By now, everyone's pretty well-versed in the pros and cons of organic foods. (If not, see: How to Tell If You Should Buy Organic Produce.) But recently, the word "organic" has been popping up outside the grocery store. There are organic beauty products, organic tampons—and more recently, organic sleeping gear.
"Environmental concerns have created a new market of organic sleep products in the last several years," says Richard Shane, Ph.D., founder of the Sleep Easily Method. In fact, market research company Technavio predicted that the market for organic mattresses will grow over 12 percent between 2014 and 2019, much more than the mattress industry average.
Shane says the products grew out of a concern about the amount of toxic chemicals present in conventional mattresses, pillows, sheets, and other bedding materials. "Studies have linked the flame-retardant chemicals, toxic petrochemicals, and pesticides found in bedding to a large list of serious health concerns," he explains. "You spend almost a third of your life in bed, and these chemicals can be absorbed through your skin. That can have a big impact on your health." (Not to mention your diet and exercise habits.)
Long-term health perks notwithstanding, Michael Breus, Ph.D., SleepScore Labs advisory board member, says most people likely won't notice a significant impact on the quality of their sleep just from using organic bedding. "If you have significant allergies, try switching to an organic pillow and see if that makes a difference between moving over to organic mattresses and sheets," he suggests. But for most people, he says, the eco-benefits will be the main reason for making their beds organic.
The trick is finding mattresses, pillows, and other bedding that really are organic, and not just using the label (and benefiting from the healthy halo, which some organic foods are guilty of too). Shane gives us a few good rules of thumb:
For cotton and wool: Look to see whether the mattress manufacturer is Oregon Tilth Certified Organic, suggests Shane. Oregon Tilth is a trusted third-party certifier for organic products. Certified organic cotton or wool bedding products use fabric that hasn't been sprayed with pesticides or treated with flame-retardant chemicals.
For regular foam or memory foam: "There are a number of organizations that measure the level of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emitted by mattresses. Look for certification by Underwriters Laboratory (UL)," says Shane. "And certification by CertiPUR-US means the foam was manufactured without ozone depleters, PBDE flame retardants, and other toxins, and has low VOC emissions."
For latex: Look for products certified by the Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS), Shane recommends. "Truly organic latex rubber is harvested by tapping the milk or sap of the rubber tree. The GOLS is the standard for sustainable processing methods of latex products," he explains.