After suffering for many months with daily pain and intense trouble sleeping, my husband and I finally made the plunge and bought a new bed. It was a difficult decision for us, considering the expense, but we are so thankful now. It has made a huge difference. Our back pain has declined to almost nothing, we sleep more soundly, and when we lie down at night, we don’t groan in agony. We actually feel comfortable as we drift off to sleep. What a relief!
I’m writing about this here because we made some unusual choices in buying our mattress. My parents have had a Tempurpedic for years, and since I’ve always slept really well on it, that was the first direction we went. I started doing research and calculations. My MD/ND, however, suggested that we consider an alternative to memory foam. As it turns out, memory foam is a petroleum product with tons of side effects. Who knew?
Many people experience headaches because of Tempurpedic and similar products’ fumes, and the compounds in these mattresses can cause birth defects, sexual malformation (in infants), and all kinds of neurological and immune system issues. Since I already have some chemical sensitivities and lots of headaches, and since we’d like to co-sleep with our infants when we have kids, we decided that memory foam simply wasn’t worth the risk.
Next, we looked into “normal” mattresses. Unfortunately, the same issues appeared, partly because many mattresses now combine inner springs with memory foam, and partly because of the chemicals used as flame retardants. Mattresses are required by law to be flame retardant, and boric acid, a known reproductive and developmental toxin, is the chemical of choice for this purpose.
So what are the alternatives?
Fortunately, an organic, non-toxic mattress market does exist. It’s important to do your research and be sure you’re buying from a reputable company, but if you’re careful, you can find a truly superior product that’s better for your body and the environment. When going organic or nontoxic, you have a few choices:
1. Futon-style mattress: This is a simple, pallet-style mattress consisting only of organic cotton or wool stuffing and an untreated wool casing. There are no springs in this kind of mattress. This is, obviously, the cheapest option.
2. Traditional inner-spring mattress: These are just like the ones you’ve slept on all your life, except that they’re padded with organic cotton and cased in wool.
3. Organic latex mattress: Our personal pick, this is the closest natural equivalent to memory foam. These mattresses are made of latex foam from rubber trees and cased in wool. Incidentally, these are extremely popular in Europe.
You may have noticed that all of these mattresses are cased in wool. That’s because wool is naturally fire-resistant. By using untreated wool, organic manufacturers can avoid the nasty flame retardant chemicals, while still meeting the government’s safety requirements.
In all cases, you simply must ask lots of questions and do your research to be sure that you are truly buying a toxin-free mattress. Buying a latex mattress, in particular, can be problematic. Mainstream manufacturers are starting to pick up on the latex trend, and they sell “natural” ones in major stores. Don’t fall for it. These are not natural mattresses. Ask where the company gets its rubber. Ask exactly how it’s prepared. Ask what’s in the casing (fibers and chemicals). Ask whether they use any glue and, if so, exactly what kind. Sure it’s a headache up front, but it sure beats 10 years of headaches from a toxic product.
I’ll post more tomorrow on our final decision–which companies and products we chose and why. Stay tuned!
[Edited: To read the follow-up post, go here.]