A Better Mattress

We spend a whopping third of our lives in bed -- great news, since everything from memory to emotional well-being hinges on our getting about eight hours of shut-eye each night.

It follows that finding a comfortable mattress would reap big rewards.

Unfortunately, typical mattresses are often a lasagna of nonbiodegradable synthetics, pesticides, and potentially carcinogenic toxins.

No need to toss and turn about how your bed might compromise your own health or the planet's, though: We have more green bed options now than ever before. Read on for the best eco-picks that offer both superior support and sleep-tight comfort.

Beneath the Bounce
Innerspring Mattresses
Most of us sleep on an innerspring bed, or steel coils surrounded by layers of foam and fabric. Manufacturers sometimes coat those coils with chemicals to prevent deterioration. In addition, the production of a mattress's fluffy cotton or wool filling can release harmful pesticides and dioxins into the environment through dyeing, bleaching, and processing.

New, earth-friendly innersprings sidestep these perils by using steel coils without chemical coatings and pesticide-free organic cottons and wools.

Lifekind, Natural Rubber/Innerspring Combination Mattress
This club sandwich of a mattress combines the soft, bouncy feel of an innerspring with the flexible contours of natural rubber. The coils rest between layers of organic cotton padding that doesn't shift or hold body impressions. It's all topped by 2 inches of natural rubber and a woolen cover. $2,195 for a queen.

Good Night Naturals, The Dream
Here, steel coils get wrapped in layer upon layer of organic cotton and wool. Good Night uses Pure Grow wool, which certifies that it's chemical-free, from grazing to shearing to packaging. $1,049 for a queen.

Rubber Soul
Solid Foam Mattresses
Typical solid foam mattresses consist of synthetic latex, polyurethane foam, or the newer memory foam. All of these spring in part from nonrenewable petrochemicals. That's bad news for both the environment and your health, since petrochemicals can emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are associated with respiratory problems and skin irritation.

Some safety organizations say the chemicals are safe, but not everyone agrees. Cindy Luppi, of the Alliance for a Healthy Tomorrow, worries about the impact of even small amounts of toxins. "The timing of exposure is equally if not more important than the amount of chemical in a product," she says. Eight hours a night counts as preventable exposure.

Natural rubber alternatives to synthetic latex mattresses come from the sap of the Hevea brasiliensis, or rubber tree. Processing the milky sap requires far fewer additives than does creating synthetic rubber, making this choice both green and safe.

Also look for options that use wool, which has strong fire-retardant properties to meet stringent fire safety codes without chemicals. Until the past several years, conventional mattresses were made fire-safe by potent chemicals known as PBDEs, or polybrominated diphenyl ethers.

Most mattress manufacturers have now phased them out, although only a few states have banned them. Research now suggests that PBDEs are toxic and bioaccumulative, meaning they build up in the ecosystem (and our bodies), and grow more difficult to eliminate over time. Many eco-mattresses eschew PBDEs by using wool, and the natural rubber they use is mite-resistant, biodegradable, and antimicrobial.

Green Sleep, Vimala Sleep System
Green Sleep allows you to customize a stack of three layers of all-natural rubber, each with a different firmness, to create the perfect fit for your body. A satiny velour cover made from organic cotton, wool, and silk encases the latex layers. $3,379 for a queen.

Savvy Rest, Organic Tranquility
With two levels of rubber instead of three, this option suits sleepers with lighter frames and those who prefer a medium to firm sleep surface. Like Green Sleep, Savvy Rest secures third-party certifications for its natural materials, particularly its organic cotton and wool. $1,749 for a queen.

Simmons, Natural Care
This line, designed by green guru Danny Seo, is made from 65 percent natural latex and includes a foam base, made partially from renewable and biodegradable soy, to enhance comfort. Choose this affordable step in the right direction if you're wary of switching cold turkey to all-natural latex. An innovative fabric made from wood fiber swaddles the inner layers. $1,699 for a queen.

Cloud Nine
Mattress Toppers
Not yet ready to retire your King Koil? Try a natural topper, which lays on top of your mattress but beneath the sheets. Varying in width from 1 to 4 inches, these can extend the life of a mattress and put a barrier between you and any toxins.

Furnature, Natural Rubber Topper
Composed of 4 inches of natural rubber covered in organic cotton quilted with wool, this topper fits snugly over your bed like a luxurious mattress pad. $999 for a queen. Order by phone, 800-326-4895.

Vivetique, Wool Topper
A 3-inch layer of chemical-free wool gets hand-tufted to organic cotton. The wool, like rubber, resists dust mites, a boon for allergy sufferers. It also wicks away moisture, which helps stabilize your body temperature as you sleep. $598 for a queen.

Text by Rebecca Dorr

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