Sleep. It’s the essential, health-supportive, feel-good habit that we get to treat our bodies to every night. And while most of us are aware of its importance, not everyone thinks about the health of the space they’re sleeping in — their bedrooms. Granted, you probably wash the bedding and vacuum on the regular, but your bedroom’s still got a dirty little secret: it’s a treasure trove of toxins, emanating from the fabrics and furniture treated with flame-retardants, stain-repelling solvents and a host of chemicals derived from carcinogens like coal, oil, and natural gas. And you’re sleeping in it!
Trouble is, all those compounds are taxing your adrenals, your endocrine and immune systems and enabling inflammation to flourish. And while all this might be enough to keep you up at night, it doesn’t have to, not if you start taking steps now to diminish the dangers and clean up your bedroom act. So pause the vacuum (for the moment) and take these steps to heart to help you breathe a little easier:
Upgrade your fabrics, downgrade toxins.
Sleeping between synthetic or poly-blend sheets? Upgrade your sheets as soon as possible! As fuss-free as they may seem, synthetics, synthetic blends and wrinkle-free ‘miracle fabrics’ are made from petrochemicals, and no body should spend 7 -8 hours a night sandwiched in between them. If you’re able to donate, recycle or toss out the old bedding all at once, great. If that’s not fiscally feasible, then phase in new bedding, say one bed at a time, to make the switch easier on your wallet. As bedding wears out, replace with items that are kinder to your body and the earth.
Shop for certified organic, pesticide-free, sustainable and fair trade sheets, comforters and pillowcases. They should be made from organic cotton, linen, wool, bamboo, or eucalyptus, either blended together or on their own, not with synthetics. The idea is to wrap yourself in the healthiest, greenest stuff you can afford so you and the family aren’t snorting endocrine-disrupting chemicals all night long. To further trim your chemical exposure, skip those scented fabric softener dryer sheets too, in order to avoid the kinds of toxins that can trigger skin reactions, migraines and asthma attacks.
Please, pull the plug!
When it comes to blankets, pull the plug on your old electric one. Not only do electric blankets pose a fire risk, particularly with older models, virtually all of them are made with flame-retardants and synthetic fabrics. Equally concerning is the matter of the blanket’s embedded heating elements and metal coils which boost your body’s nocturnal exposure to electro magnetic frequencies (EMFs) in what effectively is a giant bed-topping antenna. Also keep in mind that sleeping cooler, instead of roasting the night away, is linked to better sleep quality. The continuous heat of an electric blanket can interfere with your body’s nighttime temperature rhythms and undermine how well you sleep. So put on another layer of clothing or bedding or snuggle up to a warm partner and ride out winter without electrifying your bed.
Rethink your furniture.
Everyone wants a bedroom that’s relaxing, serene and free of toxins. But if your bedroom is decked out in newer, mass-produced furniture, you might consider trading it in for healthier versions as soon as you can. If your mission is to side-step the potentially carcinogenic off-gassing chemicals typically found in new, conventionally-made furniture — like formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, benzene and phylates – then cleaner, greener furniture is the way to go.
To green up your bedroom furniture, consider investing in new, hand-made, artisanal bedroom furniture made with clean, sustainable materials – one piece at a time if budget is a factor. And, if you can purchase from a local, small batch maker, even better. Look for pieces finished with traditional oil or wax-based finishes, non-toxic, formaldehyde-free and without Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). Just as you would at the farmer’s market, get to know the maker and ask a lot of questions.
If buying from a larger, eco-friendly retailer, do your homework, and find out the essentials, like where the materials are sourced; how they’re processed; what chemicals are used in the manufacturing process. Ask if the glues are non-toxic; if the stains are non-VOC; where the furniture is produced; and who is making the pieces. Not getting (verifiable) straight answers? Consider yourself warned.
Raid Granny’s attic.
Another chemical work-around is to consider purchasing antique furniture – as in, roughly 75-100 years old or older. True antiques were made long before many known carcinogenic chemicals became standard manufacturing practice, and their age means that any chemical residues shouldn’t be a concern (7+ decades to off-gas should be plenty). Back in the day, antique pieces were also made from solid wood and not the engineered, chemically-treated, glued-together ‘processed’ woods most conventionally-made furniture is constructed with today – making antiques a better bet inside and out.
Clear the bedroom air.
To keep toxins out of the bedroom, don’t introduce them in the first place. I don’t recommend using scented candles in the bedroom because of fire concerns but they’re also great toxic fume emitters due primarily to the synthetic fragrances baked into them. If you want to enjoy the candle’s amber glow minus the fire and fume concerns, then consider switching to flameless candles or, if fire’s your thing, look for traditional candles made with beeswax and scented with pure (100%) essential oils. Also, try adding a few plants to the bedroom to help ‘grow’ fresh air as they filter out some of the toxins floating around in it.
Work through the messy stuff.
Another way to keep the air clear? Maintaining good, healthy relationships with your partners and those you share your space with. Anger, be it simmering or explosive, is one of the most toxic emotions you can have. So be aware that if your bedroom is an emotional battleground, ground zero for emotional tumult, your body will be the loser here. Those emotional toxins can manifest themselves in potential killers like high blood pressure, weakened immunity, even heart attack and stroke. Word to the wise? Work on healthy ways to work through negative emotions and keep those toxins out of your bedroom sanctuary.
Tame the toxins in your toxic mattress.
Shopping for a new bed is something most of us are thankful not to have to do very often. It can be a confusing process, not to mention one that’s full of potentially unhealthy pitfalls. Mattresses are required to pass tough fire safety tests, and that’s a good thing. What’s not so great is that with all that fire resistance, conventional mattresses also come with a concerning number of potentially carcinogenic mattress ingredients like fire retardants, off-gassing petroleum products and even pesticide spray residue.
Now, about that mattress of yours… Assuming it’s on the new(ish) side, still free of lumps and bumps, and it doesn’t make you sore in the morning, then you’re probably not ready to trade your current mattress for a greener one. If that’s the case, then the next best way to tame the mattress’s chemical cloud is to contain it. As in, slipping your current mattress into a waterproof, organic (definitely not plastic!) cover, until you’re ready to buy a new one. Top your ‘bagged’ mattress with an organic topper to add another barrier layer to the mix. When you are ready to buy – 7-10 years of use is the usual recommendation – then shop around for an eco-friendly, high-quality mattress. Look for one that’s organic, or made of natural (not synthetic) latex, cotton or wool, with as few chemically-treated materials as your pocketbook can handle.
Here’s to a good night’s rest!