"Did you have a good time at the sleepover?" I asked my daughter when she came home the other day.
"Yes. And I didnt let the bedbugs bite."
Obviously, my daughter had been on the receiving end of the classic nocturnal advice "sleep tight, don't let the bedbugs bite."
Then she asked me if I'd ever seen a bedbug.
Now, I know there were bugs in the beds in "old days" -- we even find bugs in our beds on occasion, despite the application of copious quantities of guaranteed-to-kill-spiders pesticide. But is there such a thing as a bedbug? And what does it mean to "sleep tight?"
Well, my research revealed that yes, Virginia, there really is a bedbug. To be precise, there are seven different varieties of small crawling insects known as bedbugs that feed exclusively on blood, usually human. After they feed at night, they retreat to the nearest convenient dark space.
Many believe that bedbugs used to be common because people slept on straw or feather beds and the bugs naturally lived in these environments. That's not really the case. The bugs will live anywhere they can obtain ready access to human blood at night. In fact, even though bedbugs were virtually eradicated in the United States and most western countries fifty years ago, they are now making a comeback. It turns out that they are just as happy to live in a modern pillowtop mattress as in an old straw pallet. And because they can hide in tiny spaces and the adults can live for up to a year without feeding, they can be quite difficult to eliminate. Yuck.
So much for the bedbugs. What about "sleep tight?" Until recently, I felt certain that I understood this instruction. An interpreter in Colonial Williamsburg explained the adage to me while pointing to the rope underpinnings of a colonial bedstead. If you dont keep the ropes tight, the bed (featherbed, ticking stuffed with straw or what we would now call a mattress) sags and the sleeper would be most uncomfortable. But recently, living history interpreters who take great joy in debunking historical myths have disputed this notion as well, claiming that "sleep tight" is just a slang phrase meaning essentially to "sleep well."
Kinda takes all the fun out of it, in my opinion. Especially since, in this case, the "mythical version" with rope beds makes a lot of sense. I believe the jury is still out on this one.
But the evidence for the bedbugs is pretty conclusive. So I don't care if I sleep tight. I just don't want the bedbugs to bite.