How many hours do you sleep a night? The average person sleeps – or is supposed to sleep – 8 hours, meaning that roughly 1/3 of our lives are spent in our beds. When you look at it that way, it doesn’t seem extravagant to increase the amount of money you spend on a mattress and go for something organic.
However, once you decide to take the plunge and buy a natural mattress, how do you know that the mattress you’re getting is truly going to have a positive impact on your health?
Building Biology Recommendations for a Healthy Mattress
When I worked as a Building Biology Environmental Consultant, these are the tips I would give my clients. I have used these same criteria when it was time to buy a bed for myself as well:
- There should be no flame retardants in the mattress. Flame retardants leach out of the petrochemical foam they are applied to, accumulate in our bodies and are associated with cancer, neurological deficits, hormone disruption and impaired fertility.
- The mattress should be made without petrochemicals. Synthetic foam doesn’t “breathe” which means a less comfortable sleep experience. I used to wake up drenched in sweat every night. Not pleasant! Not to mention the fact that synthetic foam comes from petroleum, giving it a heavy environmental footprint.
- Avoid choosing a mattress with metal springs. Sleeping on metal isn’t recommended from an electromagnetic viewpoint. Metal will act as an antenna, picking up any electric fields nearby, the springs can generate magnetic fields, and the metal itself can be or become magnetized in a way that can interfere with the body’s polar orientation.
- Opt for minimal metal in the bed support. This may mean a wood bed platform rather than box springs and metal bed frame, for the same reasons you’ll want to avoid metal box springs.
My Own Experience
When I applied these criteria to my own bed search, what I eventually buying was a natural latex and wool mattress (wool is a natural flame retardant) and a plain, unfinished wood platform.
When I switched from a “standard” bed, i.e, a synthetic foam mattress on a box springs, I stopped waking up in the middle of the night drenched in sweat. As a highly sensitive person, switching my bed to a healthier combo has made my sleep experience infinitely more enjoyable and comfortable.
Why Not Soy Foam?
Soy foam is only partially soy while still being mostly petrochemicals. Soy foam mattresses still contain flame retardants. These mattresses tend to be manufactured by companies who make conventional mattresses but are trying to get a share of the “green” market. On the other hand, companies that make natural latex and wool mattresses are for the most part extremely dedicated to both health and ecology. They have become experts at creating a healthy, ecological product.
Wool, despite the cozy warm images it conjures up for most of us, actually does a great job at helping you regulate your body temperature, winter, summer, or in between. Whereas synthetic materials don’t allow for humidity to go anywhere, wool wicks it away. An indirect result is that dust mite colonies will be reduced since they need higher relative humidity to thrive.
Why Natural Latex?
Natural latex is a renewable, sustainable material. It is also dust-mite resistant, which is great for those of us who are allergy and asthma prone. Most importantly, it provides that comfortable “give” that we are used to sleeping and sitting on. In comparison, pure wool futons without the latex provide a much more dense, firm sleeping support.
To complete your healthy bed you’ll also need:
To go along with this great bed set up, I recommend 100% cotton (organic if possible) sheets with a thread count above 200 as an added dust mite control. Cotton will breathe, synthetics and poly-cotton blends will not.
A Wool Comforter
A wool comforter is oh-so-delightful and comes in different thicknesses depending on your climate and tendency to be hot or cold. I get mine from Shepherd’s Dream.
Natural latex or wool are both wonderful. Wool does become compacted over time, so these days I stick to natural latex pillows.
Some of the mattresses are sold with a built-in wool pillow top, but you can always buy these separately so that you can remove it during the summer if you find it too warm. Natural latex pillowtops are another option.
A Wool Mattress Protector
If you’ve ever slept on a bed that had one of those vinyl-plastic-hospitalish peepee pads on them, you know just how horrible they are. Who wants to hear plastic crinkling underneath them all night? And might I mention again that breathable materials are key to a good night’s sleep? Plastic simple doesn’t breathe. A wool mattress protector is cozy, will help regulate heat and moisture, and is washable in cold water.
If you’re thinking of making the change, take your time and make sure you don’t get bamboozled by a greenwashed mattress. It just won’t be the same.
This post was originally posted on February 20, 2013, and was updated on April 30, 2021.