02/27/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

A Green Night's Sleep

If you spend your waking hours consuming organic local celeriac and fretting about mountaintop removal coal mining practices, you might consider greening your sleeping habits, too. We spend about a third of our lives in bed, so green sleeping accoutrements - from boxsprings to pajamas - are de rigeur.

Green mattresses seem particularly important to consider. Not only do conventional mattresses raise health concerns, but they are also a huge hazard to the environment. Since most everyone has a mattress, and most people prefer to buy brand new mattresses, landfills are almost certainly filling up with their bulk. Julie Scelfo of The New York Times recently described the composition of conventional mattresses:

In recent decades, most mattresses have been made either with metal springs sandwiched between layers of polyurethane foam, or with just foam. In showrooms, salespeople typically focus on firmness, talking about the number of springs or the density of the foam. What they rarely bring up -- but what has become increasingly common knowledge among consumers -- is that polyurethane foam is made from petroleum, and that it can emit volatile organic compounds (V.O.C.'s), which have been linked to respiratory irritation and other health problems, according to both the Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Scelfo highlights several eco-friendly organic mattresses now on the market but notes that a green night's sleep need not be prohibitively expensive. She quotes Debra Lynn Dadd, an author and blogger in Clearwater, Fla., who has been writing about toxic substances in household products for 25 years: "For $300, for example, you can buy a 100 percent cotton or wool futon that rests on the floor. For less than $150, you can buy three or four cotton thermal blankets, fold them, then stack them on a metal rollaway bedframe."

Laura Fraser wrote in Plenty about Rita Krug, an expatriate living San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, who was tired of seeing plastic bags scattered across the desert and filling up the garbage dumps. Krug collected so many bags that her maid suggested she stuff them into mattresses for poor children who might otherwise sleep on the floors of their homes. These DIY eco-mattresses might not be quite as comfortable as an all-natural, horse-hair-cotton-wool-and-flax filled Hastens, but making beds not merely out of recyclable materials but out of recycled goods sounds bright green to us.

The mattresses are easy to make. Each shell requires six feet of sturdy, nonflammable canvas fabric, which costs about $7. After the shells are sewn on three sides, the volunteers, mostly retirees, stuff them with clean plastic bags that have been tied into compact knots, using about 1,500 bags for each mattress. To finish, one volunteer sews the thick covers together by hand, using a strong sewing needle. It's a time-consuming process; the volunteers, who number about 25 each week, turn out about 100 mattresses per year.

Once you've got your green mattress sorted out, consider Domino's suggestions for organic bedding. Jan Eleni sells vintage sheets in cherry floral prints; MaryJane Farm's 100% organic cotton linens are available in colors inspired by the sun, sky and grasslands of MaryJane Butters's Idaho farm; and ABC Home's Purist collection includes luxurious organic silk shams and sheets.

As John Hind cleverly pointed out in the Observer, the more you sleep the greener you are.

The 5 per cent of Britons who regularly grab less than five hours sleep utilise 16 per cent more electricity, 9 per cent more gas and consume and burn over 1.5g more fat in each 24 hours than the 6 per cent of Britons getting over nine hours in the land of nod.

Although no one has yet suggested that low sleepers or nocturnal people should be taxed more, it is hard to argue against the environmental advantage of people taking more and more sack time. Each person heading for bed switches off four items that would otherwise be on. Men stumbling from bed to toilet mid-sleep are only a third as likely to flush 10l of water afterwards as men who are awake and active. People sleeping only seven hours miss a fifth REM session, the exciting dream images of which would cost £3 to make up for at Blockbusters and usually involve a car journey.

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