I’ve often read the statistic that we spend 1/3 of our lives sleeping, or over 2,500 hours per year, but I have to laugh because those hours are obviously not during the time of life with new babies or potty training toddlers.
Of course, those statistics are meant to highlight the importance of sleep environment since such a substantial part of our life is spent in our beds. I think sleep environment is even more important when we aren’t able to get enough of the best kind of sleep since we have to make the best use of the sleep time we do get.
The Problems With Regular Mattresses
I’ve written before about how to optimize your bedroom environment for the best sleep and even mentioned the importance of an organic mattress, but it took us years to finally decide on our own mattress and actually get it.
What seems like an inert and harmless thing, a soft pillowtop mattress, is often a source of exposure to harsh chemicals, EMFs amplified by innersprings, and other problems.
Mattresses can be a major source of chemical exposure. Mattress companies are not required to disclose all of them, either. For instance:
Manufacturers are dousing them (mattresses) with highly toxic flame-retardant chemicals like polybrominated diphenyl ether, better known as PBDE, which do NOT have to be disclosed in any way.
PBDEs, which have been banned in Canada, Europe, and several USA states, build up in your body over time, and what you absorb or inhale does not go away. This is concerning not only because of the health problems PBDE is associated with (brain and reproductive damage, decreased sperm quality, thyroid problems and even cancer at high levels), but also because of how pervasive these chemicals have become.
Additionally mattresses can contain fire-retardant chemicals like:
- boric acid (reproductive and developmental toxin, used as a pesticide)
- antimony (may cause heart and lung damage, possible carcinogen)
- decabromodiphenyl oxide (causes hair and memory loss, possible carcinogen)
Chemical flame retardants aren’t the only problem with conventional mattresses, however.
Coil spring mattresses have the added danger of being high in electromagnetic frequencies. Sound crazy? Maybe not.
This article from Scientific American explains how rising rates of breast cancer and melanoma in the western world provide a possible explanation:
For unknown reasons the rates of breast cancer and melanoma have both increased steadily in the last 30 years. Exposure to the sun elevates the risk of melanoma, but the sun’s intensity has not changed in the last three decades. Stranger still, melanoma most commonly affects the hip, thighs and trunk, which are areas of the body protected from the sun. What is responsible for the left-side dominance and increasing incidence of these cancers?
An intriguing clue comes from the Far East. In Japan there is no correlation between the rates of melanoma and breast cancer as there is in the West, and there is no left-side prevalence for either disease. Moreover, the rate of breast cancer in Japan is significantly lower than in the West; only 3 percent of what is seen in Sweden, for example. The rate of prostate cancer in Japan is only 10 percent of that in the U.K. and U.S.
The researchers suggest an explanation based on differences in sleeping habits in Japan and Western countries. Previous research has shown that both men and women prefer to sleep on their right sides. The reasons for this general preference are unclear, but sleeping on the right side may reduce the weight stress on the heart, and the heartbeat is not as loud as when sleeping on the left. Still, there is no reason to suspect that people in Japan sleep in positions that are any different from those in the West. The beds in Japan, however, are different. The futons used for sleeping in Japan are mattresses placed directly on the bedroom floor, in contrast to the elevated box springs and mattress of beds used in the West. A link between bedroom furniture and cancer seems absurd, but this, the researchers conclude, is the answer.
as we sleep on our coil-spring mattresses, we are in effect sleeping on an antenna that amplifies the intensity of the broadcast FM/TV radiation. Asleep on these antennas, our bodies are exposed to the amplified electromagnetic radiation for a third of our life spans. As we slumber on a metal coil-spring mattress, a wave of electromagnetic radiation envelops our bodies so that the maximum strength of the field develops 75 centimeters above the mattress in the middle of our bodies. When sleeping on the right side, the body’s left side will thereby be exposed to field strength about twice as strong as what the right side absorbs.
Mold and Mildew and Mites, Oh My!
I read that mattresses doubled their weight every 10 years and I wondered why. Ben Greenfield explains:
Not only that, but since it’s a damp, dark area, the spring system in your mattress acts as an incubator for dust mites, mold and mildew. This is why spring mattresses double their weight after 10 years – all that dead skin, dust mite, feces particles and dust has to accumulate somewhere, and the springs are the place to do it. Now I’m not suggesting that you go outside and sleep on the dirt, but if you have a choice between a metal coil-spring mattress and plain ol’ dirt, the latter would be the way to go.
I didn’t realize how much of a problem dust mites could be, but:
Dust mites feed off human and animal dander; excess skin shed from the body. After ingesting dander, mites then defecate and the mites’ feces accumulate inside the mattress. A single mite can produce up to 2000 units of fecal matter in a period of 10 weeks. A harmful allergen, mite fecal matter has been proven to have a severe impact on health as well as sleep quality.
Female dust mites live about two months and can lay 100 eggs a month during this time.
Finding an Organic Mattress
Just knowing the problem does not unfortunately lead to a solution. Even after I’d researched the problem with conventional mattresses, I still had trouble finding a mattress brand that was a good alternative for us.
Most organic mattresses contain a mixture of cotton, wool, and latex. On their own, these ingredients are generally considered safe but some of them can still be problematic in mattresses. Additionally, there is a lot of green-washing and mislabeling in the mattress industry.
Terms like “natural” and “eco-friendly” are unregulated for mattresses. They also don’t mean that the mattress is made of natural materials. A mattress must be 95% organic to meet USDA organic standards. Some mattresses may use organic cotton or organic wool for the top layer, but check before assuming an organic label means an entirely natural mattress.
When it comes to the term “organic” for mattresses, this article explains:
If you see the word “organic”, it always means certified organic, which indicates the mattress has been certified by a third party. If a mattress company is going to call their mattress organic, it must be certified by an some kind of a third party organization which certifies products to be organic. An agency called “Control Union” is the only company that actually certifies latex – the main component of foam in most modern mattresses – as organic under the Global Organic Latex Standards (or GOLS for short).
Now here’s something important to understand: 100% organic mattresses simply do not exist. In reality, any mattress company claiming to have organic mattresses actually contains a mix of both organic materials and other natural components in their mattresses. However, a certified organic mattress does indeed actually mean that at least 95% of the latex used in that mattress is made from certified organic components. But most latex mattresses on the market are simply not organic because they’re A) not certified organic and B) they don’t meet those 95% standards.
For example, natural latex foam is a component you’ll typically find in many “healthy” mattresses. But given the cost, most companies include very little of the certified organic latex. For example, just 1 inch of the total 8 inches of a most natural latex mattresses is actually GOLS certified organic latex. That’s a pretty small fraction – kind of like having an organic apple orchard, with just 1/8 of the trees actually being truly organic.
Finding a safe and organic mattress was the first priority but comfort was also really important to us. My husband and I take jujutsu together several times a week. It is a very physical form of martial arts that often involves throws, rolls, and flying through the air. We admittedly often get a little sore from these workouts, so a rejuvenating sleep with as much pressure relief as possible was a priority.
Many organic mattresses I’d tried tended to be very firm and I wanted to find one that was supportive, but not overly firm.
On the other end of the spectrum, many organic memory foam mattresses can be too soft. Memory foam was developed my NASA to support astronauts as they adjusted to the force of gravity after being in space. Unfortunately, many memory foam mattresses are chemical based and contain flame retardants and they can be too soft for many people (this was our experience).
I wanted to find a mattress that was truly free of toxic chemicals yet supportive and comfortable and that would not cause problems with moisture, mildew, and mites. We ended up with an option that competes with the best luxury mattresses out there in terms of comfort.
What We Chose
After much research and saving, (and after trying an expensive organic mattress that wasn’t the best for us), we finally settled on a non-toxic inert IntelliBED mattress and we have absolutely loved it. Intellibed uses a Gel Matrix in their mattresses that is made in America and doesn’t off gas harmful chemicals.
To be really clear- the mattress we chose is not certified organic but I feel better about it than I did about any of the organic options. I also don’t believe that any one mattress is the right bed for every single person, but this one was absolutely best for us. I feel comfortable recommending it because even though a mattress is a big purchase, they also have a 60-day full money-back guarantee so you can try it risk free. (TIP: If you use this link and the code WellnessMama you can save 10% on anything in their store!)
The Bottom Line
Non-toxic mattresses certainly aren’t cheap, but with as much time as we spend in bed I thought it was well worth the investment for us. Also, the king-size IntelliBED that we purchased with the 10% discount comes out to $6.25 a month (for the duration of the 30-year warranty), which was cheaper than the cost per month of many conventional mattresses based on when they recommend replacing.
If you’re considering a new mattress, definitely do your own research and make sure you’ve found the best option for you and your family. It is an investment, but one that can benefit you greatly over the long term.
How to Get an Intellibed Mattress at a Discount:
- Go to this link and pick the bed (and other products) you want…
- Use the code WellnessMama to save 10%
- Try the mattress for 60 days risk free to make sure you love it as much as we do!
Have you switched to an organic mattress? If not, will you?