Sleep is an often-overlooked aspect of wellness that you can address.
Mattresses used to be made of primarily of cotton padding and springs. Nut after 1950 and the invention of plastics and foams, the modern mattress has gone through many evolutions. From water beds to today’s memory foam offerings this evolution has been quite spectacular. But also during this time, sleep issues have risen to almost epidemic proportion, which raises the question: “Is the modern mattress a wellness product or not?”
Sleep and Wellness
From a medical standpoint, the ideal mattress is more than just furniture- it conveys health benefits and plays a role in promoting wellness. Above all, the mattress should support the spine properly. This will both reduce pressure and encourage deep, healing sleep. The preferred mattress should be made of safe, non-toxic materials, and it should wear slowly and evenly, offering good value and a long life. When we examine the modern mattress against these criteria, however, a number of problems come to light.
Alignment support. The hip and lower torso weigh more than the shoulder area. To provide proper support the mattress must push the hips up into alignment (i.e., level) with the shoulders. The use of new foamed materials like memory foam and latex to replace steel springs do not do this. Neither does air nor water.
The fastest-growing segment of today’s mattress market is memory-foam beds. These tend to soften with use, which diminishes alignment support as they become worn. Thus, the movement in the mattress market away from the steel springs presents a threat to proper back support.
Pressure relief. Synthetic foams wear at a faster rate than cotton. This had lead to the phenomenon of “body impressions” that occur with use, reflecting foam’s inability to rebound over time.
Independent testing of mattress foams shows that they can be expected to wear out in three to eight years depending on the amount and type of foam used. Buyers, however, expect a modern mattress to last for the warranty period of 20-plus years like their old cotton mattress did.
The warranty coverage, however, now extends to the normal wear pattern of the foam. As a result, many continue to sleep on a mattress that is worn out, and not replaced because of budgetary considerations. Trying to sleep on a worn-out mattress will contribute to poor sleep and musculoskeletal misalignment.
Off-gassing. Synthetic foams emit noxious fumes as they wear, in a process called off-gassing. The fastest growing segment of the modern mattress market, memory foam, is made from polyurethane foam and an additive to make it rebound slowly.
Almost every modern mattress uses polyurethane foam. New research is linking polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) like polyurethane to various health problems (e.g., some adults report severe allergic or immune-related reactions after sleeping on new mattresses made with synthetic foams).
Fire retardants. Many of the materials used to retard fire also contain known carcinogens. By federal law, mattress manufacturers are required by law to demonstrate to the government that their products will extinguish an open flame, but don’t have to reveal to the consumer what materials they are using to do it.
The least expensive way is to use a chemical spray containing PCBs like asbestos and boric acid. This results in even more toxic materials being added to the polyurethane foam used in almost every modern mattress.
This is not to say that these mattresses will necessarily cause harm. The synthetic materials they are made from and the fire blockers used are present in many other areas of everyday life, including the home. However, for some people the effects of such substances are quite serious.
Protective Measures. Sleep is important, it is the third leg of the wellness stool along with exercise and nutrition. Recent studies linking the absence of deep, healing sleep to increase risk of stroke, diabetes, and obesity are raising your patient’s interest in this area.
A new category of wellness-quality mattress and sleep products is beginning to emerge as a result. As patients become more aware of the issues surrounding sleep and wellness, their doctor is in a perfect position to advise them.
One thing patients can do is look for mattress that reveal all the materials used to make them. Both the fire-blocker and other materials used should be non-toxic and non off-gassing if possible. It is also wise to look for natural materials that you know from experience are hypoallergenic, like organic cotton, wool, silk, and latex rubber. When it comes to choosing the right mattress, the more you and your patient know about what they are sleeping on the better.
If you take the time to become familiar with the research regarding the materials used in the today’s retail mattresses and some of the new products that are available, it’s possible to add the properties of deep, healing sleep to each patient’s treatment plan.
Contact our office at 238.8888 if you have any more questions about the modern mattress dilemma.
sources: Chiropractic Economics. August 2, 2013.