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Insects and Bugs That Bite While You're Sleeping
The critters in this guide may be responsible for those itchy bites you find when you wake up. Although it can be difficult to tell exactly which one is the guilty party – after all, they attack while we're asleep – there's a very good chance that it's one of the rogues in this gallery.
6 Bugs That Bite Us in Our Sleep
- Kissing bugs
- Bed bugs
1. Kissing Bugs
Of all the insects that might bite you while you sleep, kissing bugs are one of the sneakiest. They live mostly in the tropics, where they spend days hiding in cracks or thatched roofing. At night they seek sleeping mammals, and when they find one – a dog, a cow, you – they crawl to a spot where the skin is thin to bite and draw blood. In the case of humans, the preferred biting spot is around the lips; this is why these insects are called "kissing bugs."
The good news is that the bites do not hurt and rarely disturb the sleep of the person being bitten. The bad news is that kissing bugs transmit Chagas' Disease, a very serious health issue throughout the tropics. As climate change increases the temperature in northern areas, it is possible that kissing bugs, and Chagas' Disease, could spread into new areas, including the continental United States.
Kissing Bugs on the Nightly News!
The good news is that the bites do not hurt and rarely disturb the sleep of the person being bitten. The bad news is that kissing bugs transmit Chagas' Disease, a very serious health issue throughout the tropics.
2. Bed Bugs
These nasty little bugs need no introduction for most people; they occur throughout most of North America and indeed around the world. Like kissing bugs, bed bugs hide in cracks – often in or near bed frames – and wait for night to fall. When you go to sleep, bed bugs wake up. They crawl onto your skin and insert their sharp mouthparts into your skin, much like a tick. They feed for a moment, then withdraw, walk a little bit, and bite again. One way to tell if bedbugs have bitten you is to look at the pattern of the bites; if they are more or less in a line, then it's most likely bedbugs.
Sleeping mammals are an easy, passive target for biting insects, and bed bugs make the most of the opportunity. Bed bugs aren't known to spread disease, but their bites do itch and can really disturb sleep. A large colony can become established in a bed frame or under the mattress, and then you really have a problem. Getting rid of bed bugs is very difficult and usually means you need a new bed, box frame, and mattress.
The word "mite" includes a large number of insect-like creatures that are generally very tiny; some are basically microscopic. A few of them bite humans and have been known to bite sleeping people.
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Mites are related to ticks, and while most feed on plants, several have adapted to live on blood. If you get bitten by a mite while sleeping, it is most likely one of three different kinds, and none of them are very nice: the house mouse mite, the spiny rat mite, and the tropical rat mite. Whenever their usual host animal is unavailable, these tiny creatures go in search of another animal to feed on. They are often drawn to warm, dark places, and the end result is, you guessed it, people being bitten while they sleep.
A few other mites bite people but are less likely to be the reason you wake up with itchy bumps. If you're sure it's not bed bugs or mosquitoes, and the bite is not around your mouth (kissing bugs), then a likely culprit is some kind of mite. Spider mites are some of the more annoying—luckily there are some fairly easy things to do that might help.
I debated including spiders on this list because, contrary to whatever you may have heard or want to believe, a spider is hardly ever the thing that bit you while you slept. If you think about it, you'll see why: spiders are ambush predators who feed exclusively on insects and other bugs. They spin a stationary web where they spend all their time waiting for a fly or a moth to wind up in their trap. Most spiders have zero reason to leave their web, let alone venture into your bed – they don't feed on blood, don't attack mammals, and are overall very shy and fragile creatures.
That being said, it is remotely possible that a nighttime bite is caused by a spider. Some species do roam around at night in search of a mate, and in the unlikely event that they wind up in your bedding and you roll over on one and don't immediately squash it (spiders are very delicate and soft-bodied), it may try to bite in self-defense. If it is a spider bite, it will hurt but not itch. If you look very closely, you'll see two puncture marks where the fangs went in. But you probably won't, because it probably wasn't a spider, because spiders almost never bite people at night.
If something bit you while you were sleeping, the chances are it was a mosquito. This should be obvious, but people often say that a spider bit them while pointing to what is clearly a mosquito bite. I won't belabor the point because nearly everyone has had the experience of nighttime mosquito torment. As the old saying goes, "All it takes is one mosquito to really ruin your night."
In addition to being a nuisance, mosquitoes are also the deadliest animal on the planet since they spread malaria, yellow fever, Zika, and a whole laundry list of other pathogens. Along with fleas (see below), mosquitoes are just about the last thing you want biting you, at night or any other time.
As the old saying goes, "All it takes is one mosquito to really ruin your night."
If you have cats or dogs as pets, there's always the chance that you could also have fleas in your home. Fleas, like ticks and mites, feed on the blood of mammals, birds, and other animals; unlike ticks and mites, fleas are insects – it's thought that they are the relative of a group of insects called scorpionflies. Fleas are dark brown, small, and flattened vertically, so it's easier for them to slip through the hair of their host animal. Fleas have the best leaping ability of almost any other animal on earth. Fleas are also very possibly what's biting you while you sleep.
Especially if you have cats or dogs that curl up on your bed at night, fleas can get into your bedding as they seek out a warm-blooded victim. Their bites are similar to mosquito bites, except they itch twice as bad and last ten times as long. If you think you have fleas in your bed, pull back the sheets and shine a bright light. Fleas are small but easy to spot: if you see tiny, dark-brown bugs that jump so quickly, they almost seem to disappear. If you do find fleas, there are several commercial treatments to deal with them.
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- Bites but No Signs of Bed Bugs: How to Identify Bedbug Bites | Healthline
The best way to know if you’re dealing with bedbugs is to look for evidence of them in your home. Here's what you need to know.
- Mites Affecting Humans | Illinois Department of Public Health
"Mite" is a term commonly used to refer to a group of insect-like organisms, some of which bite or cause irritation to humans.
- Myth: Spiders bite sleeping persons | Burke Museum
Everyone seems to believe spider bites cause all mystery skin sores, bumps & punctures. Nearly all have other causes.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.