As I lay in bed, I notice the support my mattress provides my spine, the way my body relaxes into this trusty firm cloud, a deeply physical thank you emanating between the sheets. The only time we turn off, escape reality and enter the uncontrolled and vulnerable realm of dreams is when we slip into bed. It’s where the magic happens. Where we make love, dream in bold colors, cry into our pillow, rewrite our paths—where we manifest our future. It’s where we recalibrate and tune into ourselves. It’s where our bodies rest up to provide energy for conquering the next day, when dawn lights up the room, alarms beep, and eyes open to the sun.
Our mattress is our best friend. And for those of us conscious of chemicals, there’s no reason to exclude what you lay upon to sleep.
Let’s be honest: a new mattress isn’t the first gift idea that comes to mind when holiday shopping for your loved ones (or yourself), but maybe it should be! After all, few gifts make as big an impact on your quality of life. And, it’s a great investment. While many holiday gifts lose their luster in a matter of months (I’m looking at you, new scarf), a mattress will continue to bring you joy, night after night, for the next 8-12 years.
But not just any mattress. An organic mattress. You heard me right.
Mattress shopping can be an arcane experience, with salespeople flooding your brain with information as quickly as risk factor voice-overs at the end of pharmaceutical commercials. Truth is, mattresses can contain toxic ingredients no one wants near their body, especially not within their vehicle of sleep. Think about it—we spend a lot of our lives lying on our mattresses (an average of 26 years or one-third of our life), breathing into their comfort.
Most mattresses are made with either metal springs sandwiched between layers of polyurethane foam, or with just foam. In showrooms, salespeople typically focus on firmness, talking about the number of springs or the density of the foam. What they rarely bring up is that polyurethane foam is made from petroleum and can emit volatile organic compounds (V.O.C.’s), which have been linked to respiratory irritation and other health problems, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Salespeople also don’t talk about the chemical makeup of fire retardants. In the 1970s, when cigarettes were the main cause of mattress fires, big tobacco companies rallied to make mattresses less flammable. Polyurethane foam was itself seen as a retardant, because cigarettes don’t ignite foam. Open flame, on the other hand, does, and in later years, when candles were the bigger threats, manufacturers began treating some foam with polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or P.B.D.E.’s. Then scientists found this type of fire retardant accumulating in places as diverse as seal blubber in Greenland and the breast milk of American women.
In 2004, after we discovered that P.B.D.E.’s impaired development of the nervous and reproductive systems, their manufacturers voluntarily stopped making them. Most of the new fire retardants introduced since then consist of synthetic fibers that block fire, and in many cases consumers have no way of knowing what they contain, since manufacturers are not required to disclose their composition.
Honestly, there’s no comparison between regular cotton and organic cotton. Non-organic cotton crops use about one-fourth of the world’s chemical pesticides and fertilizers. The World Health Organization classifies half of cotton crop chemicals as hazardous. Organic cotton is the purest form of this wonder crop, grown with the help of natural fertilizers, beneficial insects, and innovative weeding techniques—all systems helping to maintain soil fertility.
In mattresses, organic cotton not only provides a sleeping environment free of chemically treated foams, but provides the comfort to sleep deep like nobodies business. And trust me—the perfect bed free of toxic retardants will not extinguish all the flames sparked under those sheets, if you know what I mean. Organic cotton bedding is always important too.
If you prefer an innerspring mattress—you can rest easy on a bed made from organic cotton and steel coils that aren’t coated in chemicals. If you prefer a solid foam mattress, you can opt for latex made from the milky sap of rubber trees. And though I worried that sleeping on something made from coconut husk fibers or natural rubber would feel like napping in Gilligan’s hut, my back couldn’t feel the difference.
Let’s be real—the go-getter attitude is always appreciated, but whoever said “you snooze, you lose” definitely needs a lesson in the importance of sleep. Moral of the story: it may be time to dump your IKEA mattress and return to counting sheep, not harmful synthetics.
Poppy & Seed Organic Mattress Recommendations: