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How to create a healthy sleep environment

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By Steven Clifford-Ames

The focal point of any bedroom is, of course, the bed. Of all of the furnishings in your home the bed is the one you will spend the most time in and which will have the most impact on your health and well-being…so choose wisely.

A healthy bed will have many of the same attributes as a healthy home. 

It should be:

  •       Non-Toxic
  •       Able to take on moisture and then dry-out without supporting dust or mould
  •       Easy to clean and sanitize
  •       Ergonomic, supporting a healthy sleep posture
  •       Highly insular, being both warm in winter and cool in summer

Non-Toxic: Although there are no labelling requirements on conventional mattresses and pillows, by-law, if they contain flammable materials like foam or cotton they must be treated with flame-retardants. These flame-retardants are, in themselves, a health hazard…one that is measurable as fine particulate known semi volatile organic compounds. These chemical molecules cling to house dust and accumulate in our bodies as we inhale them. As the foams break-down over time, these SVOC’s continue to release at higher rates. These chemicals are also absorbed through skin by direct contact when lying on a treated mattress. 

Mattress and pillow materials: are not the only common sources of toxins in beds. Bed-frames are often made of particle board, glued with toxic glues and finished with toxic sealers that give off toxic gasses further contributing to chemical exposure in bed.

Synthetic bed linens: will also emit low levels of toxics from fabric finish, synthetic dyes and various fabric treatments. Permanent press bedding is treated with formaldehyde that remains in the fabric after washing. Cotton and wool, unless organic, will have been heavily treated with pesticides and traces of this will remain in the bedding. 

Moisture Control: Did you know that the average body gives off about 200mm of moisture each night in bedIf this moisture is trapped in the bed along with all the dead skin cells that we also shed, it creates a dust mite banquet hall that provides the food and moisture they need to thrive.  When the bed is made in the morning, and especially if it is topped by a synthetic bed spread, the moisture remains trapped.  It’s far healthier to unmake the bed every morning.  Strip the bed, let in fresh air and sunshine and sanitize the room as often as you can.  Ideally the whole sleeping surface would be easily hung out in the sun and fresh air for regular sanitation. Most mattresses are too heavy to facilitate this and they are placed over solid box springs which do not allow for any airflow from underneath. Synthetic fabrics from the mattress and bedding not only trap moisture in the bed; they do a poor job of wicking moisture away from the body. 

Healthy Alternatives: Fortunately there are now many healthy alternatives to conventional beds and bedding. Following is a summary of what to look for.

Bed Frame: The ideal bed frame would be made out of solid wood and finished with a natural and non-toxic wood oil or beeswax or would remain unfinished. 

The frame should be designed to hold wooden slats, eliminating the need for a box spring and allows for air circulation under the mattress which facilitates evaporation of moisture. 

Mattress & Pillow Options: The healthiest mattresses and pillows will be made of organic wool, organic cotton, natural latex or a combination of these materials. 

Organic wool provides a firm but comfortable cushion for joints. It wicks moisture, is dust resistant and because it is a good insulator, it will help keep us cool in the summer and warm in the winter. It is naturally fire retardant and does not require the addition of any chemical flame retardants.

Natural latex is a healthy alternative to synthetic and chemical laden “memory foam” beds. Latex provides excellent ergonomic comfort, maintaining its “memory” for many years. Organic, chemical-free latex is naturally hypo-allergenic and anti-microbial and so will not create a friendly environment for dust mites. Although many companies advertise mattress products as “pure” latex, they are often misleading and it is important to verify that they are truly free of synthetic rubbers and chemicals. Because latex is not naturally flame-retardant some manufactures wrap their mattresses with a covering containing organic wool to meet flame resistance standards.

Organic cotton is used as a component in many of the mattress configurations listed below. Cotton is not naturally flame-retardant and manufacturers have met the flame retardant standards by wrapping the cotton with a wool outer cover. 

Bed Linens: Ideally the fabric that is next to our skin all night would be chemical-free, and adsorbent. Organic cotton, wool and silk, sheets, blankets and pillow cases are good options. Choose bedding products that are undyed or that use natural dyes because synthetic dyes contain undesirable chemicals and have a high environmental impact.