Green Interiors

Getting a better night's sleep
by Pamela Portwood

Restlessly tossing and turning when you're asleep does more than make you feel tired the next day. Tossing and turning can actually pollute your bedroom air.

Conventional mattresses and toppers (including those made of memory foam) are manufactured from petroleum products that off gas hazardous volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Breathing VOCs regularly in bed can compound respiratory problems like asthma and allergies.

Yet VOC emissions from petroleum products are not the only mattress health issue. Legally, conventional mattresses have to be treated with fire retardants to avoid "flashing," which occurs when mattresses (or other soft materials) catch fire, and the fire's heat causes everything in the room to ignite quickly.

Federal laws now prohibit the use of the toxic polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) in fire retardants, but new fire retardants still release hazardous products, including antimony, a heavy metal that accumulates in the body, and boric acid, which is used to kill cockroaches.

Although the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has labelled antimony trioxide and boric acid as toxins that migrate from mattresses to the sleeper's skin, the Commission does not consider the toxin levels in mattresses hazardous. Other organizations have suggested that exposure is associated with a number of health conditions.

The best way to deal with this issue is to buy a latex mattress with a wool topper. The reason is that neither wool nor latex will ignite, so such mattresses do not require fire retardants. If you have a conventional mattress, cover it with a zippered, organic- cotton, dust-mite barrier. Not only will this keep out dust mites (microscopic bugs that compound allergies and asthma), it will help keep antimony and boric acid from being released as dust when the mattress breaks down.

If you need a water-resistant cover or crib mattress, buy one that is free of bisphenol-A (BPA), phthalates and VOCs, all of which are health hazards.

Although several major mattress manufacturers make latex mattresses, they still have fire retardants. Natura's fire retardant-free, latex mattresses are available locally at Copenhagen (www.copenhagenimports.com or 795-0316) and A-1 Mattress (www.a1mattressinc.com or 622-2204). Natural Territory in Scottsdale (www.naturalterritory.com or 480-998-2700) displays several brands of wool and latex mattresses in its showroom.

Many fire retardant-free mattresses are available online although I recommend testing a mattress in person. One person's "firm" mattress is someone else's board. Latex mattresses also are long lasting and typically come with a 20-year warranty. Latex and wool repel dust mites, too.

When it comes to foundations (or box springs, as they are often called), some people are concerned about the metal springs transmitting electromagnetic frequencies (EMFs) like an antenna. EMFs are lines of force associated with high-voltage power transmission, secondary power lines, home wiring and lighting as well as motors and heating coils in appliances and electronic equipment.

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, a government agency, indicates that there is a "weak association between increasing exposure to EMFs and an increased risk of childhood leukemia." EMF studies are ongoing.

Despite the inconclusive evidence of EMF influence on human health, I would recommend that people stop using electric blankets. Avoiding exposure to EMFs for babies, young children and pregnant women also seems reasonable. Wood platform beds and foundations made of wood are substitutes for metal box springs.

Conventional pillows, whether they're made of polyester or memory foam, have the same issues as mattresses when it comes to off gassing VOCs and toxic ingredients. There are many healthy pillow options: organic cotton, wool, latex, silk, kapok and buckwheat or millet hulls. Be sure to cover your pillows with organic-cotton, dust-mite covers.

When it comes to a good night's sleep, why add mattress anxiety to the other life and work worries that disturb so many people's sleep.

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Article is reprinted courtesy of The New Southwest (formerly The Tucson Green Times).


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