Once Upon a Mattress: Sleep Naturally Sound and Healthy

Choosing a healthy mattress.

| September/October 2001

  • The young princess awakens refreshed after a good night’s sleep on mattresses from The Natural Bedroom, Sleeptek, and Samina. Top to bottom: The Natural Bedroom wool topper, Sleeptek latex/wool topper, Sleeptek’s Oasis all natural latex/organic cotton mattress, Sleeptek’s Oasis all organic inner spring mattress, and the Samina Sleep System.
    Photography By Povy Kendal Atchison
  • Top to bottom: Sleeptek’s Oasis all natural latex/organic cotton mattress, Sleeptek’s Oasis all organic inner spring mattress, and the Samina Sleep System.
    Photography By Povy Kendal Atchison
  • The Samina Sleep System is a Merino wool mattress topper, a mattress with a double wood slat structure and natural latex foam, and a solid wood mattress base.
    Photography By Povy Kendal Atchison
  • The inner spring coils of Sleeptek’s Oasis all-organic mattress are electrically tempered and are not oiled or coated.
    Photography By Povy Kendal Atchison

The average human spends a third of his or her life in bed and is likely to own a mattress as long as or longer than a car. But because it’s hidden under bedding and stowed in a private area of the home, a mattress’s impact on health often goes ignored. That is, until a health crisis intervenes. “The liver does most of its detoxifying work when the body is at rest,’’ says Peggy Wolff, a nurse and healthy home consultant in Leverett, Massachusetts. “We can heal best if the body isn’t bombarded at night.’’

Doctors and health specialists agree that sleep is paramount for improving or simply maintaining health. But many conventional mattresses fail to foster good sleep or good health. They may emit gases from the polyurethane foam used to pad them and the flame retardants used to prevent smokers from setting them afire. Even after they’ve finished outgassing, conventional innerspring, polyester-encased sleep systems may offer dust and dust mites a hospitable home and give the sleeper a clammy, too-hot or too-cold environment. And then there’s the issue of back and spine support, which sent hordes of bleary-eyed sleepers to waterbeds in the 1970s and futons in the 1990s.

Sound Sleep...Naturally

Today’s natural mattresses are designed to address health issues ranging from arthritis, lower-back pain, and asthma to allergies and extreme chemical sensitivities. Instead of polyurethane foam, they tend to be padded with untreated or organic cotton, naturally flame-retardant wool, or natural latex—all of which breathe and draw water vapor away from the body, make the mattress less attractive to dust mites, and keep body temperature more constant. Wooden slats that float on “beams’’ of natural latex may be used instead of metal coils for custom back support.

Bettina Waldraf, North American sales and marketing director for Samina, a slat-bed system developed in Europe, became involved with the company because of her mother-in-law’s arthritis. “She saw the bed during a trip to Europe and ordered one when she came back home. It really helped her; within a few months she was walking normally again,’’ Waldraf says. Her father-in-law, a chiropractor, saw how much the mattress helped his wife and discovered that no one was selling such a sleep system in North America. Waldraf and her husband acquired a license to manufacture it in Canada, and now they sleep on a Samina themselves. “I felt the superior back support right away,’’ she says.

The Samina system consists of a mattress with ash wood slats, a 100 percent natural latex pad covered in organic cotton, and a quilted, merino wool mattress topper, also covered in organic cotton. An all-wood foundation box, constructed with dovetailed joints and environmentally safe glue, is available, with or without legs.

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