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I’ve written before about how sleep is the most difficult part of health for me to consistently dial in. I know and understand the importance of getting enough sleep, but actually getting to bed early and sleeping all through the night is a moving target for me, especially since I’ve been pregnant or nursing for most of the last decade.
Now on to the (many, many) details…
Our Mattress Saga
When my husband and I first got married, we were on a tight budget that makes most other tight budgets look lavish. I loved those years because they brought us closer together, but we had approximately $5.00 of disposable income each month during that time.
The Budget-Friendly Mattress
Eventually we switched from the full size mattress that I’d brought from home when we got married, to a king size bed to accommodate the very active baby that was now sleeping with us. We bought a $100 mattress off Craigslist that had supposedly “never been used” and put the box springs and mattress on the floor so we wouldn’t have to buy a frame or headboard (which worked out well, considering the very active baby).
This mattress served us well for many years (it was actually very comfortable), but it was only after researching the potential problems with most mattresses that I realized we should consider a less toxic option, especially since I was spending so much time on it while pregnant and our children were sleeping on it too.
I began replacing our mattresses with organic options as we were financially able, starting with the baby crib mattress, as there is a lot of evidence that the chemicals in mattresses are the most harmful to babies and small children. I worked up through our kids in age order and eventually we were to the point of considering an organic king size mattress for our own bed.
At this point, there were several new organic options available, and I struggled trying to figure out which one to buy. We eventually settled on a major organic mattress brand that had good sourcing of their materials and were tested to be non-toxic.
We slept on this mattress for several years, but neither my husband or I “loved” it. So after many additional hours of research, and several years of less-than-perfect sleep, we upgraded to a very expensive Essentia organic mattress. This one was more of a memory foam type organic mattress with organic latex and when we first got it, I was in love.
The Organic Mattress Problem
Unfortunately, we discovered over the next few months that while I loved the super-soft memory foam, it didn’t work quite so well for my husband, as he started developing back pain that grew worse over time. He even resorted to sleeping on the floor or couch a few times for some relief of the back pain, as the firmer sleeping surface helped.
After a few months of this, I realized that we’d have to consider another mattress option (which was frustrating, since the Essentia mattress was not cheap and I’d researched for a long time before choosing it!). I started researching again, and this was also around the time that I became IRL (in real life) friends with Heather of Mommypotamus.com who told us about the mattress they’d recently gotten and how much they loved it…
The Mattress Solution
On a visit to her home, I got to check out the mattress in person and was impressed, so I started researching the company to learn more. The mattress was from IntelliBED, and with the back pain my husband was having, I really liked that their mattresses were especially supportive, but with a non-toxic gel mesh that is even used in hospitals to help remedy bed sores.
After several not-so-subtle requests from my husband to figure out a new mattress to alleviate his back pain, I gave IntelliBED a call to find out what was really in their mattresses and see if it would be a workable option for us (poor IntelliBED customer support, but I can vouch for how helpful they are!)
Several hour-long calls with members of their customer support and even a call with their founder later, I was ready to try IntelliBED. (Pssstt… if you want to find out more or try IntelliBED, use this link and the code “WellnessMama” to get 10% off!)
Within days of its arrival and subsequent sleep, my husband had no more back pain. Ironically, I found out within a few days of getting it that I was expecting again, and so far, I haven’t dealt with any of the normal hip pain I get at this point in pregnancy.
Considering the 30-year warranty that IntelliBED offers, I hope this is the end of our mattress saga for a really long time and this baby will be getting an IntelliBED crib mattress when she arrives.
The Problem With Most Mattresses
Why not just get a newer, better mattress from a regular mattress store? Here’s why…
Conventional Beds and Thyroid Problems
One of the main reasons we started looking at organic and non-toxic mattresses in the first place is because of my existing thyroid condition and the potential genetic pre-disposition our children might have to the same problems.
Most mattresses contain PBDEs, or polybrominated diphenyl ethers, which have been shown to leach into the human body, storing in fat cells and altering hormone function (especially thyroid function). Many doctors and thyroid specialists will ask patients about exposure to things that may contain PBDEs like mattresses, carpets and plastics.
In fact, 97% of people tested in the US were found to have high levels of PBDEs in their bodies, especially residents of California (due to their flammability laws). On average, Americans had up to 20 times higher PBDE levels than Europeans and these chemicals are banned in many parts of the world.
It infuriated me that these chemicals are approved for use in in the US and may have contributed to my thyroid problem. They may also cause infertility and fetal growth problems. (This article has some good info on how to avoid them)
Other Harmful Chemicals in Mattresses
Due to flammability laws, many mattresses contain high levels of many harmful chemicals including:
Formaldehyde is often used in the glue that holds different layers of mattresses together. It is a colorless gas created when methanol oxidizes and is a known carcinogen. It is found in many household products and building materials. Short term exposure can result in skin and respiratory irritation and long term exposure has been linked to various types of cancers:
In 1987, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classified formaldehyde as a probable human carcinogen under conditions of unusually high or prolonged exposure (1). Since that time, some studies of humans have suggested that formaldehyde exposure is associated with certain types of cancer. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies formaldehyde as a human carcinogen (2). In 2011, the National Toxicology Program, an interagency program of the Department of Health and Human Services, named formaldehyde as a known human carcinogen in its 12th Report on Carcinogens (3).
Many mattresses also contain melamine resin, which is another source of formaldehyde.
Flame Retardants and PDBEs
Thanks to a law passed in California in the 1970s that was later adopted nationwide, mattresses must meet certain flame retardant standards. These laws now extend to almost all household furniture, though mattresses are the most worrisome since so much time is spent on them compared to other household furniture items.
Many mattresses contain Polyurethane foam which is treated with chemicals to make a memory-foam type material and to make it more flame retardant. Mattresses that contain these substances can release VOCs (volatile organic compounds) and PCBEs into the air (and into the body) during sleep.
A heavy metal linked to reproductive problems if absorbed by the body, Antimony has also been found in the blood of babies who died from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and is one of the potential parts of the SIDS puzzle, though the research is still out on this. Personally, this was a good motivator for me to choose non-toxic mattresses for our children if there even *might* be a connection between this chemical in mattresses and SIDS.
What We Chose & Why
As I explained, finally settling on an Intellibed mattress was a loooong process for us. After researching literally dozens of options (and purchasing several that didn’t work for us) we are very happy with our final decision.
I feel that it is important to note that Intellibed is NOT a certified organic mattress. This originally concerned me and was the reason I didn’t consider them at first, and for the multiple long phone calls to their company, though I am now completely happy with our decision. Here’s why…
Though it isn’t certified organic, Intellibed meets my criteria for a mattress because:
Does Not Contain Toxic Flame Retardant Chemicals
This was my number one criteria, especially since our babies sleep in our bed and because of my thyroid issue:
In 2007, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission required all mattresses to meet strict flame resistant standards. Unfortunately, the Commission did not mandate which materials should be used by companies to accomplish this. As a result, mattress makers now spray a cocktail of chemicals both to the outside and inside of their mattresses to provide this flame resistant barrier.
I confirmed that Intellibed mattresses were free of:
- PCDE’s (polybrominated diphenyl ethers)
- Boric Acid
- Melamine resin
Most of the studies done on the effect of these chemicals looked at pregnant women (check) and babies (soon to be check) so this was the most important thing I was looking for.
While certified organic mattresses do not contain these chemicals by definition, many mattresses labeled as “Natural” do contain them. In fact, the word “Natural” is not regulated in bedding and though it is often used in marketing materials, “natural” mattresses may still contain all of these harmful chemicals and other additional ones.
IntelliBED meets the flame retardant standards for mattresses, but uses an inert silica-based mineral flame retardant. Unlike other flame retardants, this silica-based one is not bioavailable and won’t break down over time or with body heat (it will only break down in the presence of flames).
Offers Great Support
Though I loved our original Essentia organic mattress, my husband developed annoying back pain after sleeping on it for a several months because it wasn’t as firm of a surface as he needed (although it never bothered me at all). Finding a mattress that offered better support and relief of his back problems was a top priority for us and this is one of the main reasons we decided to switch to IntelliBED.
My husband has always been a very restless sleeper. I thought this was just because he is so active and moves often throughout the day as well, but in researching, I found that this can actually be the result of an uncomfortable or non-supportive mattress. If a mattress is not providing proper support during sleep this creates pressure spots and the person must move frequently to redistribute their weight in order to get comfortable.
Apparently, it wasn’t normal for him to need to move that much at night, nor was it normal for him to have his hands and feet lose feeling while sleeping.
IntelliBED is the only mattress available that has an Intelli-GEL matrix that was designed and proven to reduce pressure during sleep and is tested and used to reduce bed sores and pressure wounds in hospitals. In tests, this gel matrix was able to reduce pressure by as much as 80% compared to top-of-the-line memory foam or sleep number mattresses. In pressure testing, this was the comparison of pressure points (red areas indicate high pressure areas):
Considering how big of a hassle it was to find a good mattress and how pricey they are, it was also a priority to find a mattress that was durable so we wouldn’t have to purchase another one for a very long time. After hearing horror stories from friends about pricey name brand mattresses that wore down after only a few years and companies who would not honor their warranties, it was important to me to find a reputable company with a good warranty and who would actually honor it.
IntelliBED offered the longest warranty of any mattress I found at 30 years, and I found this comparison helpful:
All mattresses come with a warranty. Some warranties are for a few years and some are for a few decades. They all vary widely and we thought it would be helpful to put together a warranty comparison so that you know what they all mean and so that you can see why no one beats the warranty on an IntelliBED.
Just about every mattress manufacturer requires indentations in the mattress to be 1.5″ or greater to be covered by their warranty. Only IntelliBED and Tempurpedic require .75″ of indentations.
The softening of mattress materials is also not considered a warranty issue. In third-party Rollator testing, foam has been shown to soften from 16% to 49% over the life of the bed. Manufacturers know their foam cushioning will soften, so their warranties do not cover it. IntelliBED will only soften 4.5% over the life of the mattress.
It is typical for warranties to also only cover the original owner. If you buy a used mattress, even if it is still nearly brand new, the warranty is voided more often than not.
Many warranties will be voided by improper support. If you use the wrong type of box spring or the wrong type of metal frame, your warranty could be voided.
Every warranty, including IntelliBED, is voided if you stain your mattress. It is important that regardless of the mattress you own, you use a mattress protector to keep it stain free. (source)
Knowing this, I made sure that we ordered a mattress cover to protect against stains and checked that our bed frame and box springs met the requirements.
Ability to Return
Considering our short-lived success with our previous organic mattress, I also decided it was important to have a mattress that we could return if it didn’t work for us. I firmly believe that no mattress will work for everyone. The organic mattress we had was a high-quality mattress and I really loved it, but it didn’t work for my husband.
It seems that there is always a small percentage of people who don’t do well with any given mattress, so I wanted to make sure that we could try the mattress before deciding to keep it permanently. IntelliBED offers a 60-day return period as long as we had a mattress protector to guard against stains, and I slept better knowing that we could return this mattress if it didn’t work for us.
Our Essentia organic mattress was one of the biggest home purchases we’d ever made (well over $5,000). Our new IntelliBED was less than half of the cost (and you can get one for even less with a 10% discount by using the code WellnessMama at this link)
Organic vs. Non-Toxic Mattresses
As I mentioned, IntelliBED mattresses are not certified “organic” which was part of my original criteria. Their mattresses are non-toxic and after much research, I felt more comfortable with an IntelliBED than an organic mattress for several reasons, especially for long-term use, support, and value.
I also found that both IntelliBED mattresses and most major organic mattress brands were safe and inert on a chemical level but that the non-toxic IntelliBED was more durable. While organic is almost always the best option when it comes to food (or even clothing), this is not always true for mattresses.
Understanding Types of Non-Toxic Mattresses
- Prescription Chemical Free: TIP: this is the best option if you are able to get it but it requires a prescription (from a doctor (MD or DO) or chiropractor (DC) licensed in your state) that specifically states that you need a chemical free mattress for health reasons. If you are able to get a prescription like this, you’ll have several options for truly chemical-free mattresses. IntelliBED offers custom mattresses and can make one even without their safe flame retardant chemicals if you have this note. I was pursuing this option and had a prescription from a local doctor but after researching I felt comfortable with IntelliBED’s inert flame retardants.
- Certified Organic: For mattresses, this means that it has met the Global Organic Textile Standards and can be marketed as organic. Only mattresses that have met these guidelines can be called organic. Unfortunately, as we discovered, lack of support is a big problem with many of these mattresses and the natural materials are more prone to microbial growth and other problems over time.
- Completely Wool Mattresses: Many of these mattresses are marketed as naturally fire retardant and claim that they don’t contain any additional chemicals, but some independent tests have shown that wool may not meet the flame retardant standards on its own and that many of these mattresses contain additional chemicals that don’t have to be disclosed. Also, all-wool mattresses are notoriously uncomfortable over time, as they can pack down and thicken.
So here’s the thing…
Not all of IntelliBED’s materials are certified organic. This is because some of them are substances that my nature cannot be certified, but they are all inert and tested to be non-toxic and safe (even for pregnant women and babies).
All of their materials meet a standard called CertiPUR-US which means they are analyzed by an independent, accredited testing laboratory and found to be free of ozone depletes, PBDE flame retardants, heavy metals, formaldehyde and phthalates. Their foams are also tested to make sure they are low VOC (Volatile Organic Compound – less than 0.5 parts per million (below 1.0 ppm is consider safe).
The patented IntelliGEL is a synthetic material so it can’t be certified organic, but it is inert, non off-gassing and even approved for use in baby bottle nipples. In fact, this gel is medical grade and often used in hospitals for bedridden patients and burn victims to reduce pressure and promote healing.
Benefits We’ve Seen
Since switching to IntelliBED, we’ve noticed some specific benefits (though these are obviously our subjective experience and not scientific in any way):
- No back pain for my husband: The reason we switched in the first place was because of my husband’s back pain and he has been pain-free since day 2 of our switch.
- Better sleep: Both of us feel that we are sleeping better with the new mattress.
- No hip pain for me during pregnancy: I’m a back sleeper naturally and my hips usually hurt when I have to sleep on my side while pregnant, but I have not had any hip pain this pregnancy at all.
- Better temperature regulation during sleep: I’m sensitive to temperature with my thyroid issues, and I’ve always had trouble getting temperature comfortable at night. Growing up, I had a water bed and felt cool a lot from the water. With a regular mattress, I felt like it got too hot and sweaty. IntelliBED has been the first mattress that has ever been a happy medium for me.
The Downside to IntelliBED
If anything, our years-long mattress saga taught me that no mattress is a panacea and that there are many great options out there (but some of them might not work for you!). I don’t want to paint the picture that IntelliBED is the only option out there… it has just been the best option for us.
Our children still love their basic thin organic mattresses on their bunk beds and don’t seem to have the same need for support that my husband and I have. Our organic crib mattress is going strong and now we finally have a bed that we love too.
The one downside I will mention about IntelliBED is that it does seem to move more than our previous memory foam organic mattress, so I do tend to notice the bed move if my husband gets up in the middle of the night. This wasn’t a concern for me, since he seems to toss and turn so much less now and it hasn’t bothered me when he moves at night, but I am curious to see what happens when we have a new baby in bed with us. From reading other reviews, it seems that many people think IntelliBED mattresses move less than most others, so I might just be especially sensitive to this.
I want to be very clear and objective that I do not think our previous Essentia mattress was bad in any way, it just didn’t end up being the best option for us. In the same way, I don’t think IntelliBED will be perfect for everyone, but I do like that they allow up to 60 days to try it out and send it back if it isn’t.
In the end, IntelliBED has been the best option for us, and since I get so many mattress related questions, I wanted to share my opinion with you.
A Word on EMFs
In a previous post I shared research about how springs in mattresses may amplify the effects of EMFs in mattresses and explained how one theory suggests that this may be part of the reason for rising rates of certain cancers.
Since that time, I’ve researched this topic in depth, purchased a gaussmeter (for measuring magnetic, electric and radio waves) and talked to several researchers in the field of electromagnetic radiation to try to find more information on this theory.
In short, I’ve come to the conclusion that EMFs are a really big deal, but that mattresses with springs may not be the culprit by any means, just a symptom of a bigger problem.
When I measured several different beds in several different houses (both with springs and without), I found something interesting: the springs in the bed were much less of an indicator of a problem than how close the bed was to things like a wifi router or the main electrical wire that attached to the house. For us, this meant that our daughters beds (with no springs at all) measured the highest (yikes!) as their room also just happened to be above our office where the wifi router is.
At the end of the day, I’ve come to the conclusion that getting rid of the springs in mattresses to avoid EMFs is akin to putting a filter on a cigarette to reduce chemical exposure. It may help slightly, but it isn’t addressing the problem.
When it comes to smoking, the solution is simple (just stop!) and the same rings pretty true for wifi and EMF exposure in the home. This is a topic I’ll be writing about a lot more in the future, but in short, we found that these steps helped reduce or eliminate EMF exposure irregardless of springs in mattresses:
- Turning off wi-fi at night: This was a struggle to get my husband to agree to and it is a change we are just now starting to implement. It is a tough balance, as we both have aspects of our work that requires much time online, but we also want to protect our family from any unnecessary exposure. Since research shows we are more susceptible to EMF exposure at night and since I have not yet mastered working in my sleep, it makes sense to turn off the wifi at night. If you have more than one device that contributes to your wifi like we do (router, modem, Apple devices, etc), I recommend plugging them into a power strip with a switch to easily turn off at night. This single step alone can reduce 1/2 to 2/3 of exposure, especially for children who are (hopefully) spending some of the daytime outdoors anyway. This addresses the root of the problem as well- no wifi… nothing to amplify. I plan to rewire our house to just use ethernet cables, but I haven’t had the time to do this yet (and it is tough to get in the crawl space of our house while pregnant.)
- Using an earthing mat: This is a controversial topic and the research is divided, but I seem to sleep better on an earthing sheet, so we use one. This post explains more.
- Greenwave filters: Last year, our kids all got these dirty electricity filters for Christmas (super exciting gift, I know) but they made a measurable difference in the levels in our home. Interesting note, I decided to repaint our house while my husband was traveling to surprise him and I had to paint 4 rooms in 4 days. I had all of the electrical outlet plates unscrewed and taped over and was painting during the day. The first two nights, I could hardly sleep and was restless all night. I assumed it was because my husband was out of town. The night I plugged the filters back in, I slept just fine. Totally anecdotal, but I still wonder if there was a connection. (This was before we started unplugging the wifi).
- Don’t plug things in near the bed– This is another factor that made a big difference for us and some things measured higher than others. Things like our lamps and wake up light didn’t seem to have much of an effect, while computers and phone chargers really did. We plugged the green wave filters in to the plugs near our bed and plugged the necessary things into them (lamps, etc) and avoided putting any other electronics in our bedroom…
- The no-phone rule– We have a non-negotiable rule about not having our phones, computers or other electronics in our room at night (the only time I’ve broken this rule was when my husband was traveling internationally and I wouldn’t be able to talk to him if my phone wasn’t at least close enough to hear). I know some people use phones as an alarm or for various sleep monitoring purposes, so the other option is to put phones in airplane mode at night (a good idea anyway).
EMFs are an increasingly important topic and one that it seems we are just starting to understand, but after a lot of additional research, I consider springs in mattresses to be very low on the spectrum of important steps to take to reduce exposure. The step with the biggest impact seems to be reducing or eliminating wifi in the home whenever possible (and turning off the router at night is free!).
How to Try IntelliBED Risk-Free
After our previous experience, one of the things that really attracted me to IntelliBED was the ability to try it risk-free without committing for 60 days (it also didn’t hurt that it was less expensive than many other options since we had spent so much on our previous mattress).
If you’ve been on the fence about trying an organic mattress, IntelliBED offers the chance to try it risk-free.
I’m currently a fan and and affiliate for the company (though this post was in no way sponsored by them) and if you decide to try IntelliBED, you can get 10% off at this link (use the code “WellnessMama”). [Note: Until 12/31, use the code “WellnessMama” to receive 10% off + 2 intelliPILLOW’s and Bamboo Sheets (valued at $500) on any queen bed or larger (not valid with the Value bed or any bed smaller than Queen size).]
If an organic mattress isn’t in your budget right now (I know it wasn’t in ours for many years), they also have mattress toppers that can be used on top any mattress, though I’d recommend coating any non-organic mattress in a safe plastic to avoid the problems listed above if you choose this option. They even have pillows made of the same Intelli-gel matrix and my husband refuses to use any other pillow now.
Also, if you have questions about the materials or mattress (as I hope you would when considering a purchase this big), I’d really recommend calling and talking to their team. They were really helpful and can answer any questions you may have (and you can also use the code “WellnessMama” on the phone to get a discount).
NOTE: The discount applies to everything Intellibed offers, and I’ve also used it to order their pillows, seat cushion (which is so helpful during pregnancy) and their Sleep Genius system which has really helped my children sleep better.
The Bottom Line
At the end of the day, I realize a non-toxic mattress may not be in the budget for many people (it took us years to save up and make the jump). I love IntelliBED and sing their praises to friends and family (just ask any of my local friends who I’ve coerced into laying in my bed to try it) and realize how important a non-toxic sleep solution is, but I wrote this post just to share my experience and hassle with mattresses in the past and to hopefully help others avoid these problems.
There are a lot of options out there for mattresses and this is the one that worked for us and that I recommend to family and friends (and I feel good about sharing here, especially because you can try it risk free). I also felt it was important to dispel the myth that organic is always the best option, it’s definitely true for food, but not always for bedding!
If a non-toxic mattress isn’t in your plans right now, just ignore this post (though you should get a medal of honor for reading this far!), but I hope that this in-depth explanation of my research and experience will be helpful to anyone specifically considering non-toxic mattress options.
Options to Improve a Regular Mattress
If a new mattress isn’t in your plans anytime soon, here are some ways to upgrade an existing mattress for better support/sleep and to reduce chemical exposure:
- Consider using an inexpensive complete mattress encasement cover (like this one or this one) to block allergens, chemicals and other harmful aspects of regular mattresses. (There are also mattress covers specifically for baby mattresses that are supposed to reduce the risk of SIDS and allergies)
- If you are eventually considering replacing your mattress with IntelliBED, but can’t yet, consider ordering (or asking for Christmas) one of their pillows. This will give you a great idea of what the Intelli-gel is like and help you decide if you do want to go for the full mattress eventually.
What kind of mattress do you have? What has your experience been?