According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the air inside our home is more polluted than some industrial areas. Since we spend up to 90% of our time indoors, and one-third of that time in our bedrooms sleeping, experts now believe exposure to indoor allergens and irritants may play a significant role in increased cases of asthma and some forms of cancer.
Yes, there are monsters in your bedroom – very harmful ones, indeed.
As we sleep, harmful airborne allergens attack our body’s immune system, disrupting its natural recovery process, posing serious long-term health problems. Airborne contaminants also fill lung tissue making it harder to breathe, triggering allergic reactions and asthmatic attacks.
What exactly are airborne allergens?
Pet dander, smoke, dust mite droppings, mold, mildew, bacteria, and viruses. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) like Formaldehyde commonly used in permanent press sheets, mattresses, foam, plastics and building materials are irritating, allergy-producing, neurotoxins and carcinogens. They can cause insomnia, coughing, headaches, nausea, nosebleeds and skin rashes.
Toluene, Xylene, and Petroleum Distillates used in paints and stain removers are also suspected carcinogens.
Flame retardant polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs, are added to carpet pads, foam for mattresses, chairs, and couches. PBDEs have been linked to problems in prenatal and infant brain development and thyroid hormones. Recent studies reveal unnatural levels of PBDEs in mothers breast milk.
It’s time to take control of your bedroom. The American Lung Association and the EPA recommend three strategies for reducing indoor air pollution: 1. Controlling sources of pollution 2. Ventilating adequately 3. Cleaning indoor air
Getting Started: Creating a healthier sleeping environment
Step #1 – Get rid of your old mattress, no matter how new it is or costly you think it might be to replace. Flame-retardant and stain-resistant chemicals were sprayed on it at the factory. Foam cushioning could contain PBDEs or petrochemicals that give off gas (chemical off-gassing). Since you spend nearly one-third of your life on your mattress, this important item should be replaced as quickly as possible.
If you are chemically sensitive, particularly to latex odors, choose a natural cotton mattress or organic cotton mattress. While cotton mattresses tend to be very firm, as in hard-as-a-rock, you can add a wool topper to soften the top and relieve pressure points. A topper will also reduce body indentations that occur over time.
The rest of us should choose a natural latex mattress because it is anti-microbial, anti-bacterial, dust-mite proof, and relieves pressure points. Be sure the latex is at least 97% natural and not a 60/40 blend of natural and petrochemical-based materials.
A natural latex mattress provides your neck, shoulders, hips and knees with superior support because you sleep in the mattress rather than on top of it. You’ll toss and turn less frequently and sleep more peacefully, allowing your body’s immune system to rejuvenate for the next day’s activities.
Step #2 – Can’t afford a new mattress right now? Add a pure wool or natural rubber topper to your mattress. The topper won’t stop your old mattress materials from off-gassing, but you could rest more peacefully knowing that you have put some distance between your body and the toxins.
Also, encase your mattress and pillows in organic cotton barrier cloths or zippered encasings to protect your lungs from dust mite allergens. Studies have shown mattress and pillow encasings also relieve eczema suffering.
Step #3 – Replace treated bedding with items made with all-natural or organic fibers. All fabrics, unless specified, are treated with a chemical flame retardant or stain protection.
Choose pillows made with untreated cotton, organic cotton (better), buckwheat hulls (great neck support), wool (best at moisture wicking), or natural rubber (97% natural latex). Avoid down (more about that later).
Select sheets, blankets, and duvet covers made with untreated or organic cotton or wool. Good news! Organic cotton now comes in many brilliant colors.
Avoid down comforters because they draw moisture in but don’t dry out quickly and can produce mold. They also attract dust mites.
Instead, select a wool comforter for warmth and superior moisture-wicking properties. It’s also very lightweight. A study conducted at Polytechnic Institute of Wales showed wool as a fill fiber resulted in calmer heart rates.
Step #4 – Get an air purifier. Be sure your unit uses HEPA filtration. HEPA stands for High Efficiency Particulate Air, and a good HEPA filter will capture 99.97% of all particles. 3 microns or larger.
Don’t overlook yearly costs for filter replacement. Some units require on-going filter replacement and prove very expensive in the long run.
Have a mold or mildew problem? Remove it yourself with bleach or have professionals take on this serious task. Once eliminated, invest in an Airfree air sterilizer, the only air cleaner that kills mold without producing ozone.
Step #5 – Or, install a whole house air cleaning system. Another option is to install special furnace filters designed to remove 90% or more of allergens and particles 2-10 microns in size. AllergyZone is designed by an allergist for allergy sufferers, lending credibility to its filtering technology.
Step #6 – Remove old carpeting. It’s a breeding ground for dust mites. Replace flooring with hypoallergenic cork, ceramic tile, wood flooring that is not treated with a toxic finish, or recycled linoleum called Marmoleum. Warm your toes with scatter rugs that can be easily washed.
Step #7 – Get rid of treated draperies or shades. Invest in untreated wood blinds, fabric shades or window treatments made with organic fibers.
Step #8 – Use no VOC paints, stains, or sealants. Products are used in hospitals, and are recommended by environmental medicine physicians.
Or, try hemp wall upholstery that can be stapled into place without using adhesives.
Step #9 – Air out bedrooms and bedding. Doctors, the EPA, and National Lung Association recommend opening windows to recycle the air regularly. For those with seasonal allergies, a window guard stops pollen, dust, and dirt particles from entering your room.
In Europe they throw their comforters onto the windowsill every morning. While this may not be an acceptable practice here in the U.S., don’t be so quick to make your bed, and let your bedding air out for a while.
Step #10 – Maintain a clean sleeping environment. According to the Mayo Clinic you should wash bedding often in hot water at least 130 degrees Fahrenheit to kill dust mites. Cold water washing can be done with detergents specifically designed to kill dust mites.
Clean floors often, especially under the bed, using fresh mop heads or HEPA vacuum and non-toxic cleaners..
Take these steps to control the toxic monsters that are lurking under your bed and all about and begin enjoying the peaceful rest found only in an organic bedroom.
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