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Sweet Sleep

11/29/2010 11:53:04 AM

Tags: bed, green, sleep, toxins, mattress, sheets, pesticides, organic, natural rubber latex, Simran Sethi, Simran Sethi

“There is a time for many words, and there is also a time for sleep." Homer

I have given a lot of thought to how to go green between the sheets but have only recent learned how important it is to consider what’s below the sheets.

Think about it. We spend one-third of our lives in bed. A growing number of studies and polls indicate that when we’re well rested, nearly every aspect of our health—including our relationships—improves. Getting too little sleep can throw off our metabolism and make us clumsy, irritable, impatient, and moody. (As any one of my friends can attest.) On the flip side, when we sleep well, we’re happier and healthier: we’re more alert and focused and better able to fend off emotional and physical ailments.

But during this precious sleep, when we’re nestled against our mattresses, comforters, and pillows, we’re also cozying up to a host of harmful chemicals. According to Walter Bader’s 2005 book, Toxic Bedrooms, we’re exposed to toxins including boric acid, formaldehyde, benzene, naphthalene, pesticides, fungicides, and flame-retardants. These nasty substances are embedded in the manufacturing process and may cause a host of problems ranging from skin irritation, to neurological and respiratory problems, and possibly cancer.

thebedI’ve spent most of my 40 years in either a twin bed or a futon. Now, I’ve finally decided to upgrade to what can only be described as a princess bed (pictured at left). Or maybe a “princess and the pea” bed because it isn’t actually a single mattress, but rather, customizable layers of latex made by the company Savvy Rest. Savvy Rest was The Green Guide’s top pick and mine, too. The mattresses have a core of chemical- and allergen-free natural latex (derived from the Hevea brasiliensis, or "rubber" tree plant) and pesticide-free organic wool batting. Synthetic latex, used in most conventional beds, not only off-gasses chemicals but is petroleum-based.

Putting the bed together is a challenge and can’t be done alone because the layers are floppy, heavy and altogether unwieldy. But it is worth the effort. Once I nestled/wrestled the layers into their organic cotton mattress cover, I launched into some of the sweetest sleep I have ever experienced.

If you aren’t up for building your mattress, opt for pre-built alternatives like the Lifekind Maton. Also consider every piece of the sleep process, such as the frame and bedding. Source organic cotton sheets and a bed frame made from sustainable wood, rather than reconstituted wood. Toxic Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) and formaldehyde, that seemingly ubiquitous possible carcinogen, are used in the manufacture of furniture, as well as mattresses. That’s why I opted for a modest, untreated pine frame from Room Doctor and organic sheets from a local retailer.

Greening your bed isn’t cheap, but it is one of the soundest investments you can make not only because sleep is precious, but because it reduces exposure to unhealthy products that are in close proximity with your body day after day, and night after night.

Snuggle up to your loved ones, not the toxins.

Sweet dreams,


Simran Sethi is an associate professor of Journalism at the University of Kansas. Follow her on Twitter @simransethi. 

Photo by Jessica Sain-Baird

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