Prioritising sleep and a healthy environment to rest in should be of utmost importance. Although the health benefits of sleep are well understood, they are not always put into practise. The rate in which adults are ignoring signs of poor sleep and resting in environments which could inhibit their ability to fully restore overnight is at an all time high.
Historically, sleep is known to be most important for maintaining cognitive function the next day – but there’s now compelling evidence that impaired sleep and an unhealthy space in which we rest is linked to various consequences with significant public health impacts. Internal and external factors that can impair sleep have been linked to hormone dysregulation, impaired glucose intolerance, higher risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, exposure to radiation, chemical toxicity, respiratory problems, a heightened allergic response and more. Collectively, these examples demonstrate wide-ranging consequences on physical health when sleep is inhibited or exposure to disease-causing compounds is happening in the bedroom.
There are multiple important healing mechanisms that occur while we sleep and these include organ, muscle and tissue repair, improved brain function, hormone balance, strengthening of the immune system, boosting metabolism, increased energy production, and so much more. These are all crucial – but thanks to 24-hour supermarkets, high-stress jobs, digital alarm clocks, mattresses containing contaminants and the constant need to use facebook – restorative sleep isn’t as prioritised as it should be. Apart from the food we eat, there are environmental changes that can be made to ensure the space we sleep in coincides with proper restoration.
So where do you start?
Reduce exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMFs):
EMFs are emitted from wireless devices and electronics such as tablets, laptops, mobile phones, power lines, WIFI enabling routers, microwaves, digital clocks and lamps. They have been established as possibly carcinogenic by The World Health Organisation and further research is presently examining the link between EMFs and childhood leukaemia, breast cancer, infertility, miscarriages, neurodegenerative disorders and electromagnetic hypersensitivity. There are varying levels of impact on human health depending on the frequency and it seems that occasional exposure should not be harmful, however repeated exposure over extended periods of time is likely to cause a degree of harm.
This then raises the question – are devices that live long term in the bedroom causing extended exposure to EMFs? And can they disrupt our sleep? It turns out, they can. Wireless radiation has shown potential to damage sleep via the disruption of melatonin synthesis (MN, 2013), which is a relaxation hormone responsible for allowing us to enter into a restful sleep state.
A 2016 study evaluating the exposure to EMFs in European countries found that in Germany, electric alarm clocks had the highest number of exposure of all appliances followed by electric blankets and TVs (Gajšek et al., 2016). Furthermore, the data from this study suggests that one third of the total exposure to magnetic fields can be attributed to personal appliance use. Of the listed personal appliances, many can be found in the bedroom.
Reduce light exposure:
As well as EMFs, light also has the ability to inhibit melatonin production, as melatonin is activated by darkness. As a result of late night screen time involving mobile phones, televisions, alarm clocks and computer screens, many biological processes causing alertness are being stimulated at the wrong times of the day. When our bodies are exposed to artificial sources of light at night time, the release of hormones such as cortisol are elevated artificially outside of their natural timing, which is normally regulated by the circadian rhythm. When cortisol is high, melatonin is low.
There are particular natural alternatives to light that can be used which will not inhibit melatonin production to such a degree. Organic beeswax candles are a great choice but not only for a source of light. They create a meditative, peaceful and calm environment in which your body can prepare to relax for a night of restoration ahead and do not contain artificial fragrances and other health hazards such as lead. A peaceful environment is so important for a peaceful sleep. Just make sure you use common sense and don’t fall asleep with them still lit or place them too close to anything that could burn! I love Happy Flame Beeswax Candles https://www.happyflame.com.au/, they are the best, such a beautiful connection to the magic of our natural world and a true treat for the senses.
Use natural materials for mattresses and bedding
Unfortunately, electronics aren’t the only objects in the bedroom that could be causing health problems from the bedroom. Did you know that 99% of all bedding products such as mattresses, pillows, sheets and quilts contain fire retardant and petroleum based chemicals? Both epidemiological and anecdotal evidence suggests that people can become sick from repeated exposure to these chemicals.
According to the National Institute of Environmental health Sciences, a growing body of evidence shows that many of these chemicals are associated with adverse health effects in animals and humans (NIH, 2018). These include:
● Endocrine and thyroid disruption
● Impacts to the immune system
● Reproductive toxicity
● Adverse effects on fetal and child development
● Neurologic function
So are there safer alternatives? Absolutely. Hardwood or solid timber slats and beds made locally and sealed with a natural furniture oil such as Livos oils https://www.livos.com.au/ will be a more natural choice. I love the furniture and bedding at The Natural Bedding Company https://www.thenaturalbeddingcompany.com.au/. Hemp and organic cotton sheets are also my favourite. Check out the range at The Hemp Gallery https://www.hempgallery.com.au/ and Mandala Dream Co. https://www.mandaladreamco.com.au/. You can also buy organic linen sheets and pure silk is a great option for those with allergies. Organic hemp and latex mattresses are also available, catering for the likes of soft, medium or hard surfaces. Be aware that not all latex mattresses are healthy or created equally, you must trust the integrity of who you are purchasing from, this is why I love the Natural Bedding Company. Natural mattresses have also been shown they can reduce the instance of allergic reactions (Rijssenbeek-Nouwens, 2019), especially in children. Again, always choose local furniture and bedding where possible and if it is not possible to go natural (beware of greenwashing, do your homework and question everything), keep your furniture and bedding out in the sun before taking it into your home to outgas various volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
Reduce exposure to allergens
Asthma, hay fever, food allergies and eczema are all allergic conditions that are on the rise. As a result, environmental and lifestyle risk factors have been looked at closely to assess their contributing impacts. Whilst diet, medical history, mode of birth and gastrointestinal health are all crucial contributors to consider, there are household allergens particularly found in the bedroom that are of great concern to the health of any individual. Dust mites in particular are the most common cause of allergies and respiratory conditions, accounting for up to 40% of the global populations sensitivity (Yu, Liao and Tsai, 2014).
Some common allergens that are typically found in the bedroom are:
● Dust mites
● Cleaning detergents
Vacuuming regularly with a HEPA filter vacuum is a great way to start to reduce allergens. HEPA filters will filter the air whilst vacuuming rather than redistributing up to 80% of the particles back into the air. You can also vacuum your mattress to reduce the instance of dust mites, as well as putting your mattress and bedding in the sun as the sun is a natural steriliser. When repainting your home, especially your bedroom, use a natural paint without toxic ingredients such as Bio Products http://bioproducts.com.au/.
Mould is a common organism that grows in moist or wet areas and is present practically everywhere, both indoors and outdoors (NSW Health, 2012). It is thought that a large percentage of the 300 million cases of childhood asthma can be attributed to indoor dampness and mould exposure.
According to NSW Health, some common reasons why mould accumulates are:
● Poor drainage
● Damage to roofing which allows water in the building
● Insufficient ventilation in areas such as walls, wallpaper, ceilings, carpets, bathroom tiles, insulation and wood
● Water damaged building materials
Mould can cause health problems such as:
● Recurrent colds and flu, chest tightness, cough, sinusitis, hay fever, pneumonia.
● Eye and skin irritation
● Chronic fatigue syndrome: headache, sleep disturbances, brain fog, body aches
● Chemical sensitivities
● Fatigue and improper sleeps
In 2011, The World Health Organisation reviewed studies on mould from the 1990s that found dampness, moisture and mould in indoor environments to be associated with adverse health effects. Their extensive review process found that 20 years on, the results were remarkably similar. The most commonly reported health effects were symptoms of the airways as well as allergic skin reactions. Associations with both “new-onset asthma and asthma exacerbations” were also documented in both children and adults (The World Health Organisation, 2011).
Building Biologists always recommended that hazards in the built environment are evaluated and controlled, however, if you are unable to avoid moisture and/or toxicants and allergens in your bedroom, you may need to consider a dehumidifier and an air filter in your bedroom. Contact http://buildingbiologynsw.com.au/ for more information.
In summary, here’s what you can do to improve the quality of your sleeping sanctuary:
● Don’t sleep with your mobile phone in your room
● Avoid screens before bed time and use more natural sources of light such as beeswax candles
● Assess housing air quality and ensure nothing is susceptible to mould, such as condensation, poor drainage, damage to roofing which allows water in the building, insufficient ventilation or water damaged building materials
● Keep your home as clean as possible to reduce dust build up that could contribute to allergic reactions
1. Gajšek, P., Ravazzani, P., Grellier, J., Samaras, T., Bakos, J. and Thuróczy, G. (2016). Review of Studies Concerning Electromagnetic Field (EMF) Exposure Assessment in Europe: Low Frequency Fields (50 Hz–100 kHz).
2. MN, H. (2013). Pineal melatonin level disruption in humans due to electromagnetic fields and ICNIRP limits. – PubMed – NCBI. [online] Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23051584 [Accessed 11 Feb. 2019].
3. NIH (2018). Flame Retardants. [online] National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Available at: https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/flame_retardants/index.cfm [Accessed 11 Feb. 2019].
4. NSW Health (2012). Mould – Fact sheets. [online] Health.nsw.gov.au. Available at: https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/environment/factsheets/pages/mould.aspx [Accessed 12 Feb. 2019].
5. Rijssenbeek-Nouwens, L. (2019). Clinical evaluation of the effect of anti-allergic mattress covers in patients with moderate to severe asthma and house dust mite allergy: a randomised double blind placebo controlled study. [online] Available at: https://thorax.bmj.com/content/57/9/784 [Accessed 12 Feb. 2019].
6. The World Health Organisation (2011). [online] Euro.who.int. Available at: http://www.euro.who.int/__data/assets/pdf_file/0003/142077/e95004.pdf [Accessed 11 Feb. 2019].
7. Yu, S., Liao, E. and Tsai, J. (2014). House dust mite allergy: environment evaluation and disease prevention. [online] Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4215436/ [Accessed 12 Feb. 2019].