The debate: making your bed

Health experts are at odds concerning this housekeeping to-do.

For some, it's a mind-clearing routine that kickstarts a productive day. To others, it's a monotous chore retained from childhood. But while the A.M. act of making the bed offers benefits to our mental and emotional well-being, our physical reactions to the ritual may prove less helpful. Which raises the question: Do we really need to make our beds?

THE CASE AGAINST:Dr. Kelly Powers, a Connecticut-based podiatric surgeon, blames one—OK, millions—of culprits, specifically: dust mites. The pesky, microscopic crawlers thrive especially well under the covers, in a dark, warm environment with increased moisture. “I began seeing patients with rashes on their legs, and when you rule out other things like a fungal rash, you start to consider that this person might have some kind of allergy,” she says.

That allergy is triggered by the Der P1 protein, an allergen that the dust mites produce. Those who test negative for the allergy would never know the difference, but those who have it—about 20 million Americans, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America—are faced with any of the consequences, from eczematous dermatitis, to chronic sinus infections and asthma attacks.

Powers recommends leaving your bed unmade. “The goals are to decrease the moisture, decrease the heat, and increase the light,” she explains. “If you leave your bedding draped over the side of your bed to air it out, the mites will become dehydrated and die off.” In general, avoid down, a breeding ground for mites, and throw your pillows in the dryer for at least 15 minutes each week to kill off the bedding dwellers.

THE CASE FOR:Sung Hee Kim, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Kentucky, credits the consistency of the micro actions that we take in our lives—i.e. the behaviors that don’t require a lot of time and effort—for eventually leading to macro changes. Bed-making, as it turns out, is a perfect one to try on for size.

“There’s a ripple effect, so if I make my bed and that looks good, and if it’s not consistent with my messy dresser, I’ll start to clean that up,” she explains. “Eventually, my bedroom looks cleaner and cleaner, so I’ll then work on getting the kitchen and living room in order.”

There are self-esteem implications as well: Kim notes that because we’re not always aware of our internal feelings, we turn to our behaviors to inform us of them. Social psychologists call this the self-perception theory, and it’s one that Kim thinks applies here, as well. “You can think to yourself, ‘I may not enjoy making my bed,’ but if you keep doing it, it can lead to a change in the perception you have of yourself—from one as a messy person to one of a neat person.”

And while Kim finds bed-making to be a powerful keystone habit, there’s no concrete evidence that says benefits couldn’t be achieved through another routine ritual—pillow tumble drying included.