Have a Healthier Sleep – Organic Mattresses. You need an Organic Bed!
What is in your mattress and is it helping or hindering your health?
Is Your Mattress Slowly Killing You?
When you consider that you spend 7-9 hours per night sleeping, that’s over 2,500 hours per year that you spend on a bed (1/3 of your lives!). Your physical, mental and emotional performance is all directly correlated to the quality of that time spent in that bed…Since we spend up to 1/3 of our life sleeping, the chemicals in a mattress can be a big source of exposure and have been linked to problems like allergies, asthma, fertility problems/hormone imbalance, can destroy your muscles and joints, and even autism in sensitive individuals. Some, like Dr. Mercola, make a strong case for the potential dangers even of the springs of mattresses which can amplify electromagnetic radiation during sleep. They can leave you waking up robbed of true, quality, deep sleep. So in this article, you’re going to learn how your mattress may slowly be killing you, and why you should buy an organic bed.
Coil-Spring Mattresses and EMF
OK, OK – I do indeed realize that just a moment ago, you may have snickered at my “cancer causing antenna” line. But this article from Scientific American actually explains this phenomenon of electromagnetic fields (EMF) and coil-spring mattresses quite well:
“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.“
In other words, metal spring mattresses and box springs may act as giant in-home EMF antennas – not an appealing thought. But just in case you need more proof, check out this video that shows how a mattress interacts with the earth’s magnetic field:
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 doI’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.
Fortunately, there are mattress that are not made with coil-springs, and instead use natural padding. More on that later.
Dangerous Chemicals In Your Mattress
As of July 1, 2007, all U.S. mattresses (And Canadian) were required to be highly flame retardant, to the extent that they won’t catch on fire if exposed to a blow torch. But this meant that the manufacturers had to begin dousing all their mattresses with highly toxic flame-retardant chemicals like polybrominated diphenyl ether, also known as PBDE.
PBDE, which has been banned in Canada, Europe and several states, accumulates in your body over time, and any of it that you absorb or inhale does not go away, and can instead cause issues such as brain and reproductive damage, decreased sperm quality, thyroid problems and even cancer. Not surprisingly, PBDE-based chemicals are now showing up in breast milk, blood tests and even umbilical-cord blood and livers of fetuses.
But it doesn’t stop with PBDE.
Other flame-retardant chemicals currently approved for use in mattresses include:
-Boric acid, a toxic respiratory irritant often used to kill cockroaches
-Antimony, a metal that can be more toxic than mercury (a person sleeping on a chemically treated mattress will absorb .8 mg of antimony every night, an amount that is 27 times more than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says is safe!)
-Formaldehyde, a potential carcinogenic
Dr. Doris Rapp, a board-certified environmental medical specialist and pediatric allergist with an excellent website devoted to making your home a healthier place to live, sums it up this way:
“They have maybe a cup and a half or two cups of this material on the mattress. They sprinkle it over the top or they put it into some kind of a coating on the mattress. And this can make people very, very ill.”
Just think about it.
You spend multiple hours every night with your face in close proximity to your mattress, breathing in these chemicals. And if your children are anything like mine, they love to jump on your bed, and when that happens, or any other time you bounce on your mattress (heh, I can think of a time when that happens, baby), even more of these toxins can be released into your bedroom environment.
Other Hazards of Conventional Mattresses
Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) are a class of chemicals that were commonly used as flame retardants on mattresses, until their ban in 1987. The Montreal Protocol banned the use of CFC’s because of their ability to transcend the lower atmosphere and destroy the ozone in the upper atmosphere. CFC’s are harmful greenhouse gases that are persistent in most mattresses made prior to 1987. Sleeping Organic products contain NO CFC’s.
PCBs are chemically similar to PBDEs. PCBs are slow to break down, persisting in the environment and accumulating in human and animal fat cells. According to the EPA, “PCB’s are man-made organic chemicals known as chlorinated hydrocarbons. PCBs were domestically manufactured from 1929 until their manufacture was banned in 1979. They have a range of toxicity and vary in consistency from thin, light-colored liquids to yellow or black waxy solids. Due to their non-flammability, chemical stability, high boiling point, and electrical insulating properties, PCBs were used in hundreds of industrial and commercial applications including mattresses”. Although PCB’s can no longer be commercially produced in the U.S, PCB’s may still be present in certain products. PCB’s are hazardous to the environment, and once released into the environment, PCB’s do not readily break down. PCB’s also causes adverse affects in human health. The EPA states, “PCBs have been demonstrated to cause cancer, as well as a variety of other adverse health effects on the immune system, reproductive system, nervous system, and endocrine system.” If you are sleeping on a mattress made in or prior to the 80′s, it is plausible that you are sleeping on severely harmful fire retardant chemicals. It might be time for a new mattress! Sleeping Organic products contain NO PCB’s. For more information on PCB’s see: http://www.epa.gov/osw/hazard/tsd/pcbs/pubs/about.htm
Many synthetic beds have plastic coverings made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC’s). PVC is one of the most widely used plastics in the U.S. According to Green Peace, the production of PVCs produces toxic chemicals called dioxins. PVC products can leak harmful additives when disposed, and they release more dioxins and compounds containing chlorine when burned. Thus, PVC’s are very difficult to recycle. Different chemicals are added to PVC’s to make them soft. Studies on laboratory animals demonstrate how these chemicals correlate with cancer and kidney damage, and may interfere with the reproductive system. Government and industry are doing their best to eliminate the use of PVC’s. Sleeping Organic products contain NO PVC’s.
Conventional mattresses are often pretreated with formaldehyde-emitting stain and water repellants whose manufacturing process releases Perfluoroctanoic Acid, PFOAs. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Formaldehyde is a colorless, foul smelling gas that can cause “watery eye, burning sensations in the eyes and throat, nausea, difficulty breathing and asthma attacks” if the exposure is high enough. Research shows that Formaldehyde is a carcinogen in animals, and there is evidence suggesting that formaldehyde may cause cancer in humans. Sleeping Organic products contain NO Formaldehyde. For more information, see: http://www.epa.gov/iaq/formalde.html.
PFOA’s (Perfluoroctanoic Acid)
Conventional mattresses are often pretreated with formaldehyde-emitting stain and water repellants whose manufacturing process releases Perfluoroctanoic Acid, PFOAs. The EPA has been investigating PFOA, also known as “C8″ because it:
-Is very persistent in the environment
-Is found at very low levels both in the environment and in the blood of the
general U.S. population
-Remains in people for a very long time
-Causes developmental and other adverse effects in laboratory animals
Sleeping Organic products contain NO PFOA’s. For more information on PFOA’s, see: http://www.epa.gov/opptintr/pfoa/
Carcinogenic Chemicals and Pesticides
In addition to being covered in toxic flame retardants, carcinogenic chemicals are key components of the manufacturing process for conventional, synthetic bedding. Synthetic latex is produced by chemical processes. It contains man-made materials such as polyurethane and other carcinogenic toxins such as formaldehyde or Polybrominated Diphenyl ethers (boric acid). These cancer-causing agents absorb into our bodies as we sleep, and are emitted into the air as the foam breaks down. Furthermore, synthetic manufacturers often use unregulated wool and cotton in their bedding.
The cotton industry heavily sprays the cotton plants with pesticides and herbicides to repel bugs. About 35% of the world’s pesticides are used to grow cotton. These pesticides create a residue that leaches and integrates into the fiber of the cotton. Because the pesticides become a part of the cotton, they can never wash out. These pesticides can then be absorbed by the human body through contact. See Pesticides Used on Conventional Cotton for a better understanding of how specific chemicals can affect you. Sleeping Organic only uses organic cotton, free of harmful pesticides, in our bedding.
Additionally, sheep are often dipped in insecticides to control external parasites such as ticks and lice. Prolonged exposure to sheep dip pesticides can adversely affect human health. According to the Organic Trade Association (http://www.ota.com/wool_environment.html):
-More than 14,000 pounds of insecticides were applied to sheep in the United States in 2000, the most recent year for which data is available (in the 22 states which have the highest sheep production). These pesticides are used to control mange, mites, lice, flies, and other pests. Some sheep and lambs receive multiple applications of several different chemicals.
-Pesticides used in sheep dips have consistently been linked with damage to the nervous system in workers that have been exposed to them in the United Kingdom. Even low-dose exposure over the long term has been conclusively linked with reduced nerve fiber function, anxiety, and depression. Long-term exposure to sheep dip has also been linked to reduced bone formation. In addition, residues of Diflubenzuron, an insecticide used in sheep dips, persist in the environment for more than a year.
-See Pesticides Used on Conventional Wool for more information on common pesticides used in conventional sheep rearing.
NO harmful chemicals or pesticides are used in organic bedding. Sleeping Organices uses organic cotton, organic wool, and organic latex in our organic bedding. No harmful, synthetic pesticides are used during crop cultivation, and no harmful chemicals are used in the manufacturing process.
According to the EPA, polyurethane foam is a widely used and highly effective insulator. “However, eye, skin and inhalation exposures to its key ingredients, Isocyanates, and other chemicals of concern in vapors, aerosols, and dusts can cause:
-Asthma, a potentially life-threatening disease
-Respiratory problems and other breathing difficulties
-Skin and eye irritation
-Other potential adverse health effects”
Decreases Respiratory Health
Polyurethane foam and synthetic bedding have been linked to increased respiratory problems and other health issues. There are many research studies that correlate asthma with synthetic bedding and polyurethane foam. According to a study entitled, “Synthetic Bedding and Wheeze in Childhood”, published by Lippincott Williams and Wilkins, synthetic bedding was strongly and consistently associated with frequent childhood wheeze. The researchers note, “Substantial trends were evident for an association of increasing number of synthetic bedding items with frequent wheeze and with increasing wheeze frequency. Among children with asthma, the age of onset of asthma occurred earlier if synthetic bedding was used in infancy.” The complete study can be found here: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3703277.
According to, “The Association Between Synthetic Bedding and Adverse Respiratory Outcomes Among Skin-Prick Test Positive and Skin Prink Test Negative Children,” there was a strong association between synthetic bedding and adverse respiratory outcomes. Furthermore, a recent study by researchers at the University of Otago in Wellington, New Zealand found that synthetic bedding had higher levels of fungi-related Beta Glucan, which is found in house dust and is known to make respiratory conditions worse. The study concludes, “It is plausible that the increased use of synthetic bedding materials in New Zealand over the last two decades has added significantly to the allergen burden and thus to the severity of allergic asthma.” These two studies can be found at the following links respectively:
Increases Exposure to Allergens
Every time you move, polyurethane foam compresses and as it expands to its original shape, it sucks in dust, old skin, bacteria, and moisture. Not only does polyurethane foam fail to resist moisture, leading to dust mites, mold and mildew, it also consists of an open cell honeycomb structure that provides the perfect living space for dust mites.
Quickly Degrades and Compresses
Synthetic mattresses containing the less expensive polyurethane will degrade and compress more quickly than mattresses containing 100% organic latex.
Devastating Environmental Impact
Conventional mattress production occurs with no concerns for the environment. Conventional cotton production has devastating environmental consequences. Runoff from nitrogen loaded synthetic fertilizers kills’ aquatic life and severely pollutes water. Pesticides used in conventional cotton production cause soil contamination and destroy animal habitats.
Conventional sheep facilities use insecticides to control external parasites and antibiotics to promote growth. According to the Organic Trade Association, “Pesticides used in sheep production can pose risks to human health and the environment. The top three insecticides used on sheep in 2005 -Fenvalerate, Malathion and Permethrin-are all slightly acutely toxic to humans, moderately to highly toxic to fish and amphibians, and suspect endocrine disruptors. Malathion is highly water soluble (can be easily transported from the application site by stormwater or irrigation water runoff) and the anaerobic half-life for Fenvalerate in soil is more than 155 days, potentially enabling it to cause groundwater contamination.”
Hazardous Production Process
Cotton fiber in conventional mattresses is processed with large amounts of boric acid (see Boric Acid under Pesticides Used on Cotton). Furthermore, conventional cotton production has a chlorine bleaching component that release carcinogenic dioxins. Most permanent press and stain and water repellant finishes can off gas formaldehyde (the manufacturing of these releases PFOA into the air). Synthetic latex is produced by chemical processes. It contains man-made materials such as polyurethane and other carcinogenic toxins such as formaldehyde or Polybrominated Diphenyl ethers (boric acid). These cancer-causing agents absorb into our bodies as we sleep, and are emitted into the air as the foam breaks down.
According to the Organic Trade Association, “two antibiotics, Oxytetracycline and Chlortetracycline, are approved for growth promotion in sheep. These antibiotic feed additives are used to promote slightly faster growth and to compensate for overcrowded and unhealthy conditions in concentrated animal feeding operations. Mounting evidence suggests that widespread use of agricultural antibiotics is contaminating surface waters and groundwater, including drinking water, in many rural areas as a result of their presence in animals waste. This non-human use of antibiotics is compromising medicine’s effectiveness in people as bacteria become resistant to antibiotics over time.” Organic sheep facilities and organic wool production does NOT use any antibiotics.
How Your Mattress Destroys Your Body And Performance
It may seem obvious, but it’s extremely important to properly support your spinal column during sleep, and just like there are proper biomechanics for working on your computer or deadlifting, there are proper biomechanics you must consider while sleeping.
The human body carries more weight in the hip and torso area, so this part of the body must be gently “pushed up” into alignment as you sleep. If your sleep surface doesn’t do this, it can become a major contributor to low back problems and poor movement patterns during the day while you’re awake. So yes, this means poor alignment while you sleep can make you a crappy mover during your lunchtime run.
Unfortunately, the modern mattress has moved away from the mechanics of proper alignment support. The mattress your grandparents might have slept on was probably made of steel springs (which can push the hips up into alignment) and some cotton batting for cushioning of the hips and shoulders. These mattresses supported the body well and typically lasted a good 25 years.
But eventually, mattresses began to evolve. Beginning with the waterbed, and then moving on to the use of synthetic foams as a replacement for cotton (most of these poorly made synthetic foam mattresses lose their support in just a few short years) and in some cases elimination of a spring set altogether (good for EMF, bad for your body), there is nothing in most of these newfangled, modern mattresses to push your hips up into alignment to be level with your shoulders, so your hips “sag” and create tension on your low back as you sleep.
And that’s not all – improper sleep biomechanics from most fancy foam mattresses, most water beds, and most modern spring mattresses affect pressure distribution during sleep, which is a huge issue too.
Unfortunately, when you toss and turn, you can instantly rip yourself out of deep sleep phases such as Stage 3 or Stage 4 sleep and shift into Stage 1 or 2 sleep. So this movement during sleep is more than simply a biomechanics or a comfort issue – it is literally fragmenting your sleep, lowering your sleep efficiency and robbing you of your ability to achieve the amount of sleep time necessary for nervous system repair, memory consolidation and immune system regeneration.
Unfortunately, even many of today’s nicer, more expensive mattresses use synthetic foams start off very supportive, but then degrade rapidly with use. So a mattress that supports and comforts you properly for a couple of years can quickly become a major contributor to poor sleep, improper back support, poor physical performance and daily pain.
3 Things To Look For In Your Next Mattress
So lets summarize what we’ve learned so far: we now know that if you’re serious about nervous system and muscle repair, regulation of appetite hormones, deep sleep, and ideal physical and mental performance, then you need to look for three things on the sleeping surface that you’re going to spend up to a third of your life on:
1) No crap-storing, EMF-producing springs, but the same biomechanical support as those old, steel-spring mattresses;
2) Organic, non-toxic materials that don’t build up chemicals in you and your family’s body;
3) The ability to last more than just a small handful of years before you have to throw it out and buy a new one;
In other words, you need an organic, non-spring mattresses that is durable.
What’s An Organic Mattress?
Yes, I said organic. Not that you’re going to eat your mattress, but you still get some pretty massive health points if you own an organic mattress. So what exactly is an organic mattress?
It gets a bit complicated, so stick with me here.
When it comes to mattresses, 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).
In contrast, terms such as “eco-friendly”, “environmentally friendly”, and “natural” are just nice-sounding claims, but don’t mean a mattress is actually organic.
In reality, most mattress companies 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.
In addition to organic latex, organic cotton is also found in most organic mattresses. That means the cotton has been grown without synthetic chemicals like fertilizers or pesticides and is not genetically modified in any way. Unbleached organic cotton is even better than plain old organic cotton, since this ensures no harsh bleaches have been used on the cotton.
Finally, organic wool is another component you’ll find in most organic mattresses.
-Pros – Wool is great at wicking away moisture and helping to you keep cool, since it contains a natural wax called lanolin, which is the greasy yellow wax produced by sheep which keeps their hairs dry and soft through harsh weather.
So ultimately, most organic mattresses are made from non-organic latex foam as a support layer, and then topped with organic wool to soften the mattress up, and finally wrapped in organic cotton. For the reasons you’ve just learned, all this organic mumbo-jumbo does not necessarily mean an organic mattress is a safe, non-toxic mattress to sleep on, and you still have to be a little inquisitive when shopping for an organic mattress
Our Sister Company Dream Tree Organic Beds:
The People who make our Beds – Soaring Heart Mattresses are proud to have one of only two Global Organic Textile Standard certified organic workshops, where we make mattresses and bedding from the best materials on earth. For over thirty years they have been an authority in the mattress and organic industry, setting the bar higher and higher for both ourselves and our partners.
You spend eight hours a day on your mattress and we want those to be the best eight hours of your day. That is only possible when you use the best, time honored, mattress crafting techniques and the highest quality materials. If you have any questions at all, please contact us and we will be happy to help you further.
Soaring Heart Natural & Organic Beds is a founding member of Seattle Made, a collaborative initiative to support and grow Seattle’s urban manufacturers and producers. All Soaring Heart Natural Beds products are handcrafted in our Seattle workshop.
-Many mattress companies inaccurately claim that their products are Made in Canada or Made in USA. But in reality, to cut costs, mattress components are actually imported from foreign countries and then assembled in Canada or the USA. However, tests are rarely performed on the imported mattress components, and there is absolutely no way of knowing which chemicals are used in the mattress composition. Any harsh chemical odors are masked prior to product exportation with industrial perfumes (or even green tea extracts – crazy, eh?)