Toxic Chemicals in Bedding, Safer Alternatives & Certified Products for Healthier Sleep
We spend approximately eight hours a night sleeping—almost one-third of our lives. Babies spend almost two-thirds of their time sleeping. As we sleep, our bodies heal, rest, and rejuvenate. But our mattresses and bedding can contain toxic chemicals linked to serious health problems, adding unnecessary work to the task of rejuvenation and potentially limiting the body’s innate ability to preserve our health.
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How Our Bodies Heal and Detox During Sleep
Brain: One study suggests that the brain has a method for removing toxic waste that actually ramps up during sleep, by pumping cerebral spinal fluid through the brain and flushing waste back into the body’s circulatory system; this could even be the purpose of sleep.
Hormones: When we sleep, our hormone system is in an anabolic state which allows for energy conservation, repair, and growth processes. The body produces human growth hormone, which promotes the maintenance and repair of muscles and bones, renewing tissues faster than while we’re awake.
Our Skin: As we sleep, our body’s immune function is restored, an effect which in turn can positively affect collagen production, the protein that gives our skin strength and structure.
Babies: Babies sleep more than adults, and inhale more air than adults relative to body mass, making them more vulnerable to gaseous chemicals in bedding. Babies’ systems are still developing, which means they’re more vulnerable to toxic chemical exposure during these critical windows of development.
Common Materials in Mattresses & Harmful Chemicals
Foam: Most, if not all, of the ingredients used in making the polyurethane foam that makes up mattresses are petroleum products derived from fossil fuels. Foam has been found to contain:
- Flame retardants: linked to endocrine disruption, lower IQ, hyperactivity, altered sexual development, fertility issues, thyroid dysfunction, and cancer.
- Isocyanates: linked to asthma attacks, irritation to mucous membranes, skin inflammation, chemical sensitization, respiratory disease, and cancer.
- Volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including a poisonous gas originally used as a chemical weapon in WWI that was responsible for the majority of deaths.
- Methylene chloride (urethane grade): can cause skin and eye irritation and is readily absorbed through the lungs.
- Acetone: skin and eye irritant; linked to respiratory tract irritation, dizziness and weakness in workers.
Polyester: Used as ticking, this is the same material used for soda bottles, chemicals in which are linked to cancer and hormone disruption.
Adhesives: These are mostly kept secret as proprietary information, but one commonly-used chemical, nPB, is linked to irritation of the eyes and respiratory tract; neurological effects like dizziness, confusion, and headaches; and cancer.
Waterproof Baby Mattresses: In addition to chemicals above, vinyl can off-gas:
- Phthalates: In boys, linked to decreased testis weight, reduced anogenital distance, reduced accessory sex organ weights, modifications in sex organs and cells, and reduced fertility. In girls, linked to endocrine disrupting effects like uterine abnormalities, reduced fertility, and problems with thyroid function.
- VOCs: linked to the development or worsening of asthma in some children, poor respiratory health in infants, and increased risk of pulmonary infections.
Sheets, especially cotton, that are labeled “wrinkle-free,” “no wrinkle,” “no iron,” and other terms can contain a formaldehyde finish. Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen.
Foam and synthetic pillows, can be made with flame retardant chemicals, phthalates or alternative plasticizers.
Antibacterial and antimicrobial compounds can be added to bedding, including sheets, mattress pads, and mattress toppers, including silver nanoparticles (which require more safety studies) and triclosan, a known endocrine-disrupting chemical.
Safer Mattress Materials
Cotton: As natural material, cotton is much less flammable than foam, which means that mattresses made with cotton can meet federal flammability standards without the addition of toxic flame retardant chemicals. Opting for organic cotton ensures it’s non-GMO and grown without synthetic pesticides.
Wool: Polyurethane mattresses tend to harbor heat, creating a hotter sleep environment. Wool, on the other hand, helps naturally regulate your body temperature by effectively circulating air within the material. Wool is also naturally flame-resistant.
Latex: When naturally sourced without any harmful additives, latex is an excellent alternative to foam because of its utility.
Sewing: The safest way to adhere mattress components is to forego chemical adhesives altogether. Instead, some companies elect to sew (even by hand) mattress components together.
Brands with MADE SAFE® Certified Bedding
The MADE SAFE® seal means that a product is literally Made With Safe Ingredients™ not known or suspected to harm human health, animals or ecosystems. Certified products are screened for known behavioral toxins, carcinogens, developmental toxins, endocrine disruptors, flame retardants, heavy metals, neurotoxins, high risk pesticides, reproductive toxins, toxic solvents, or harmful VOCs.
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