What Are You Sleeping on 3,650 Hours?

bedroom brain cancer eyes genes hormones indoor air lungs nervous system reproductive health skin sleep textiles Dec 06, 2017

by Angela Cummings and Sophia Ruan Gushée


It’s not every day that people replace their mattress. In fact, not even every five years. It’s every seven years, if you follow the suggestions of the Better Sleep Council.(1)

How much time do you spend sleeping on that mattress?

The average adult American spends between nine and eleven hours per day on personal care activities, including sleep.(2) That’s an average of 3,650 hours per year.  A quick calculation of 3,650 per year over seven years gives you an average of 25,550 hours on that mattress.

That’s no small number.

And sleep is no small matter.

As we all know, sleep is very important to our overall health, brain function, and overall well being.(3) Many of us have experienced feeling groggy, irritated, or unfocused after a sleepless night. This can disturb learning and problem-solving, among other things.(4)

Sleep Disrupters in Mattresses

Chemicals such as pesticides, polyurethane foam, and phthalates have been found to affect the brain, including the part that influences our sleep quality.(5) Below are a few of the health effects that may be associated with these chemicals:

  • Pesticides(6): can influence the nervous system, hormones, skin, eye and lung irritation; and can contribute to cancer. Found in textiles.
  • Phthalates(7): are linked to behavioral issues, fertility problems, and neurodevelopmental delays (8) Found in vinyl.
  • Flame retardant(9): may contribute to neurodevelopmental disorders. Found in textiles and polyurethane foam. 
  • Benzene: is linked to several types of cancer, may damage chromosomes(10) Found in polyurethane foam. 

Electromagnetic Fields (EMFs) can undermine sleep quality, and may contribute to various health issues. Products that may contribute to your bedroom's EMFs include computers, phones, and, perhaps, the innersprings in mattresses.(11)

Nontoxic Mattress

There are several nontoxic mattress options available to consumers today. As detailed in A to Z of D-Toxing: The Ultimate Guide to Reducing Our Toxic Exposures, mattresses have five main components to them. When shopping for a nontoxic mattress, consider the following components:

  1. Fabric Covering – Choose organic natural fibers, such as organic cotton or wool, instead of synthetic fibers, like nylon and polyester.
  2. Padding – Padding can be made from natural fibers or synthetics. Typical mattresses contain petroleum-based foam and synthetic fibers. Choose natural fiber padding, like cotton or wool when possible.
  3. Supporting Core – Bed support can make or break a bed’s comfort. Bed support can be created by both the mattress and bed frame. Conventional mattresses have polyurethane foam as the supporting core, which is made from many different chemicals.(12) There are several healthier mattresses on the market that use natural materials in the supporting core, such as organic rubber, natural latex, and some types of innerspring mattress padding. Organic rubber and natural latex mattresses typically do not contain innersprings and may be a better option if you’re concerned about EMFs.
  4. Adhesives – During mattress production, adhesives are used to hold together mattress parts. Healthier alternatives such as no- or low-VOC adhesives are used by some manufacturing companies. Ask retailers about adhesives used, or contact the manufacturer to find out.
  5. Chemical Treatments – As mentioned earlier, mattresses may contain chemicals that are found to affect the brain, nervous system, and cause other health conditions.(13)

Don’t be shy in asking retailers what mattresses are made of.

Fabric covering, padding and supporting core materials may be listed on the mattress tag. If it isn’t, ask the retailer. Request that a list of adhesives and chemical treatments be provided so that you know what types of chemicals have been added to the mattress during production. If the retailer doesn’t know, they should be able to ask the manufacturer to find out.

The Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry (ATSDR ) is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and available to all consumers. The ATSDR is a register of chemicals with information about how those chemicals may be affecting health. It’s a free resource that can be found at www.atsdr.cdc.gov.

Benefits of Airing Out Your Mattress

Airing out your new mattress allows the mattress to breathe and allows Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)(14), even minor amounts, to off-gas. Initially, set up the mattress outside of the bedroom, in a room that is not the primary sleeping area and that can be aired out. This will help to keep bedroom a healthier space for sleeping while the mattress is off-gassing more significantly.

How long should you air out a new mattress?  

For as long as possible.

While VOC's off-gas throughout the life of the product, the most emissions occur in the first 60 days.(15)

There are a number of factors to consider when buying a new mattress. Identifying which mattresses are healthier and how to care for those mattresses could make a difference in how you sleep and your overall well-being. Buy wisely. After all, it’s a purchase you’ll spend 25,550 hours on for seven years. Make it count.

The D-Tox Academy will give subscribers access to specific brands of products, and tips for how to use and maintain products. The academy includes short videos and check lists that are helpful when making healthier changes. Subscribe below to stay tuned.


(1) The Better Sleep Council 

(2) Bureau of Labor Statistic 

(3) (4) (7) (9) (11) A-to-Z-of-D-Toxing-Works-Cited-Part-1 

(5) Harvard University 

(6) (12) (13) A-to-Z-of-D-Toxing-Works-Cited-Parts-3-and-4

(8) US EPA  

(10) (14) A-to-Z-of-D-Toxing-Works-Cited-Part-2 

(15) Bader 2009, according to A to Z of D-Toxing: The Ultimate Guide to Reducing Our Toxic Exposures.

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About Ruan Living

Ruan Living simplifies a nontoxic lifestyle through its Practical Nontoxic Living podcast, free detox workshops, online D-Tox Academy, and transformative 40-Day Home Detox. It aims to help you avoid toxic chemicals, heavy metals, and electromagnetic fields (EMFs) from what you buy, own, and do— without compromising your joy and convenience. Ruan was founded by Sophia Ruan Gushée, author of the bestselling critically acclaimed book A to Z of D-Toxing: The Ultimate Guide to Reducing Your Toxic Exposures and several detox workbooks. A graduate of Brown University and Columbia Business School, Sophia has served on the Brown University School of Public Health Advisory Council and Well+Good Council. A popular nontoxic living speaker, consultant, and teacher, Sophia lives in New York City with her husband and three daughters. Her passion for empowering others to enjoy nontoxic living began with the birth of her first daughter in 2007. Everything she creates is a love letter to her children and for the healthiest, brightest future possible. You can learn more here: Sophia’s Impact.


This article is for informational purposes only. This information is provided “as is” without warranty.

It is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. We do not offer medical advice, course of treatment, diagnosis, or any other opinion on your conditions or treatment options. To the extent that this article features the advice of physicians or medical practitioners, the views expressed are the views of the cited expert and do not necessarily represent the views of Ruan Living.

In no event will Sophia Ruan Gushee or Ruan Living be liable for any damages or loss of any kind resulting from the use of this website. Anyone relying upon or making use of the information on this website does so at his or her own risk.

Some of the services and products recommended on this website provide compensation to Sophia Ruan Gushee or Ruan Living. All recommendations are based foremost upon an honest belief that the product, service, or site will benefit our site visitors in some way.  

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