The Bedroom: The Nicest Room in Your Home

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The bed, my friend, is our whole life. It is there that we are born, it is there that we love, it is there that we die.
–Guy de Maupassant

The bedroom is the keeper of the soul, the place where dreams are made and bodies refreshed in sweet, sound sleep. This most intimate of spaces should be the most healthy, hospitable room in your home.

Though other rooms can certainly accommodate physical and emotional closeness, this is the room intended for physical intimacy. Yet for all its potential for communion, the bedroom can also be a place of isolation. There’s no greater solitude than that suffered during sleepless nights, when our closest allies are fear, apprehension, doubt; in counsel with them, our psyches go into exile. This is genuine solitude, and it reaches into our dreams where our unconscious unreels itself.

The bedroom, then, is the province of contradiction. A place that serves intimacy as well as it does isolation, it accommodates the extremes of human experience. Because whether you call it dreams and sex, or solitude and intimacy, these are the experiences that the bedroom accommodates with the most grace, the walls that form both a narrow cloister for the soul and a gateway to a wider sphere of human exchange.
–From Geography of Home, by Akiko Busch (Princeton Architectural Press, 1999)

Safe Sleeping

Research on the health effects of electromagnetic fields is both controversial and inconclusive. Nonetheless, a growing number of builders and designers believe limiting exposure to EMFs should be an important consideration for anyone who wants to reside in a healthy environment. The Institute for Bau-biologie and Ecology in Clearwater, Florida, offers the following suggestions for creating a healthy bedroom.

– Remove as many electrical devices as ­possible. If you must have appliances in the bedroom, keep them at least 6 feet from your body and unplug them before sleeping. The TV is the most dangerous, even when unplugged. Place it a minimum of 3 yards from the bed.

– Avoid metal-spring mattresses. Natural mattresses without metal springs are very difficult to find. A natural futon mattress is easier to find and comes in thicknesses from 3 to 8 inches.

– Avoid metal bed frames. These often carry a magnetic field. Replace with wooden bed frames. Remove metal boxes, typewriters, and wires from under your bed.

– Avoid electric blankets. A person’s normal voltage is less than 1 millivolt. An electric blanket can surround you with up to 76,000 millivolts. ‰ Avoid synthetic carpets. Use natural rugs or natural floor covering. Jute backing is preferable.

– Cut electricity to the bedroom. A device called a “demand switch” or “cut-off switch” automatically cuts the flow of electricity to the bedroom when there is no demand.

– Avoid waterbeds. These are like sleeping under a high-tension line. Stagnant water is depleting to the system and holds an electromagnetic charge derived from the heating element.

– Avoid ionization-type smoke detectors. These can ruin your sleep, and their damaging effects can extend up to 50 feet.

– Avoid plastic materials.

– Avoid synthetic pillows. Use natural pillows filled with cotton.

– Avoid synthetic wallpaper. Replace with natural material or nontoxic paint.

– Open a window at night. Even just a little helps. This is the cheapest way to get fresh air and negative ions.

– Be aware of magnetic fields. Do not place your bed near a refrigerator, a computer, a furnace, or a TV, even if they are on the other side of the wall. Raise your bed at least 16 inches from the floor to avoid magnetic fields from wiring in the floor.

– Do not sleep directly above a garage. The metal in the car may cause distorted geomagnetic fields.

– Remove “baby phones” from a crib. They may emit strong electromagnetic fields.

Electro-Free Sleep

By Mary Cordaro and Katherine Metz

Every day we are surrounded by electromagnetic fields (EMF) from sources often beyond our control. Low-frequency magnetic and electric fields, high frequency radiation from radio waves and microwaves, and artificially induced magnetism bombard our living and working environments. It is possible to make dramatic improvement in this sea of electric and magnetic fields.

We are most vulnerable when we sleep. Our bodies let down, regroup, shed metabolic wastes, and regenerate. Healthful sleeping rooms provide an environment that enables important bodily processes–including the natural electrical system, internal organs, and unconscious mind–to work smoothly and without interference. It provides the springboard for a strong body to cope effectively with a less-than-ideal daytime environment. If we never give the body a break at night, we diminish our ability to function well during the day.

Outside the house, high-voltage transmission lines, low-voltage overhead lines, and underground cables and transformers generate alternating current (AC) magnetic fields. Inside the home, current in the wiring and current-consuming appliances and devices generate AC magnetic fields. Wiring, plumbing, and other metallic pathways may carry electrical current and radiate magnetic fields. Although the force of magnetic fields does drop off with distance, it may be difficult to block or shield them.

You can easily scan a bedroom for outdoor magnetic-field problems with an inexpensive gauss meter. First turn off the house circuits. If the meter registers a magnetic field above 1 milligauss in the bedroom, ask the power company to check outside lines and fix any faulty transformers, grounding problems, or “imbalances.”

To scan for indoor sources of magnetic fields affecting the bedroom, turn on every device in the house. If the magnetic field in the bedroom is more than one milligauss, first unplug everything in the bedroom, then try unplugging and turning off wall switches throughout the rest of the house. If the field remains, ask a certified Bau-Biologist to test and isolate the magnetic fields (the German term bau-biologie means “building biology,” or the relationship between buildings and human health). An EMF-specialized electrician can then determine the sources of the fields, such as the house grounding system, the main service, older-house wiring conditions, shared neutrals, or the current on ground or water pipes.

Every day, bau-biologists–working on their own, with clients, or with physicians and their patients–see dramatic healing when electromagnetic fields in the bedroom are diminished.

Mary Cordaro is an environmental consultant and certified Bau-Biologist whose Valley Village, California, company, a room of one’s own, is a consulting resource for natural and non-toxic building information. Katherine Metz is a feng shui practitioner and certified bau-biologist whose Redstone, Colorado, company, The Art of Placement, provides consultation and offers an Affiliate Mentoring Program.

Once Upon a Mattress

Beds have always been an important part of homes. Egyptian pharaohs discovered the benefits of raising a bed off the earth–King Tut slept in one made of ebony and gold. Louis XIV, who reportedly owned more than 400 beds, often held court in the royal bedroom.

Whether King Tut had a good night’s sleep on his luxurious bed depended not on its materials but its mattress. Personal taste plays a big role in choosing a mattress; the best way to shop for one, according to the Better Sleep Council, is the “rest test.” Go to your favorite retailer, slip off your shoes, and lie down.

Many conventional mattresses are created with plastics, foams, and polyesters that emit toxic gases. A healthy alternative is to choose a mattress constructed of certified organic cotton or industrial hemp, which is stronger and more absorbent than cotton. Wool is also a healthy choice; its fibers contain a great deal of air that provides a springy, soft texture comfortable for sleeping. Wool is highly absorbent and wicks moisture away from the body–a compelling feature, given that the average person perspires away a pint of water overnight.

To receive the Better Sleep Guide, a 16-page brochure about the connection between sleep and health, ways to assess the condition of your mattress, and guidelines for shopping for a new sleep set, write to Guide, P.O. Box 19534, Alexandria, VA 22320-0534.

–Kelly Smith


Coyuchi organic cotton sheets, pillow cases, duvet, shams, PO Box 845, Point Reyes Station, CA 94965; (415) 663-8077.

Little Merry Fellows, blankets, pillow, 15 Sandhill Rd., Sandy Hook, CT 06482; (203) 270-1820.

Natural Selections Organic Fibers, wool throw pillow with floral case, neckroll, organic buckwheat hull pillow with lavender, 104 S. Main St., Fairfield, IA 52556; (888) 216-9917.

Earth Friendly Goods, flannel robe, flannel kimono, flannel pillow cases, shams, 3701 Stoney Creek Rd., Ft. Worth, Texas 76116; (800) 257-2848.

Harmony, wood-frame beds and mattresses, 3600 Interlocken Blvd Broomfield, CO 80021; (800) 869-3446.

The Silk Garden, flowers, silk plants, 561 University Ave., Boulder, CO 80302, (303) 440-4464.

O bed! O bed! delicious bed! That heaven upon earth yo the weary head!
–Thomas Hood, “Her Dream”

Between the Sheets

The fibers used to make sheets and blankets can be laden with chemicals that pose environmental and health concerns.

Chlorine is applied to many types of fabric immediately after they’re woven to give consistent color. Because chlorine will not stop breaking down fabric once it’s been applied, more chemicals are then added to neutralize its effects. (These chemicals can’t completely stop the degradation, which is why untreated fabric or whites processed with a natural oxygen bleaching process are likely to last longer.) Chemicals are also used to dye fabric, and formaldehyde, a suspected carcinogen, is often used for shrinkage control.

If you’re not sure you want all those chemicals in bed with you, just turning to sheets and comforters made from natural fibers may not be enough. The claim that cotton is “natural” or “green” probably means it is not dyed with chemicals or chlorine bleach, but it may have been grown conventionally–and cotton is the world’s most heavily sprayed field crop. Planted on only 3 percent of arable land, cotton crops account for 25 percent of the total pesticides and herbicides used annually–about 350 million pounds per year. Put another way, it takes 11/4 pounds of agricultural chemicals to produce the cotton in a single set of queen-size sheets, according to Christine Nielson, president of Coyuchi.

Michael Halley of Natural Selections explains that the pesticides and herbicides used to grow many fibers don’t break down in water. There­fore, they remain in fabric even after the material has been washed several times. “That’s not going to kill anybody, but you are going to have some residue from the field because of the nature of fibrous plants, which are exposed and open while they’re growing,” Halley says.

But let’s face it, the bottom line is how these sheets affect the quality of your sleeping experience. “The thing we hear most is that the bedding is so soft,” Halley says about Natural Selections’ organic cotton sheets. “You want to have this against your skin.”

–Jane Wilson

Two Million’s a Crowd


Mattresses and bedding are hospitable homes for millions of dust mites, the microscopic relatives of spiders and ticks that thrive in warm, humid places. A single mattress may contain up to 2 million of the scavengers, which feed on the dead skin scales that humans constantly shed. As much as 20 percent of a pillow’s weight is made up of dust mites and their waste, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.

The body can react to allergens in dust mite fecal particles with itchy, watery eyes, congested sinuses, wheezing, sneezing, and coughing. Dust mite allergens are a major trigger of asthma and other breathing difficulties.

The easiest way to rid bedding of mites is to wash it weekly in hot water (cold-water washing removes about 90 percent of mites). Soaking sheets for 30 minutes in a solution of one part dishwashing liquid and four parts eucalyptus oil before laundering should remove the majority of the creatures. Experts recommend airing bedding daily for at least 20 minutes and vacuuming mattresses regularly. Keeping the area under the bed swept or vacuumed and free of clutter also helps cut down on dust mite populations.

–Jane Wilson