buying a healthy mattress


When the hand-me-down mattress you inherited from your parents starts to sag where it shouldn’t, or you roll into your empty-nest years, realizing that the bed that survived your kids’ childhood is leaving you with kinks in your neck and likely contributing to your ongoing sleep deficit, it might be time to start saving for a new mattress!  Depending on your stage of life, you may never have given much thought to the surface upon which you sleep, and the realization that you will have to make a sizable investment to upgrade it will likely be accompanied by a dizzying amount of information and statistics on mattresses.   At least, this was the case for me when I started pondering the idea of buying a new mattress.



My husband and I are coming up on our 25th anniversary, and since neither of us are interested in expensive vacations or buying each other sentimental trinkets, we thought it would be fitting to invest in a nice new mattress to celebrate our togetherness… and improve our sleep quality!  Our existing mattress is almost fourteen years old, and has accommodated every member of the family with its king sized comfort over the years.  However, whether it is the age of the mattress, or the age of our bodies, we’re feeling like it would be a great time to treat our joints to a bit more support.  



Leave it to me to get stressed out about purchasing a new mattress!  Who knew sleep surfaces were such a complex topic?  A quick Internet search will reveal numerous factors for the conscious consumer to consider in the mattress-buying process, ranging from comfort to health.  Aside from the primary decision of whether to go with a traditional spring mattress or memory foam… or a combination of the two… oh, and there’s a “Purple” brand mattress with some other stretchy surface (and a good marketing campaign)… there are a plethora of other concerns when it comes to choosing the materials in your new mattress!



Conventional mattresses are said to be quite toxic, containing things like flame retardants, VOC’s and other chemicals that can break down over the life of the mattress, possibly even increasing in toxicity with age, rather than “off-gassing,” as we often hear.  Of course, I am not a scientist or mattress specialist.  These are just some of the common concerns I have found in my exhaustive Internet search.  So, do your own research.  But, if it leads you down a rabbit hole of toxicology reports, environmental safety claims and anecdotal accounts of mattress wonders and woes, don’t say I didn’t warn you.  


Nonetheless, over the course of its life (and ours) we will likely use a mattress more than almost any other product we purchase, so it’s important to give some thought to the materials upon which we will be spending a considerable amount of time.    Our last new mattress purchase was almost fifteen years ago, and we just went to a big box store, sampled a few, and bought the most comfortable one in our budget.  We didn’t even consider the health considerations the new mattress were were buying, nor did we realize there were other options (though they were probably even more limited 15 years ago). 


Seriously, I’m surprised I’m still alive with all the toxic mattresses I’ve slept on my whole life!  And, oh my god, my poor children!  I didn’t even know organic, non-toxic mattresses were a thing when I got theirs years ago!   Yes, I am being a bit sarcastic, but, had I known then, what I know now, there is a chance my kids would have grown up sleeping in organic cotton hammocks hanging from the ceiling.  Maybe, for their sake, ignorance was bliss.



Another consideration, in our quest to walk more gently on the earth, is the process by which the mattress is produced and its life-cycle.  What might be a cheap option right now, could end up costing you, and the environment, more down the road, when it wears out quickly and ends up in a landfill, taking a hundred years, or more, to breakdown. 

More non-toxic, eco-friendly mattresses do exist, but they mostly use wool for the natural flame retardant (to meet federal and state regulations for burn tests).  Wool isn’t vegan, so if that’s important to you, like it is to me, the options narrow down considerably.  Despite claims of “eco-wool” being sustainable and cruelty-free, I would rather not participate in that industry at all, if I have a choice.   But, the choices are limited.  A good mattress company will be transparent with where they source their materials and their production methods, so don’t be afraid to call and ask if their website doesn’t provide enough clarity!


I was excited about the few companies that do make a “vegan mattress” without wool or flame retardants. But, my excitement wore off when I realized most of these options are priced around the same as used car!  Of course, since, in our case, a new mattress would be taking the place of a cruise, or some other quarter century celebratory expenditure, we don’t mind paying a reasonable amount for a good quality one.  But, upwards of $5,000 for a non-toxic mattress, just for us (the kids could use upgrades, too), is pushing (actually, exceeding) my comfort level.  Though, there is one company, named after the Avocado fruit, that makes a “green” vegan mattress we have been eyeing, and is more reasonably priced.  We, also, hope that as demand for more eco-friendly, non-toxic mattresses increases, costs will come down a bit.



With the factors of health, ethics, the environment and budget all in the mix, it has me contemplating how I could make a mattress out of our lawn clippings over the next season!  Or, aren’t there some health benefits to sleeping directly on the floor?  I think that might be our most eco-friendly, vegan, and affordable option!  That, or just sleeping on the chemical cocktail in a standard mattress, and hoping some of my other healthy lifestyle choices offset the impact of those toxins enough to stave off terminal disease for another good while!  For now, I’ll do what any over-thinker would do in this situation, I’ll procrastinate the purchase until the stars align for cost, features and comfort.



Admittedly, it is a privilege to be able to consider all the nuances of mattress selection, and that for many, choosing a sleep surface just comes down to buying the best option within their budget.  But, since most of us will likely have to purchase a few mattresses in our lifetime, I know I must not be alone in my potential over-thinking of this topic.  Share with me your mattress woes!  What kind of mattress do you have?  Do you like it?  If money weren’t a factor, which type of mattress would you choose?  Memory foam or spring?  Firm, medium or plush?  What else?  

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