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Your mattress could be harming you while you sleep

PSA: Read this before you go to bed tonight.

Sleep Credit: Vera Petrunina/Getty Images

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You probably know that the right (or the wrong) mattress can have a major impact on both your sleep and your spine—but did you know that it may also affect your health?

According to a new study published in Environmental Science and Technology, mattresses can give off gaseous chemicals known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) while you're sleeping. And those VOCs can lead to not only eye and throat irritation, but also nausea, kidney or liver damage, and even cancer, says the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Here's exactly what you need to know about your mattress and how to choose a better (and safer) one, according to our expert tester.

What the study found about toxins in mattresses

VOCs come from the polyurethane that's commonly found in mattresses (it's also used in flame retardants, plastics, and paint). After testing eight different types of polyurethane mattresses in various conditions, researchers discovered that body heat can stimulate the release of more VOCs. That means that off-gassing (the term for releasing VOCs) increases when you're laying on your mattress vs. when it's not in use.

Should you be worried?

Of course, breathing in toxins is never a good thing. But the study reports that the levels of VOCs found in the mattresses are still below the "No Significant Risk Levels" set by Californian environmental laws. A.k.a there's likely no need to panic for now—or to toss your current mattress. However, researchers recommend keeping bedrooms well-ventilated (with a fan or open window, for instance), particularly if it's a baby or child's bedroom as they're more vulnerable to VOC exposure.

How to choose the best mattress

Mattress
Credit: Lightfield Studios/Getty Images

Choose wisely.

While you don't need to replace your mattress, if you want to, our e-commerce manager, Samantha Gordon, has a few tips. "From all I've read and learned after testing mattresses for the last six months, the amount of emissions from a typical mattress is not enough to make you sick," Gordon says. "But if you want to get rid of any material that may even carry a risk, no matter how small, you have options! There are eco-friendly mattresses made with all-natural materials if you are really concerned about potential air pollution from polyurethane materials."

She recommends checking out some of the brands tested and approved by Sleepopolis (including Avocado, Brentwood Home, PlushBeds, and EcoTerra) that use use natural materials like wool, cotton, and latex instead of memory foam. "While we haven't tested these mattresses ourselves just yet, Sleepopolis puts every bed through the ringer in their labs to get an accurate look at the pros and cons of each," Gordon notes.

And if you want extra protection from potentially harmful chemicals, don't forget the cover. "I'd suggest getting a mattress cover, which is designed to keep gross stuff like mites, bed bugs, and bodily fluids out and may help keep chemicals in (plus they keep your mattress in better condition so it lasts longer!)," Gordon advises.

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