Going to the (organic) mattresses

I've dropped a rather obscene amount of money on bodywork in the last few years. I've had an evolving team of chiropractors, massage therapists, and acupuncturists. I've bought books on physical therapy exercises. Some things have worked, others have not. In the end, the pain always comes back.

I have chronic shoulder pain. My arms also frequently go numb in the middle of the night. I don't mean they tingle, I mean sometimes I literally cannot move my arm. I have to use my functioning hand to reposition it and get blood flowing back into the limb. It's kinda scary.

Two (Life-Changing?) Questions

When my shoulder bothers me enough, I usually get a massage to alleviate the pain. It's a temporary fix — I know a 60-minute massage can't cure a chronic problem that's probably caused by structure and daily habits. But recently a new (to me) massage therapist asked me two questions that no one else had asked. First, she asked if I grind my teeth at night. Yes, I have in the past, and I have a TMJ (temporomandibular joint) disorder. She firmly suggested that I started wearing my night guard consistently, and in the past five days the pain has gone from a constant ache to a mild annoyance.

The second question she asked: “How old is your mattress?” Oh, man. So old, I didn't want to tell her. The mattress my husband and I sleep on for (ideally) eight hours every night is 11 years old. I know it's not in good shape. I just never thought it would make that much of a difference, but then, I never would have guessed that a night guard would, either. “You should think about replacing it,” she said. “Even a cheap new mattress is better than a worn-out one. One of my clients bought a $600 mattress from Costco and her back pain went away.”

The Research Begins

I know you're probably thinking that a new mattress should have been an obvious solution. But after so many years of varying diagnoses, x-rays showing scoliosis (one chiropractor called it “severe,” another disagreed) and other spinal issues, I thought the pain was a given, something I'd have to learn to manage. I also didn't realize just how old our mattress was.

I started my mattress search in my usual way, by reading mattress-buying guides like the one J.D. wrote a few years ago. (Interesting tip: According to Consumer Reports, you'll know in 15 minutes if a mattress will be comfortable: “Panelists who took beds home for a month-long trial rarely changed the opinion they formed after the first night. On the whole, their opinions were the same as those of our in-store testers.”)

But I also had some other concerns, such as off-gassing. Most mattresses and box springs are coated in a mixture of fire-retardant chemicals, formaldehyde, glues, stains, and coatings, all of which release gasses into the air. There are a lot of parenting sites that recommend organic mattresses for baby's crib, but the hard, scientific data is nonexistent or vague in most of those articles. Here's what I was able to find:

  • The most widely used flame retardant, PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers), are a chemical of concern to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). According to their site, the “EPA is concerned that certain PBDE congeners are persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic to both humans and the environment. The critical endpoint of concern for human health is neurobehavioral effects.” As soon as the EPA bans one kind of PBDE, another is created to replace it.
  • Environmental Health News reported that because of widespread use in the U.S., Americans have PBDE levels in their bodies 20 times higher than Europeans. “Californians are the highest exposed,” says the article, “likely because manufacturers added PBDEs to polyurethane furniture cushions to meet the state's stringent flammability rules.”
  • In a University of California at Berkeley study, of 223 pregnant women studied, more than 97% had PBDEs in their blood, and each 10-fold increase in a woman's blood was linked to a 30% decrease in her odds of getting pregnant.
  • A Uppsala University study conducted 10 years ago found that two kinds of PBDEs led to neurological problems affecting learning and memory in lab mice. The lead scientist, Per Eriksson, also has shown that PBDEs cause neurological damage in lab animals at exposure levels just slightly higher than those found in humans.

For a more in-depth look at PBDEs, this Slate article outlines the studies and recent developments. I'm still not sure how much of a difference a mattress makes — is the amount of toxic gas negligible compared to, say, your laptop or carpeting? If that study exists, I couldn't find it. In the end, you have to weigh the studies with the unknowns and decide if paying extra for an organic mattress is right for you. (Also note that if your mattress is a few years old, it's possible that it's finished off-gassing.)

My husband and I decided to go with organic, and we made some adjustments to the budget to cover it. After all, I'd spent much more during the past few years on chiropractic appointments — even an organic mattress looked downright cheap in comparison!

Shopping for a Mattress

We've covered mattress shopping at GRS here and here, and those two articles have great advice for getting a good deal on a comfortable mattress. But if you're interested in an organic mattress, the following are a few extra pointers to keep in mind:

  • Manufacturers and retailers often use words like “natural,” that don't necessarily mean anything. For example, sometimes synthetic latex is blended with natural latex, and the end-product is advertised as “natural.” Other labels to question: chemical-free (nothing is actually chemical-free, everything is made up of chemicals), nontoxic (again, nothing is truly nontoxic, even water is toxic if you drink too much), and green (there are no standards for using the word).
  • While you're at it, question the word “organic,” too. Some mattresses are sold as organic, when in reality the cotton is organic and the latex is synthetic. If you're going to spend the extra cash on an organic mattress, make sure it's made from wool (a natural fire retardant), organic cotton, and 100% natural, sustainably sourced latex.
  • If possible, buy direct from the manufacturer. Cutting out the retailer is one way to mitigate the higher cost of organic.
  • Always try before you buy. If you shop online, where organic mattresses and good deals are often easier to find, be sure to try out the mattress in a store first, or make sure that the return policy allows you to send it back. Usually there's a restocking fee. Be sure you know the store's policy and will be okay with the terms if the mattress doesn't work for you.

We opted to buy our mattress from a Texas manufacturer. I found some great deals for organic mattresses online, but I liked that this was a local, 20-year-old business that had great reviews from customers. If we aren't happy with our mattress, they'll take it back and customize it based on our feedback, at no additional cost. “We're in it together,” said the owner, who sold us the mattress. Additionally, if I get a note from a doctor about my back issues, the mattress store will refund us the sales tax we paid.

Next Thursday our new mattress will be delivered, and the old one will go to that big mattress store in the sky. I won't be able to tell you with any certainty whether organic was worth the extra expense or not, but I have a feeling I'm going to owe that massage therapist a fruit basket or something.

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Mike Piper
Mike Piper
8 years ago

Well this article sure is timely for me. 🙂

For those of us currently in the market for a new mattress, would it be possible for you to share a link to the type of mattress you got? (Or perhaps to others that you almost purchased?)

April
April
8 years ago

Hi Mike,

Mine is by a Texas manufacturer. I’m not sure where you live or if they ship to other states, but here is the link to their store: http://www.sleepworld.net/

We got the 520, which yes, uses the word “chemical-free” that I warned about in the description, but they are made of wool, organic cotton, and 100% natural latex. I think their website is being redesigned, too.

Mike Piper
Mike Piper
8 years ago
Reply to  April

Thank you!

Sam
Sam
8 years ago
Reply to  April

Great, we really need a new mattress. We are sleeping on an IKEA mattress that is 20 years old. It really needs to be replaced and I really need to get going on this task.

bbains
bbains
8 years ago
Reply to  April

Timely article. Thanks for providing the manufacturer’s name and website. I’ve been dealing with symptoms similar to yours for a few years. Chriopractic work helps tremendously as well as the TMJ mouthguard. I can also highly recommend Pilates for Dummies as a daily workout. I’m replacing my Tempurpedic which has only made things worse. I live in Houston and am contact with Sleepworld to see if there’s a local store option for me. If not…road trip!

Alyssa
Alyssa
8 years ago
Reply to  April

I live in Austin, so thanks for posting the link to where you go it. I’ll need to get a new mattress within the next couple years, so this is good to know. 🙂

BlueCollarWorkman
BlueCollarWorkman
8 years ago

A family member of mine contracts for the EPA and she always says that if the EPA has a chemical listed as “of concern” or is on any list at all of theirs, you should know that it’s actually a really really bad chemical and that industry groups are holding up it being officially listed as a carcinogen, etc. In fact, the EPA is signiciantly behind in testing chemicals toxicity because they’re so tied up in litigations (mostly with industry, but also with environmental groups who don’t think they do enough). The point is, PDBEs are very bad and the… Read more »

Steven
Steven
8 years ago
Reply to  April Dykman

In regards to studies on out-gassing, there typically aren’t any as it’s part of design and quality assurance. My company makes aircraft parts, and for stuff that goes into the passenger cabin, we are required to test for smoke, toxicity, flamability, out-gassing, etc. as part of the FAA approval process. As a general rule of thumb, if you can’t smell it, it’s not out-gassing that much, or it’s already finished. Think new car smell. That’s plastisizer (makes the plastic soft enough to form into those shapes with only 1 piece like your dashboard for example) from all the plastic parts… Read more »

Louise
Louise
8 years ago
Reply to  April Dykman

April, if you haven’t already, check out Environmental Working Group’s website. They do a lot of research about toxins so they may have the kind of info you’re looking for. Good luck!

Katie
Katie
8 years ago

Thank you for posting this info!! – Really interesting…

Sharon
Sharon
8 years ago

Sigh. The EPA is in business to stay in business and grow ever larger. They have long outlived their effectiveness. Their levels of “safety” are based on unsupported and unsupportable assumptions and the ability to measure something. As soon as they can measure something at a higher level, they ratchet down the allowable exposures. “Just in case, mind you.” Almost everything is a known carcinogen, at high enough doses. If it isn’t a known carcinogen at high enough doses, it will simply kill you outright. This includes oxygen and water, and every “natural” vitamin. Finally, association does not equal causation.… Read more »

Carla
Carla
8 years ago
Reply to  Sharon

I can’t think of a way to express an opinion or fact more condescendingly than what you just wrote.

Sharon
Sharon
8 years ago
Reply to  Carla

Thank you! I had to make it so simple that even the most ignorant can understand my point. Seriously, people are being scammed, and I consider it important to try to educate them. I really do appreciate knowing that what I said is actually understood.

I have the advantage of a genuine science education, research experience and am a safety professional who understands that most basic of toxicology axioms: the dose makes the poison. If I can help others not be scammed, that makes my day.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
8 years ago
Reply to  Carla

@Sharon One thing that worries me as a consumer is that it seems easy to prove something is “safe”, but a LOT harder to prove something isn’t safe. (The BPA debate, for example.) Experts change their minds all the time — first a medication is safe, then a few years later “well, it wasn’t so safe after all.” I’ve heard experts debate the HPV vaccine — most say “yes, it’s safe” and a handful say “well, we don’t have long term studies on this yet…” There’s so much emotionally-charged rhetoric on both sides it’s hard to make sense of it… Read more »

Sharon
Sharon
8 years ago
Reply to  Carla

April, I wanted to clarify a couple of things. 1. The EPA does not do tests for flame resistance of fabric or mattresses. That is not part of their mandate. That testing is done by other agencies. The chemicals do, in fact, reduce the flammability of the fabrics and other substances as documented by independent testing labs using stated protocols by organizations such as the American National Standards Institutes. 2. The analogy I used with fertility and chemical exposure was chosen to illustrate the fallacy of equating association with causation. Even with the controls selected in the study as you… Read more »

Leah
Leah
8 years ago
Reply to  Sharon

@Sharon, I suggest you go back and look to some science. Yes, the dose makes the poison. But there’s also the concept of testing and multiple interactions. Rarely, if ever, do we test for the effects of multiple chemicals on the human body (or animals). It is relatively simple to create new chemicals, but that doesn’t mean those chemicals are safe to be used around us. The point of the EPA is to regulate that testing. If you want to be on the side of safety, all new chemicals should be tested *before* they are introduced to the market and… Read more »

Sharon
Sharon
8 years ago
Reply to  Leah

It is literally impossible to prove that something is safe. You have that backwards. There is always the possibility that due to some statistical fluke, another study will find that something is not “safe” when it in fact is. And once that study is done, that is the end of it all. The chemical is forever labeled dangerous, even if you would have to spend 27 hours a day ingesting it. Furthermore, you have to consider this fundamental fact: life expectancies have been going UP for the past century. During this past century, literally tons of supposedly poisonous and evil… Read more »

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
8 years ago
Reply to  Leah

@Sharon — I don’t think people living longer is proof in itself that the chemicals around us are safe. Diseases that used to kill people decades ago are now manageable. For instance, the fact that more people are surviving cancer doesn’t mean cancer rates have gone down — it means that medical science has found better ways to deal with it. We have vaccines to prevent illnesses that used to do serious harm and antibiotics to cope with infections that used to be deadly. None of that means chemicals are safe, but they do mean people are living longer. I… Read more »

Sharon
Sharon
8 years ago
Reply to  Leah

Elizabeth, you ask who is really looking out for us. And you also miss my point about longevity. 1. Nobody is looking out for us. The EPA certainly isn’t; it is a bureaucracy whose primary purpose is to perpetuate itself and grow. It does not operate on science, it operates on “just in case” and “pick a number, any number.” So-called “non-profits” are certainly not looking out for us. We haven’t had a river burn since the 1960s in this country and our air has never been cleaner. Yet all you hear about is how awful everything is and you… Read more »

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
8 years ago
Reply to  Leah

@ Sharon – Thanks for the responses! I don’t want to hijack this thread any further, but I enjoy the exchange of ideas.

Jen
Jen
8 years ago
Reply to  Sharon

“Association does not equal causation” (or the more usual correlation does not imply causation) does not mean the reverse is true. That is, association (or correlation) also does not mean that there is *never* causation, which seems to be what you’re implying. High lead levels in kids’ blood tests were correlated with developmental/intellectual delays. Then, after study, the lead was found to be a causative agent. The key there is “after study.” So, if you can point us to studies that show in this case that PBDEs have been found to be unrelated to fertility issues, please do. I’m happy… Read more »

Sharon
Sharon
8 years ago
Reply to  Jen

It is not possible to prove that something is “safe.” I know offhand of no substance or activity that is completely safe. Whatever you do or do not do has some potential negative consequence. What needs to be done that never has been done is to define a level of “safe enough.” Only then can meaningful tests be done. Check out how the statistics are used, and what is and is not controlled for. Without this information, we can’t make a rational decision. Furthermore, it is generally almost impossible to get grants to validate someone else’s work. This is why… Read more »

Jen
Jen
8 years ago
Reply to  Jen

Can’t reply to yours, Sharon, so replying to myself! Where did I write “safe”? You seem to have implied that studying observed associations was somehow related to deeming something safe or not. Didn’t say that. I see no one here arguing that there can be a safe or not, an all good or totally bad applied to most chemicals. Obviously, dose, length of exposure, interactions with other chemicals, etc. are all ways that one agent may be more or less safe for any given person. Also, your harping on the EPA as solely designed to perpetuate itself does certainly come… Read more »

Sharon
Sharon
8 years ago
Reply to  Jen

Jen, I’m not working. Even if I were, have you ever seen me mention my employer so as to bring the organization prestige? I have never received a grant. However, you are quite correct to be wary of “scientists” as well. I have done a lot of writing on occupational safety and health, which is my field. I do understand science, and I know that just because you have a new technique to measure something at exponentially smaller levels it does not mean that now the substance is exponentially more dangerous and you need to adjust the numbers to reflect… Read more »

Eric
Eric
8 years ago
Reply to  Sharon

Sharon, I absolutely appreciate this discussion and I hope that everyone reading it learns something new (or at least gets motivated to seek out more information). However, being condescending does not facilitate understanding. It encourages hostility and makes opinions *seem* less valid, no matter how valid they are. The best teachers are those who respect their students. You’re absolutely right that correlation does not imply causation. But the study April mentioned controlled for several factors. While it’s impossible for any study to control for every single factor, controlling for several relevant factors is meant to help identify whether there is… Read more »

Nicole
Nicole
8 years ago

We got an Omni Midori (purchased out of state with free shipping special, didn’t have to pay sales tax).

The weird thing was that after we got it my sleep need dropped to 7hrs/night from 8-9 hrs before (all my life, even when we first had a fancy new non-organic mattress).

melissa
melissa
7 years ago
Reply to  Nicole

The Midori is from OMI not omni. 🙂

SA
SA
8 years ago

Isn’t the average mattress supposed to be replaced every 10 years? 11 years old doesn’t seem embarrassingly old to me.

monsterzero
monsterzero
8 years ago

If you want to save an “obscene amount” of money, drop the chiropractors and the acupuncturists. There’s no actual scientific evidence that either does anything beneficial.

my honest answer
my honest answer
8 years ago
Reply to  April Dykman

Just to weigh in that I had a lot of relief from the symptoms of TMJ using acupuncture. It relieved the pain significantly. However, it wasn’t solving the underlying problem, so I decided it was too expensive for the long-term. I have also had some luck with chiropracty, some success with physiotherapy, and absolutely none from my primary care doctor who suggested anti-depressants. To treat a jaw problem. When I am not depressed.

Ellen K.
Ellen K.
8 years ago

Some cities have community acupuncture clinics that charge sliding-scale fees based on income, frequency of use, and other circumstances like ongoing medical treatments. Instead of private rooms, there might be a large, darkened room with 6 or 8 armchairs and a couple of private rooms. You might overhear fragments of the acupuncturist’s conversation with other clients, and you can see the other clients, but it’s all very quiet and relaxing. I used community acupuncture during my (successful!) in vitro fertilization cycle, It was a terrific experience and about 40% of the cost of twice-weekly sessions at the local women’s health… Read more »

Emily
Emily
8 years ago
Reply to  April Dykman

To be fair, most patients who go to a doctor with pain symptoms just want a medicine to take away the pain. That’s why many doctors respond with a prescription.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago
Reply to  April Dykman

@ April – you just need a new MD. When I went to my GP with complaints of a creaky shoulder he showed me a few exercises to strengthen the rotator cuff. It wasn’t really creakiness, it was more of a snap when doing pushups & bench presses. Shoulder would get numb too in some positions.

The exercises were a lot like this:

http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/prevention-wellness/exercise-fitness/injury-rehab/rotator-cuff-exercises.html

My shoulder no longer snaps or gets numb. I never took a pill for it.

Also we have a Sleep Number bed and oooohhhhh it’s deliiiiiiiciousssssssss.

Leah
Leah
8 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

I came to say something similar. I always encourage folks who go to a chiropractor to consider a physical therapist. In my experience, the goals of the two professionals are different. PTs want to teach you the skills to keep you out of their office, and chiropractors want to fix you every time you come to their office. I also have regular back pain, but every time it flares up, I return to the exercises my PT taught me and the pain is reduced. It was a large initial investment (I paid $15 copay per visit for 3 visits a… Read more »

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
8 years ago
Reply to  April Dykman

Interesting! I had horrible problems with my shoulder about 10 years ago and the only thing that got me through it was my physiotherapist. He did acupuncture and ultrasound and that got me out of pain enough to build an exercise routine that he gave me. Not all treatments work for all people. Even with people who stick to traditional medicine, sometimes you have to try a few medications before you get the one that works (or the right dose, or the right combination). I’ve had successes and failures with both traditional and alternative medicine. What works for me won’t… Read more »

Krishanu
Krishanu
8 years ago
Reply to  April Dykman

How about seeing a specialized Doctor, like an orthopedic, rather than an all purpose primary care physician or GP?

Carla
Carla
8 years ago
Reply to  monsterzero

There are great practitioners and a *lot* of very mediocre ones. The latter are a waste of money for sure. The former, I must say, (at least for acupuncture) made a huge difference for me. More than a 40K a year pharmaceutical that did nothing but gave me a ton of side-effects.

csdx
csdx
8 years ago
Reply to  monsterzero

I’ll echo the skeptical position that there’s no good evidence that such treatments actually work. Though this is mostly in regards to their abilities to ‘heal’ things that ar wrong with you. Especially when you consider some of the more increduolous claims like being able to cure brain injuries or treat cancer. Personally I don’t see the harm in them as long as you don’t view it much differently than a spa/massage session. I think it definately can help relieve pain/stress. But as to treating underlying issues, it seems even most anecdotes here don’t support their ability to actually treat… Read more »

jeffeb3
jeffeb3
8 years ago
Reply to  csdx

I can see why people say there isn’t much harm. I think that’s wrong though. If you understand the difference between a physician and a chiropractor, then you’re OK. If you don’t, you are easy prey. IMO, the worst that happens is when a chiropractor starts finding ways to give out dangerous treatment, with the hope of healing, while real science may have solved the problem sooner, with less pain or danger. Also, people tend take one shot at all of scientific medicine (asking your PCP) and then are willing to try multiple rounds of different “alternative” options. Why is… Read more »

Katie
Katie
8 years ago
Reply to  monsterzero

@monsterzero – you’re a little misinformed. there is evidence out there that acupuncture is as effective or nearly as effective as prescription pain killers in certain patients. i am sure there is also clinical data out there about chiropractors. an MD will almost never send you to one, as they are not trained to. they’re trained to give you prescriptions or send you to rehab medicine. if you’re lucky, you’ll get a great rehab doc. if you’re not lucky, you’ll get a two minute consult and a scrip, or worse, unwarranted imaging and a huge bill.

just saying 🙂

Economically Humble
Economically Humble
8 years ago

My previous bed was a $300 “deal” I purchased when I started school. It was cheap in every way expected. I used it for years and it was sleep able until two people started to use it and then it started to wear out exponentially. Years later my partner could no longer take it and went out to buy a high quality bed. We ended up with a Tempur-Pedic and wow is it an excellent bed. They cost more but if necessary you can usually spread payments over 4-years with zero interest (but its always better to buy things in… Read more »

DB
DB
8 years ago

We finally splurged on a Tempur-Pedic mattress about 1.5 years ago to replace our worn out, 10+ year old mattress. It was expensive, but it is unbelievably worth it. Mr. DB’s periodic back pain is significantly reduced, and I am sleeping better than I ever have. But – now I too am wondering what it’s really made of, and how bad the off-gassing is.

Anne Cross
Anne Cross
8 years ago
Reply to  DB

I’ve had a Tempurpedic for about 5 or 6 years and it’s made a huge difference for me. I used to have awful back pain, and it disappeared with this mattress.

my honest answer
my honest answer
8 years ago

Thanks so much for this! I too suffer from TMJ and though I give a lot of thought to how to stop clenching my teeth at night, I’ve not really considered my mattress as part of that.

Tie the Money Knot
Tie the Money Knot
8 years ago

A mattress is something you might spend 1/3 of your life on. Think about it, based on sleeping 8 hours out of 24. It’s more than worth investing in a bed that will help you get a good night sleep and will be conducive to a healthy back.

Well Heeled Blog
Well Heeled Blog
8 years ago

Sleep (and a pain-free or at least less painful life) is so important – I’d say that mattress is a necessary expense. I hope this gives you some relief.

John @ Married (with Debt)
John @ Married (with Debt)
8 years ago

I think this story really shows that the chiropractors were more interested in identifying your problem than curing it. If a mattress change would keep you from their office, no way they would suggest it.

I feel sad that this is what our for-profit medical industry has come to. Patients are merely consumers who must continue to darken their doors.

chacha1
chacha1
8 years ago

Well, to be fair, any practitioner can only do what he/she is trained to do. A chiropractor with no other qualifications is only trained to do joint manipulations. A chiropractor who is also a physical therapist, on the other hand, may be able to make a tremendous difference for a client who has structural issues, in terms of doing soft-tissue work to relieve accumulated damage and then teach corrective exercises so that the structural problem is actually fixed (or at least mitigated). MDs know surgery and drugs. Acupuncturists know needles (and there’s quite a bit of evidence supporting use of… Read more »

B
B
8 years ago
Reply to  chacha1

It was my chiropractor that first suggested I get a new mattress. So, I suppose it also depends on the practitioner.

Erin O
Erin O
8 years ago

We bought a “fancy” mattress (European Sleepworks) 8 years ago and it has been totally worth every penny. It has held up way better than the traditional one we had before and I like the low chemical, natural fiber-ness of it. I sleep so good on it every single night that I would do every thing in my power to get one of equal quality if it ever has to be replaced. It looks and feels exactly the same as it did when we got it 8 yrs ago. Our old Serta was sagging after half that time.

sora
sora
8 years ago

My husband had back & neck problems for years. He was seeing a chiropractic for a while too, and it did alleviate the pain for weeks or months. He also got a special pillow from him that cradles his head & neck. The total solution for us came when we stopped sleeping on the inner spring mattress in our bedroom and decided to sleep on the IKEA mattress (I think it has a latex and/or foam core & wool and cotton covering) in the guest bedroom one night. We are still sleeping in that bed a year later, because we… Read more »

Laura
Laura
8 years ago

April, do you know if there’s an organic alternative to wool? I’d love to pursue this as we need (desperately) a new mattress, but DH is extremely allergic to wool.

Erich
Erich
8 years ago
Reply to  April Dykman

I’ve found online retailers that offer mattresses without any flame retardants (wool or chemical), but a doctor’s note is required to purchase. Good luck!

Erich
Erich
8 years ago
Reply to  April Dykman

Here is one example: http://www.whitelotus.net/organic-cotton-latex-mattress-rx-required/

Note: I have NO experience purchasing from them so I can’t speak on quality.

Michelle
Michelle
8 years ago
Reply to  Laura

I purchased a mattress from http://keetsa.com/ when I first moved to NC. It’s a fantastic mattress. They have mattresses that use cotton instead of wool for the fire barrier.

Michael
Michael
8 years ago

We use an organic vinyl water bed filled with water made from glacial ice (no modern pollutants!) and it’s made a world of difference.

We have a solar powered mattress heater that warms the water during the day so that it’s warm enough to sleep on at night.

chacha1
chacha1
8 years ago
Reply to  Michael

How exactly is vinyl “organic”?

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago
Reply to  chacha1

There’s an organ player at the factory. 😀

Andrew
Andrew
8 years ago
Reply to  chacha1

When this continent was new, herds of vinyl roamed the fields and forests, wild and free. As the white settlers pushed westward, the defenseless vinyl were slaughtered. By 1900 there were only a few of these magnificent creatures left.

After muckraking journalists told a shocked nation of the plight of the vinyl, millions of schoolchildren sent in their pennies to support a conservation effort. Today, the population of vinyl has soared, and a thriving organic industry exists to carefully harvest their exotic fur and meat.

A close cousin, the Australian divinyl, is known for its ability to touch itself.

Amy
Amy
8 years ago

I bought an organic mattress years in fall of 2008 and unfortunately, it already needs to be replaced, less than 4 years later. Now that we need a new one, I’m not sure what direction to take. I want one without the chemicals, but I really feel like I didn’t get my money’s worth this last time around.

I’ll gladly check out any brand recommendations anyone has. (Water beds are not an option, we rent.)

Phil
Phil
8 years ago

You’re in Austin, correct? Would you mind telling me who your new massage therapist is?

My girlfriend and I recently bought a Tempurpedic (from Urban Mattress). She also got me a “Core Products Mid-Core Fiber Neck Pillow” (from Amazon), and a split ergonomic keyboard for work, and my chronic shoulder/back/neck pain has nearly disappeared.

She has a bulging disc and joint issues, but the bed has helped tremendously. She’s seeing a new PT at a place called CHARM (off of 360), and her pain is getting much better.

DB
DB
8 years ago
Reply to  April Dykman

Working at a laptop all day can be brutal! The solution for me was to buy a basic docking station, monitor, and shelf for the monitor to sit on. That way you are not slumped over, peering down at a screen, but instead sitting up better and looking straight ahead at an eye-level monitor.

Lisa
Lisa
8 years ago

I used to wake up with back pain every day. Clearly my bed was too firm so I tried a bunch of different options for padding it and nothing worked for very long. Finally I gave up and I am sleeping on my Aerobed. I sleep so well on that thing and I still can’t believe I feel no back pain at all. I’m hoping it will hold out until I can afford a Dream Number bed.

Lucy
Lucy
8 years ago

Apri, Beyond the important issue of your new mattress, let me recommend something. I’ve had many of the back/shoulder issues you described, with two burst discs in my neck. I’ve seen chiropractors, accupuncturists, message therapists. They help, but don’t get rid out of chronic pain. Recently, someone recommended that I try “Classical Stretch.” It’s on most PBS stations (if it isn’t in your area, buy a DVD; it’s worth it). It’s made a huge difference in my flexibility and back pain and seems to be a very safe way to stretch your body wihtout causing any damage. I highly recommend… Read more »

Beth
Beth
8 years ago

I don’t want to start an arguement, but if the ‘alternative’ methods aren’t working, why not try a real doctor? I have no arguement against trying accupuncture and chiropractry first, but if they don’t work, try some western medicine. Don’t give up and assume you can’t get better because they can’t help you. Try a neurologist, a back doctor. It can be very likely that a pinched nerve caused by a bulging disk is causing your limb numbness.

Bella
Bella
8 years ago
Reply to  Beth

For me – I went to the ‘real doctor’ and he prescribed high dose painkillers – for pretty much forever. And an xray, not an MRI, an xray.

Shirley @ gfe
Shirley @ gfe
8 years ago

Have you tried a gluten-free diet? I’m serious. Pain like that can often be tied to gluten and alleviated with a gluten-free diet.

Shirley

Shirley @ gfe
Shirley @ gfe
8 years ago
Reply to  April Dykman

I think that one has to be on a 100% gluten-free diet for a long time to see full benefits, especially when the symptoms are non-digestive. Much of that has to do with the symptoms being caused by the vitamin/mineral deficiencies brought on by gluten issues. They don’t resolve overnight, or even in a month, or 3 months. I remember realizing that my knee pain was gone at the 6 months marker. Food for thought. Glad you have tried a gluten-free diet and are open to dietary changes though. Best of luck in your healing/recovery.

Shirley

Bella
Bella
8 years ago
Reply to  Shirley @ gfe

I really have to wonder about the whole gluten free diet – is it really the gluten or that restricting oneself so much pretty much eliminates all processed food from your diet. I wonder if this magic cure all gluten free diet will no longer be as effective when the big food manufactures really jump on the bandwagon and make cheap processed gluten free junk food.

Shirley @ gfe
Shirley @ gfe
8 years ago
Reply to  Bella

Lots of people wonder about the gluten-free diet. Those of us who are gluten free are used to skeptics. One has to actually go gluten free to see the positive effects. And as far as that gluten-free junk food, there’s lots of it. It might not be cheap, but lots of people are eating it, but they won’t necessarily feel much better than they did when eating gluten because of the processed nature of it. Gluten free by eating whole foods and dishes made from whole foods is definitely best.

Shirley

Betty
Betty
8 years ago
Reply to  Shirley @ gfe

[email protected],

Hi! I stop by your blog often. 🙂
I was surprised to see you here.

I read this post and, wondered if I should
bring up gluten. 🙂 So happy you beat me
to it!

You are so right, nutritional deficiencies can linger for many months or, longer if one does not attempt to increase the nutritional
quality of their diet.

Carla
Carla
8 years ago
Reply to  Shirley @ gfe

I’ve been gluten free for almost 7 years and it made a huge improvement in my skin, digestion, weight etc. I’m not full blown Celiac, but I do have an intolerance. When I eventually eliminated other grains, I saw further improvements. I see gluten-free foods as a stepping stone and that’s how I used it. Every now and then I’ll treat myself to a gluten free cookie or snack (there are a few bakeries in Portland that feature gluten-free snacks), but its not a regular thing for me.

Lauren
Lauren
8 years ago
Reply to  Shirley @ gfe

If you look into traditional recipes that have grain in them, most recommend soaking the grains overnight/over a long period of time (like how you make traditional sourdough). The lack of this pre-soaking combined with our consumption of new varieties of refined grains, it’s not surprising that so many people have developed gluten intolerances.

Root Simple posted a good series on heritage grains:

http://www.rootsimple.com/2012/02/is-modern-wheat-killing-us.html

http://www.rootsimple.com/2012/02/rules-for-eating-wheat.html

Other info on soaking:

http://www.passionatehomemaking.com/2008/04/whole-grains-grinding-soaking.html

http://www.westonaprice.org/food-features/be-kind-to-your-grains

Mike Piper
Mike Piper
8 years ago
Reply to  Shirley @ gfe

Shirley wrote, “Those of us who are gluten free are used to skeptics.” At first glance, I thought that said, “those of us who are gluten free used to be skeptics.” That was certainly my story. Despite knowing my dad had celiac, I didn’t go gluten-free until my mom actually showed up in Chicago one day with 2 days worth of gluten-free food, telling me to eat it instead of whatever else I’d planned on eating. Boy I felt a lot better after those 2 days. Also, Shirley, my wife Kalinda reads your blog regularly and speaks very highly of… Read more »

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
8 years ago
Reply to  Bella

A lot of gluten-free food is highly processed, so a GF diet doesn’t get rid of processed foods. A lot of the flours are heavily refined — they’re low in fiber, as high in calories as non-GF foods and high glycemic index. (I.e. they digest quickly and raise blood sugar levels.) Refined flour is refined flour, whether it’s gluten free or not.

I follow a few gluten-free cooking blogs and that’s a common concern – keeping down the refined starches and adding fibre.

Carla
Carla
8 years ago
Reply to  Elizabeth

That’s why I stopped eating grains altogether. Just stick with produce, proteins, nuts, seeds, etc and you should be fine with a gluten free diet. You don’t *need* bread, pasta, etc. I’ve been eating this way long before it became a trend (Paleo).

Jen
Jen
8 years ago
Reply to  Elizabeth

I too generally eat a grain-free diet and find it eliminates a lot of inflammation. I has a month of eating some wheat (home-made bread and bought paratha) and my knee pain and PMS came back with a vengeance. Two weeks off the wheat and the knee pain was gone. Six weeks later the PMS didn’t recur.

I read somewhere that humans only have 2 enzymes for digesting grains, while typical grain eating animals have more than 10. I haven’t checked a reference on that, but if anyone knows of one I’d love to hear about it.

Marianne
Marianne
8 years ago

I hope you will check back in and let us know whether the new mattress alleviates some of the pain. My husband and I both have neck/ back issues but a new bed is a pretty expensive troubleshooting method… Hoping for a follow-up.

Milissa
Milissa
8 years ago

Thanks for the great article. I have been slowly converting my home to organic products. I have an immune system problem that has seem to lessne as I remove the chemicals from my home.

Thanks Again

Mom of five
Mom of five
8 years ago

I hope the mattress works for you April. We just bought a new mattress a couple of months ago. What a difference! We’re kicking ourselves for not doing it sooner.

Erich
Erich
8 years ago

Thanks for this post! I’ve been looking for an organic/natural mattress as well. Like you, I wondered if the off-gassing was enough of a concern to justify the price of an organic mattress. I’ve decided that for something I’ll be sleeping directly on for eight hours every night, I’d be more comfortable having my face buried in something organic. Please do follow up with how the mattress works for you. I still haven’t made up my mind on what mattress to get (mostly because I haven’t yet moved into my own apartment, so I haven’t been forced to :P), and… Read more »

Katie
Katie
8 years ago

Thank you so much for this article!! Perfect timing as I am in the market for new bedroom furniture and a mattress. I have been planning on buying organic but have been leary of the cost. This article helped me to remember how important natural/organic is to me and why would I buy anything else? Also, to all people knocking chiropractors, my chiropractor and the others in his office(they specialize in chiropractic kinesiology) have helped me, my mom, dad, step-mom, sister, brother-in-law, niece, closest friend, and many other people I know with more issues than anyone can imagine. I will… Read more »

young'n
young'n
8 years ago

This is a finance blog. Any word on a) how much this cost b) the difference between organic/nonorganic c) a comparison to the cost of the various acupuncturists, doctors, massage therapists. Your doctor prescribed antidepressants because many people who have TMJ simply have it due to anxiety. Doctors do the same thing for back pain. As for the comments on gluten free diet, if you have no intolerance or sensitivity to gluten, you will still get some benefits as it is the equivalent of the paleo diet. However if you are sensitive or have an autoimmune reaction it will completely… Read more »

Andrew
Andrew
8 years ago
Reply to  young'n

I would appreciate some real $ figures as well–and an explanation of what “organic” actually means in terms of mattresses. As far as food goes, the word basically has no one defined and clear-cut meaning, so I wonder if the same is true in other spheres. An earlier post referred to “organic vinyl”–I looked it up and this is indeed a FDA-approved use if the term, even if it seems initially nonsensical. So, I wonder if “organic” when referring to a mattress might just be more of a bow to marketing than anything real. One must also weigh the benefits… Read more »

Kelly
Kelly
8 years ago

My husband and I did the great bed debate about 6 months ago. We had a pillow top mattress that was only 3 years old but causing us both back pain. I said over and over, I don’t care how much it costs, I just don’t want to buy another bed for 10 years. After some extensive research I got it down to 2 options, the first was an organic latex bed that allowed you to customize each side from flobeds.com. They seemed to have an excellent reputation to really stand behind their beds. The second option was to buy… Read more »

Andrew
Andrew
8 years ago
Reply to  Kelly

I paid a lot less for a furniture store-brand memory foam mattress, and I do love it. No back problems for the first time in years (neck problems are a different story, sad to say.)

I agree that it takes a while ( 2 weeks for me) to break it in but all of a sudden one night the process was complete and the positive difference between it and my old innerspring mattress became obvious.

partgypsy
partgypsy
8 years ago

I got in 2010 a Simmons beautyrest (bora bora) plush for between $500-600. I also suffer from neck aches (from many years of poor posture). The new mattress made a big difference in sleep and neck/back pain.
I don’t think latex or spring in inherently superior to one or the other more a matter of preference. Skip the (nonremovable) pillow top unless you like replacing an expensive bed every few years. And I think most mattresses probably need to be replaced before the 10 year mark, simple matter of wear and tear.

Kay
Kay
8 years ago

April, it sounds like you’re a side sleeper… if you are, you might want to try a contoured pillow rather than a standard-shaped pillow. I was skeptical at first, but it really made a difference in my sleep quality and back issues.

Do write again and tell us how you’re liking your new bed! I bought a memory/latex (not organic!) mattress about 2 years ago and really love it.

Marshall Davis
Marshall Davis
8 years ago

My wife and I got essentia mattresses – they are the ‘world’s only natural memory foam’ mattress manufacturer out of Canada. They had a special when we ordered it – saved some money because they are $$$$. April, regarding your pain, have you looked into ‘trigger point therapy’? Type this term into Amazon and you can check out some of the books on it. My wife and I started doing this (it is something you can do to yourself) about 6 months ago. Made a world of difference for her sciatica pain and my lower back pain. No drugs. No… Read more »

Josie
Josie
8 years ago

Hmm. What a coincidence! I have the same shoulder troubles at night, only, I rarely get to the point where my shoulder goes numb. I also have TMJ. It may sound like a fairy tale, but I swear, I also recently started using my guard, and got a new mattress a year ago. And, no kidding, my shoulders have improved drastically.

Gees, I’m glad most of all that I now know these are related.

Krantcents
Krantcents
8 years ago

I was suffering from a pinched nerve for 4 weeks. It created a weakness in my (left) arm and I had various levels of pain. I used heat/cold to reduce the inflamation, After two weeks, I did not feel better so I went to an orthopedist. He did an x-ray and ordered a MRI. It turned out I had a pinched nerve in my neck. I am taking a 5 day regimne of drugs that is finally helping. Although the cause may be unknown, there is a simple treatment to reduce the inflation and be pain free.

Ohplease
Ohplease
8 years ago

You know I just finished a series of treatments with a physiotherapist, osteopath and massage therapist for my shoulder and neck. These specialists provided relief but not a solution to the problem. The problem was caused by a series of things such as poor posture (since corrected) but the main culprit were my pillows. I had purchased one of those fancy expensive memory foam pillows as well as two expensive latex pillows (the ones Dr Oz rants and raves about) and I got quite sore after a while. Then I went off to Thailand which is the land of fluffy… Read more »

doug_eike
doug_eike
8 years ago

When caring for your health, it’s necessary constantly to experiment and look for creative solutions. The body’s ailments are not static, and neither are the remedies. Following leads as you have done with respect to finding and purchasing your new mattress is the best way to improve the quality of your life. (By the way, I have also had my arms go numb at night, and it is indeed scary.) Thanks for the tips!

Jenna, Adaptu Community Manager
Jenna, Adaptu Community Manager
8 years ago

Thanks for the great tips. Think there are organic mattresses for futons?

Hope
Hope
8 years ago

I was in the same position about a year ago–ongoing neck/back pain, not chronic but bad enough that it was becoming so, and a REALLY old mattress. For people who would like to go organic and still stay affordable, they might try transitioning to a Japanese-style futon mattress (or two!). They’re simple, portable, you can put them on a platform bed so you don’t have to sleep on the floor, and generally much cheaper most standard mattresses. I experimented with them, and while it took some getting used to–they offer very firm support–I no longer have backaches and pains! The… Read more »

Joe
Joe
8 years ago

Everybody should watch Penn & Teller’s BULLS#!T episode about sleep. One of the most esteemed matress critics in the country just sleeps on an air mattress.

Carla
Carla
8 years ago
Reply to  Joe

I can’t think of a more uncomfortable surface to sleep on than an air mattress. I’d rather sleep on the floor.

Vanessa
Vanessa
8 years ago
Reply to  Carla

I slept on the floor for years until I was gifted with an air mattress. The air mattress was much better. It’s not that bad once you get used to it.

Carla
Carla
8 years ago
Reply to  Vanessa

Maybe I had the wrong kind. I felt like I was sleeping on an inflated balloon.

Vanessa
Vanessa
8 years ago
Reply to  Vanessa

Yeah, it does kind of feel like that. I placed mine directly against the wall and that helped to stabilize it. I also used a good mattress pad and sheets–I never laid directly on it–and that reduced some of the “ballooney” feeling.

Carla
Carla
8 years ago
Reply to  Vanessa

Ill keep that in mind next time I stay at my mothers house!

Nathan
Nathan
8 years ago

My father-in-law slept on the same mattress for years. About nine months ago, he started waking up with debilitating back pain. He recently got a new mattress, and everything is back to normal!

betterthanliving
betterthanliving
8 years ago

The cheapest and easiest matress is no matress! A hard surface is a great way to unkink any irregularities in posture or sleeping position. It can take a few painful days as the body readjusts, but after that you hardly notice that you are not sleeping on a matress. I’m not sure of the science behind such claims, but it has worked for us. People often freak out a bit when we say that we don’t use a matress. Sleeping on the floor is often not desirable due to dust and insects (depending on where you live), but it is… Read more »

Mark H
Mark H
8 years ago

We have conflicting requirements on furniture chemicals because the government agencies that regulate very aspect of our lives is operating 20 years behind the times. The push for fire-retardant furniture (esp. mattresses) was because of a rash of deaths from people falling asleep while smoking and setting their mattresses (and homes) on fire. While some of us might regard this as a self-correcting example of Darwin’s finest work, do-gooders in power can’t help but want to help us. Unintended consequences be damned. It also didn’t help that some kids were killed too, so “It’s for the children”, the plaintive cry… Read more »

Andrew
Andrew
8 years ago
Reply to  Mark H

If we all lived in free-standing houses this argument might be valid. But until all apartment buildings are smoker-free it’s not practical.

Plus, there would be no way to ensure that smokers bought th fire-retardant mattresses, short of nicotine-testing everyone during the purchase process. Surely a libertarian wouldn’t want that.

LisaD
LisaD
8 years ago

About 10 years ago I was suffering from chronic hip pain and tendonitis for about 5 years. Conventional doctors recommended surgery, physical therapy, etc. etc., none of which helped. I finally gave up and looked for ‘weird’ doctors, and I have to say I found the weirder the doctor, the more helpful they are. I saw a few doctors – naturopathic medicine practitioners and people practicing nutritional response testing, and they all told me I was allergic to wheat (not gluten, just wheat). I cut that out, and my hip pain, fatigue, and a host of other problems went away.… Read more »

Sue
Sue
8 years ago

We went into a furntiure store once to pick up a futon for a spare room, and walked out with a Natura mattress and bed. Love it. It was a floor model, discontinued, clearance “find”. Bed frame is amazing; lots of capacity to customize – two separate halves where you can increase/decrease lumbar and upper body support – and the mattress has been great for our allergies, and very comfortable. Highly recommend.

C
C
8 years ago

I’m going to echo comment 86- sleeping on the floor is actually pretty nice. When my dad had back/sciatica problems, he found that sleeping on the floor helped with his pain. That was almost 20 years ago and he still occasionally falls asleep on the floor. When I moved across country, I sold my bed and for the first two weeks in my new place Islept on an air mattress. When I started having back pains and could not find an acceptable/affordable slat bed, I busted out my camping gear and some extra blankets and started sleeping on the floor.… Read more »

OnTheGrind
OnTheGrind
8 years ago

Pretty interesting topic for something that most people put little thought into. It’s amazing how getting a new bed can change your sleep and well-being so much. We went to a foam mattress about a year ago and I’ve never slept better. My back seems to really appreciate it as well.

Jen
Jen
8 years ago

One of the key reminders for me from this article is that practitioners vary in style and competence. I have had chiropractors/ osteopaths who have been simple bone crackers while others have taken a more wholistic approach to working out root causes and suggesting exercises. Likewise I’ve seen physiotherapists who have simply remediated pain, while other have worked on strengthening weaknesses. For those with joint issues, I highly recommend a resource available on-line called IntuFlow: http://www.intu-flow.com/ There are 5 free beginners lessons on the site (and I think there is another one on YouTube that finishes the series). It’s been… Read more »

Jane
Jane
8 years ago

I haven’t seen the Penn & Teller episode someone refers to up here, but I was reading all of these comments with a bunch of skepticism. I guess people could say – you can’t dispute the results of new mattresses. But I do think there are lots of psychological factors that play into our happiness with our decisions. I’m sure the placebo effect can work for things other than medicine. If you spend thousands of dollars on a mattress, I imagine even your body might be tricked into liking it. And of course all the sleep “experts” tell you how… Read more »

partgypsy
partgypsy
8 years ago
Reply to  Jane

As far as the $400 being used for 6 years, it’s probably still has some life in it. You will know when it is time to replace (springs poking, pancaked, etc). I do feel that some of those older mattresses were made better. My mother had a sealy posturpedic (not cheap when she bought it) but she used it for over 20 years and it was surprisingly still comfortable (up until the end).

stellamarina
stellamarina
8 years ago
Reply to  Jane

I have to admit that the idea that one should buy a new matress every 10 years sounds outrageous to me. I think we just bought mattresses when we got married and expected to use them for ever. A good firm mattress always works for me. I have slept on the floor in different parts of the world but the floor gets too hard for old joints now and it is harder to get up and down.

Jen
Jen
8 years ago
Reply to  stellamarina

I agree. My mother’s mattress is older than I am…and not that long ago my BIL and SIL stayed at her place and slept in that bed. My SIL raved about the great mattress…and was more than a little shocked to learn that it’s likely 50+ years old!

Jen
Jen
8 years ago
Reply to  Jane

I certainly agree that mattresses should last more than 5+ years. However, I also know that I searched Hampton Inn mattresses after we stayed on one last month. I didn’t consider the mattress at all when going to sleep, but when I got out of bed in the morning and my hips and back weren’t entirely stiff and locked into place, I sure thought about it then. They do sell something described as their mattresses online, but it seems to be no returns and it’s not guaranteed that what they’re selling is exactly like what I slept on. Perhaps I… Read more »

PRC Board Exam
PRC Board Exam
8 years ago

I never knew that there’s such a thing as organic mattresses.

Amanda
Amanda
8 years ago

Thanks for this post. For the last couple of months I’ve thought we needed a new futon, but this post was the reminder that I needed to get off my butt and buy one.

diane+p
diane+p
8 years ago

Interesting, but the one thing I wish I had known when I bought my new mattress in 2007, was not to purchase a pillowtop. I would love to be able to flip over my mattress, in fact I may just try it even though you are not supposed to. If I had just purchased a standard mattress I could purchase a pillowtop to go on it and have more flexiblity.

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