., if you work nights they will come out and feed on you during the day," says Furman. Dr. Jones explains that they’re attracted to a human’s body temperature and, even more so, the carbon dioxide we exhale.

6. Even if you can’t see them, you may have them.

While itchy bites may indicate you have a bedbug problem, a thorough inspection is necessary to prove it. "If you have a low-level infestation, most people will miss the signs. You really need to call a professional who will spend the time to find the evidence," says Furman, who takes at least an hour inspecting rooms for signs of bedbugs. Things you should look for include "peppering," which are black fecal spots that are usually imbedded in the mattress seams or on the box spring, as well as insect skins (immature bedbugs shed their skin five times before becoming an adult). You may also see actual bedbugs, which, depending on their age, will be clear or rust-colored. You can never be too careful, but don’t panic. "I’ve had people email me photographs of Hostess cupcake crumbs, lint, fingernails, you name it," says Furman.

7. Properly trained dogs can sniff out bedbugs.

Well-trained and properly handled canines can track down bedbugs because, like bomb-sniffing and drug-sniffing dogs, they are taught to home in on the scent. But according to Furman, "a dog is a tool to bring a handler to a defined search area. You’ve still got to find the bugs in the area they alerted you to."

8. You don’t have to throw away your belongings if you have bedbugs.

A common misconception about bedbugs is that if you have them, you have to trash your mattress and send all your clothing to the dry cleaner’s. Not true: According to Furman, heat is the number-one killer of bedbugs. Exterminators treat rooms and furniture with a combination of dry steam cleaning, deep heat and chemical treatments. If your clothes have been in an infested room, throw them in a hot dryer (at least 120 degrees) for 30 minutes to kill any bugs.

9. You should never treat your home for bedbugs yourself.

Whatever you do, don’t attempt to fumigate your house for bedbugs yourself. "Don’t use a bug bomb or fogger, even if it claims it’s meant for bedbugs," warns Dr. Jones. "All it will do is scatter them throughout your home, and if you have an apartment, it will give them to your neighbors." She reports that boric acid and other grocery store sprays won’t work either. Calling a professional is essential—and call one early. "You have to deal with this right away," insists Dr. Jones. "One single female bedbug can lay 500 eggs in her lifetime, so it can get out of control quickly."

10. Bedbugs aren’t going anywhere any time soon.

According to Dr. Jones, bedbugs started making a comeback in the late 1990s for a variety of reasons. A spike in international travel combined with a change in the pesticides and insecticides we use as well as lifestyle changes all played a role in their resurgence. "Bedbugs reproduce very quickly and live for a long time, so it was just a matter of time until their populations exploded," she says. So what now? Though the situation is manageable, "there’s absolutely no end in sight. This is a pest we’ll likely be living with for the rest of our lives."

Sleeping With Bed Bugs

We’ve all had “that moment” whether you’re a pest control professional, a homeowner or renter. That moment where you read a story on bed bugs or hear a bed bug sufferer’s story and say to yourself “it’s just a bug, what’s the big deal”. That moment where you think “it doesn’t transmit disease which means it’s no different than having a mosquito in your house”. In fact having a mosquito in your house is theoretically worse because it can transmit disease. That moment where you wonder why people react so strongly to having a bed bug in their house.

I’ll be the first to admit that I can’t completely explain it. I can’t explain why having a bug that bites once every few days and is the size of a sunflower seed may as well be Dracula living in the house. I can’t explain why you wake up 5-times in the middle of the night with a flashlight searching for that elusive bug. I can’t explain why you dream about bed bugs crawling on you and your family 5 straight nights and struggle to get more than 2 hours of sleep for 7 nights in a row. I can’t explain why you’d readily throw all your furniture out even if it doesn’t make any sense and sleep on the floor and live out of garbage bags for 2 months……but many do.

Then it happened…..

I woke up one morning with a few bites on the back of my neck. I dismissed it like all first-time bed bug sufferers do. I figured it was the mosquito that bit me the night before or the rash I received from wrestling with one of my dogs outside. Then it happened again and there was no turning back. I woke up almost exactly one-week later with a row of 3-bites down the back of my upper arm. There was no mistaking who that was. Why they often bite in 3’s, tend to appear in rows and clusters and tend to be on exposed skin surfaces (arms, shoulders, neck and face: what’s typically exposed when you sleep) isn’t completely understood but I had seen enough of it to know I wasn’t sleeping alone. Sure enough there she was. A fat, fully fed female bed bug sitting on the bottom of MY box spring (thankfully I had encasements on my box spring which made it much easier to find).

Now remember that I’m a guy who does this for a living. I’ve seen infestations so large you wouldn’t know where to begin. I’ve had bed bugs walking on my hand while trying to perform experiments on them. I’ve even found 1 or 2 walking up my shirt as I was walking out of a home I just treated for bed bugs. But none of those situations were my house and none of those situations contained my wife, 4-year old and 2-year old. None of those situations contained MY bed where I go after a long day to turn off my brain and get much-needed rest.

So there I was waking up every night because I thought I felt something crawling on me. There I was inspecting the bed every day for weeks on end to make sure the issue was gone. There I was wondering when we would find another one.

Thankfully if ended up being just one bug. It probably came home with me from a job or one of my many business trips. I assure you now I’m careful when I return home from work and strip-down any time there’s a chance someone may be with me. I assure you I empty my suitcases and store my luggage in bags so they can’t infest my home. But I most strongly assure you that I now know what it means to sleep with a bed bug and the stress that comes along with it.

And so how I’ll leave this is with a quote from To Kill A Mockingbird: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” Wait until you have a night where you sleep with one in your bed and then you can comment on what it means to sleep with a bed bug.


In this Article

In this Article

In this Article

Bedbugs are small, oval, brownish insects that live on the blood of animals or humans. Adult bedbugs have flat bodies about the size of an apple seed. After feeding, however, their bodies swell and are a reddish color.

Bedbugs do not fly, but they can move quickly over floors, walls, and ceilings. Female bedbugs may lay hundreds of eggs, each of which is about the size of a speck of dust, over a lifetime.

Immature bedbugs, called nymphs, shed their skins five times before reaching maturity and require a meal of blood before each shedding. Under favorable conditions the bugs can develop fully in as little as a month and produce three or more generations per year.

Although they are a nuisance, they are not thought to transmit diseases.

Where Bed Bugs Hide

Bedbugs may enter your home undetected through luggage, clothing, used beds and couches, and other items. Their flattened bodies make it possible for them to fit into tiny spaces, about the width of a credit card. Bedbugs do not have nests like ants or bees, but tend to live in groups in hiding places. Their initial hiding places are typically in mattresses, box springs, bed frames, and headboards where they have easy access to people to bite in the night.

Over time, however, they may scatter through the bedroom, moving into any crevice or protected location. They may also spread to nearby rooms or apartments.

Because bedbugs live solely on blood, having them in your home is not a sign of dirtiness. You are as likely to find them in immaculate homes and hotel rooms as in filthy ones.

When Bedbugs Bite

Bedbugs are active mainly at night and usually bite people while they are sleeping. They feed by piercing the skin and withdrawing blood through an elongated beak. The bugs feed from three to 10 minutes to become engorged and then crawl away unnoticed.

Most bedbug bites are painless at first, but later turn into itchy welts. Unlike flea bites that are mainly around the ankles, bedbug bites are on any area of skin exposed while sleeping. Also, the bites do not have a red spot in the center like flea bites do.

People who don’t realize they have a bedbug infestation may attribute the itching and welts to other causes, such as mosquitoes. To confirm bedbug bites, you must find and identify the bugs themselves.


Signs of Infestation

If you wake up with itchy areas you didn’t have when you went to sleep, you may have bedbugs, particularly if you got a used bed or other used furniture around the time the bites started. Other signs that you have bedbugs include:

  • Blood stains on your sheets or pillowcases
  • Dark or rusty spots of bedbug excrement on sheets and mattresses, bed clothes, and walls
  • Bedbug fecal spots, egg shells, or shed skins in areas where bedbugs hide
  • An offensive, musty odor from the bugs’ scent glands

If you suspect an infestation, remove all bedding and check it carefully for signs of the bugs or their excrement. Remove the dust cover over the bottom of the box springs and examine the seams in the wood framing. Peel back the fabric where it is stapled to the wood frame.

Also, check the area around the bed, including inside books, telephones or radios, the edge of the carpet, and even in electrical outlets. Check your closet, because bedbugs can attach to clothing. If you are uncertain about signs of bedbugs, call an exterminator, who will know what to look for.

If you find signs of infestation, begin steps to get rid of the bugs and prevent their return.

Bedbug Treatments

Getting rid of bedbugs begins with cleaning up the places where bedbugs live. This should include the following:

  • Clean bedding, linens, curtains, and clothing in hot water and dry them on the highest dryer setting. Place stuffed animals, shoes, and other items that can’t be washed in the dryer and run on high for 30 minutes.
  • Use a stiff brush to scrub mattress seams to remove bedbugs and their eggs before vacuuming.
  • Vacuum your bed and surrounding area frequently. After vacuuming, immediately place the vacuum cleaner bag in a plastic bag and place in garbage can outdoors.
  • Encase mattress and box springs with a tightly woven, zippered cover to keep bedbugs from entering or escaping. Bedbugs may live up to a year without feeding, so keep the cover on your mattress for at least a year to make sure all bugs in the mattress are dead.
  • Repair cracks in plaster and glue down peeling wallpaper to get rid of places bedbugs can hide.
  • Get rid of clutter around the bed.

If your mattress is infested, you may want to get rid of it and get a new one, but take care to rid the rest of your home of bedbugs or they will infest your new mattress.


Bedbug Extermination

While cleaning up infested areas will be helpful in controlling bedbugs, getting rid of them usually requires chemical treatments. Because treating your bed and bedroom with insecticides can be harmful, it is important to use products that can be used safely in bedrooms. Do not treat mattresses and bedding unless the label specifically says you can use them on bedding.

Generally it is safest and most effective to hire an experienced pest control professional for bedbug extermination.


University of Kentucky College of Agriculture: "Bed Bugs."

Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet: "Bed Bugs."

The New York City Department of Heath and Mental Hygiene: "Stop Bed Bugs Safely."

University of Nebraska–Lincoln Extension Lancaster County: "Managing Bed Bugs."

Here’s What You Can Do About Bug Bites While Sleeping

While sleeping, you may get bitten by various insects found in your home. In this article, we have discussed the many ways on how to prevent bug bites while one’s asleep.

While sleeping, you may get bitten by various insects found in your home. In this article, we have discussed the many ways on how to prevent bug bites while one’s asleep.

Getting bug bites while sleeping is a common occurrence. It may or may not cause severe harm to your health but it can disrupt your sleep at night. Each bug has its own characteristics and it looks different. Moreover, the accompanying symptoms also vary from insect to insect. Depending upon the symptoms, some bites require immediate treatment while others heal on their own.

How Do They Look?

The bugs that are hidden in your bed and other places around the sleeping area, are referred to asbed bugs. They are tiny, wingless insects with a flat, brown-colored body. They are parasitic in nature and feed on animal blood, particularly human blood. They bite sleepers at night and then go into hiding during the day. As the bugs bite you in your sleep, you may not even sense that you’ve been bitten. The appearance of the bed bug bite is very similar to that of a mosquito’s.

How Do They Bite?

A bed bug pierces its sucker into the skin to suck blood out. It takes around 5-10 minutes to fill up its body with blood. The bitten area then swells up and causes severe itching for a few days. A unique characteristic of bed bugs is that the welts usually follow a linear pattern. Those who have very sensitive skin can get blister-like eruptions after excessive scratching. Some people may feel pain due to the bites and others may not feel any pain at all.

Are Bug Bites Dangerous?

Bug bites aren’t a serious health issue. So far, no such evidence has been found which suggests that bed bugs carry any transmittable diseases. However, if you scratch the welts excessively, then you may get an infection. Therefore, you must control the urge to scratch. Washing the area withantiseptic soap and applying a cold compress, will provide some relief from the itchy sensation.Antiseptic creamalso helps to reduce persistent itchiness. Those who areprone to allergiesshould not neglect a bed bug bite and consult their doctor for proper treatment.

What about Mosquito Bites while Sleeping?

Apart from bed bugs, the most common insect that bites us when we’re asleep, is the mosquito. They are also parasitic, where the female species of mosquitoes need to feed on blood in order to lay eggs. Mosquito bites cause an itchy sensation only for a few minutes. The skin swells up after a mosquito bite but is absolutely harmless. However, to prevent bites from a mosquito, apply a repellent cream that creates a barrier between the mosquito your skin. Also, mosquito repelling devices can be set up at home, to keep them away. Precautionary measures must be observed since mosquitoes are known carriers ofmalariaanddengue.

What About Spider Bites?

Spiders usually do not bite humans. This is because they are not parasitic in nature and hence, they will bite humans only if provoked or startled. It’s more out of self-defense than a direct attack. While biting, spiders do not suck out blood but inject enzymes into the tissue. Spider bites do not cause any skin irritation but the affected area swells up to form a lump. At the center of the lump, you can see the point at which the spider pierced the skin. In some rare cases, spider bites have serious effects likeblood poisoningand other infections. If the bitten spot turns red, then a doctor should be consulted immediately.

How Do I Avoid Bug Bites?

You have to maintain overall hygiene of your home to protect yourself from household bites while sleeping. Bed bugs excrete fecal matter that appear as brown spots on the bed, which is a sure sign of aninfestation. Regularly vacuum-cleaning of carpets, mattresses, and furniture will help control the occurrence of these bites. If your home is badly infested by bed bugs, then you need to get in touch with anexterminator. Also,

  • Change bed sheets regularly (in the case of bed bugs) and tuck them under your mattress; do not leave sheets falling loosely around your bed.
  • Use a bug repellent for hard-to-reach nooks and crannies around your bed, and home.
  • Give a trusted pest control company a call, every time the bug bite incidents increase.
  • While sleeping during the night, wear pajamas and socks to protect your legs and feet.
  • Use calamine lotion on irritated skin, products that contain DEET (repellent sprays), and creams that contain mild hydrocortisone, a local anesthetic, or antihistamine ingredients.

It is better to use ametal frame bedsince bed bugs tend to hide inside crevices. Mosquitoes have a natural tendency to lay eggs in stagnant water. So, be sure not to leave water stagnate in and around your house, to prevent mosquitoes from breeding. The doors and windows should be covered with proper screens to stop mosquitoes and other harmful insects from entering into your home.

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