I have slept on more than 50 mattresses since August 2013. No, I’m not a traveling salesperson, bouncing from hotel bed to hotel bed. And I’m not a prince fussing over a pea. I’m merely a troubled sleeper who has been to more mattress stores and done more mattress research than what I would consider normal.
On my attempted journey to the land of nod, I put my dreams of sleep—and company’s claims of fulfilling them—to the test. Once I started to chronicle my experiences and review mattresses I had purchased, companies began sending me mattresses to review. I’ve learned a lot along the way that I’m eager to share with others.
What was keeping me up? Worries, stress, the usual. Add to that was the death of my mother-in-law, and moving four times with young children in half as many years. Insomnia stalked me.
So I did what most people do: used over-the-counter sleep aids, upgraded my pillow—six times—and gave four mattresses a trial run in one year alone. That was only the beginning.
Along the way, I became an impromptu sleep product expert, chronicling my efforts on my blog, Sleep Sherpa. I chose the name because a Sherpa is a guide. Likewise, I intend to use my expertise to guide people to the best, most innovative sleep products available.
A market wakes up
The timing was right; my site sprouted during the online mattress boom. In 2015, companies like Leesa and Nest Bedding were starting to promote mattresses that could be roll-packed and shipped in a box about the size of a mini fridge. What’s more, their marketing efforts once again alerted consumers to the value of a good night’s sleep. Thanks to their generous trial periods, I reviewed these companies’ products first.
First, a little background on sleep. Most Americans recognize the value of a good night’s sleep for optimal daily function and health. However, according to the Center for Disease Control and Management, an estimated 50-70 million U.S. adults have sleep or wakefulness disorder. There are a myriad reasons why: anxiety about work or family life, snoring and sleep apnea, the side effects of medication, improper sleep “hygiene”—which essentially means not treating one’s bedroom as a sanctuary, like allowing electronics and dogs up on the bed—are just some of them.
To counter these sleep infractions, Americans are doing what we do best: spending money. Companies selling high-end mattresses, high-thread-count sheets, white-noisemaking machines and special pillows—full-body and buckwheat among them—are pitching their products’ ability to improve the quality of rest, reduce wakefulness and ease us into deep slumber.
I put myself to the task of checking those claims.
Now for a little mattress education. Most Americans believe that mattresses play a major role in the quality of their sleep. And most consumers replace their mattresses every nine to 15 years, according to a survey by the Better Sleep Council. However, 68 percent of survey respondents said they only think of replacing their mattress when it disturbs them, like when a coil busts loose. The number-one barrier to mattress purchases is cost, followed by hassle factor.
That’s where direct-to-consumer online companies are making hay. They’re easing the burden of mattress buying by offering free trials, expedited delivery, easy returns, great customer service and prices competitive with or even below retail. The same is true with sheets and pillows.
Turns out, online sleep companies woke up the whole market.
Dreams of a more eco-friendly bed
As the number of product reviews on my site grew, people contacted me for guidance on what might work for them. Many wondered how they could sync their purchases with their greener-planet priorities. Eco-friendly options—featuring renewable and biodegradable materials—also topped my list.
The issue is huge: foam mattresses, made with petrochemicals, and those made from other materials clog our nation’s landfills. According to an article in BedTimes, 50,000 mattresses are thrown out every day in the U.S., and landfills don’t want them because they wreak havoc with waste-handling machines. With new ways and fewer barriers to buy mattresses, it’s more important than ever to factor in the related environmental impacts.
So I educated myself—on certifications, foam densities, manufacturing processes, coil counts, thread counts and more. As I mentioned, I have slept on over 50 mattresses and tried dozens of pillows and sheets sets. Here are a few highlights, focused on how to authenticate the environmental pedigree of your potential purchase.
1. What’s inside the mattress matters.
Aside from the standard advice on trial periods, warranties and coil counts, consumer should take into consideration the chemicals used to create their mattress. At minimum, make sure to purchase products free from harmful chemicals. Memory foam has become a popular sleep surface, both for mattresses and pillows. Quality memory foam will be CeritPUR certified, which means made without formaldehyde, ozone depleters, heavy metals and other toxic chemicals. This standard also pertains to bed sheets.
2. Seek out third-party certification.
If you’re looking to go a step further towards a more natural route, look for the Oeko Tex certification. Oeko Tex is an independent organization that tests for harmful substances not only in the end product but also throughout the production. For example, cotton for sheets typically goes from the farm to the ginning mill, then to a spinning mill, a weaver and a dyer, and finally to a factory to cut, make and trim the sheets. This process can involve many separate companies, making chain-of-custody difficult to confirm. Oeko Tex tracks how the product is made from start to finish, giving you peace of mind.
3. Go organic. Get GOTS.
Similar to food, you can now buy mattresses and sheets that are certified organic. For organic textiles such as bed sheets, look for the GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) certification, a standard used to ensure textiles are made from organic fibers and meet high levels of environmental and toxicological criteria throughout the supply chain. GOTS ensures that textiles are truly organic, from harvesting of the raw materials, through environmentally and socially responsible manufacturing. I highly recommend GOTS-certified organic cotton sheets; companies like SOL Organics and Coyuchi are reliable places to find them. If in doubt about the authenticity of the labeling, ask companies for the “control union number,” which allows you to track the authenticity of the product. The gold standard for textiles with the least environmental impact.
4. Look into latex.
Considering an all-natural mattress? Latex is a wonderful sleep surface that contours well to your body but instantly bounces back. Look for product made with GOLS (Global Organic Latex Standard) latex. This standard ensures that the latex harvested to make the mattress comes from an organic farm and that the end product is comprised of a minimum of 95% organic material. A quality natural latex mattress should last you at least 20 years or longer!
5. Consider coir for the crib.
Coir is a natural byproduct of coconut that enhances breathability when used as a mattress filling. Wool is another good option, known for its ability to regulate temperature. Added bonus: these mattresses are not only free of harmful chemicals, but they are also biodegradable.
6. Commit to recycle.
Check to see what your municipal waste handler does with mattresses. If it doesn’t recycle them, ISPA, an industry trade group, keeps a list of state-by-state mattress recyclers on its site.
Here’s the simple fact: we all sleep. Every human, every creature, probably even nocturnal insects all need sleep. Studies demonstrate, and I can personally attest, that sleeping well leads to greater overall well-being. Sleep affects every aspect of our day ahead.
To go a step further, I firmly believe that, through informed buying decisions and improved sleep practices, we can all sleep well, be well and in turn do well for the earth and fellow humanity. By becoming thoughtful consumers, we can influence—and maybe even dictate—the quality of products brought to the marketplace. That work begins with knowledge.