A wide variety of ailments list morning headaches as a symptom, but this painful way of waking up can often be explained by an overlooked cause: the pillow upon which your head rests each night.
We've previously examined the many health benefits of natural, sustainably sourced mattresses here on the Green Conscience Blog. The bedding we choose is of paramount importance, since nearly a third of our life is (ideally) spent sleeping upon it, yet oftentimes we don't stop to consider what makes up our mattress and pillows. As most of us operate under a budget of one kind or another, we sometimes can't afford higher quality bedding that largely avoids harsh chemical treatments, yet when it comes to the component parts of our sleep-set, we have other items to consider swapping out in an effort to combat morning headaches.
Commonly, manufacturers of mattresses and pillows employ a variety of materials, including synthetic foam, to make sure you have a comfortable night's rest. While it is often difficult for consumers to approximate exactly what is in each of these component materials, some chemicals are well known to exist in most mattresses. Their acknowledged effects leave little to the imagination when it comes to the inadvertent dangers we face when sleeping each night.
As Savvy Rest relates, one of the most common chemicals found in memory foams and other bedding materials is formaldehyde. A known carcinogen, formaldehyde is not only responsible for the powerful smell that characterizes new bedding, but also continues to leach into a room far after that olfactory assault ceases. Much like a variety of other chemical-laden products (like those made with pressboard), formaldehyde continues to off-gas into a home for an extended period of time. Most commonly, formaldehyde is used to embalm dead bodies, and according to the CDC, even low levels of the chemical may be sufficient to dramatically raise the risk of getting cancer.
Formaldehyde isn't the only chemical to grace your bedding, however. Diisocyanates are considered highly toxic, and they are known eye and throat irritants. Unsurprisingly, they are also proven to cause headaches, and often found in mattress foams. Alongside this mind-boggling addition to our bedding, you can often find methylene chloride in mattresses and foam pillows. By far the most common pollutant associated with industrial foams, methylene chloride has had dramatic effects on factory workers who are exposed to it in the long term. These include memory loss, dizziness, nausea, and (of course) headaches.
While sleepers aren't exposed to concentrations anywhere near these amounts, off-gassing means that chemicals can build up in our bodily systems over time, slowly and stealthily. A known and common issue with industrial chemicals, these cumulative effects can be measured in people almost from birth. Recently, a new study was published that examined the capacity for synthetic chemicals to be passed from mother to child while breastfeeding. The results were staggering, showing that there is a direct connection between breastfeeding and tested levels of chemicals present in an individual.
Limiting exposure to potentially carcinogenic and definitively harmful chemicals is a constant challenge that remains exceedingly difficult for most people. Thankfully, there are certain steps that health-conscious individuals can take, including changing out your bedding to a more naturally-sourced alternative. Many of the chemicals that are found in pillows and other bedding originate not only in memory foams, but also in the fire-retardants that certain materials are legally required to be treated with. When sourcing a mattress or a natural pillow, look for one made from organic latex or wool (and buckwheat in the case of pillows). Inherently flame-resistant, many of these products avoid the need for harsh chemical treatments altogether, dramatically decreasing the amount of toxins your body passively takes in over the long term.
Morning headaches are no way to start a day. If you're experiencing these on a somewhat regular basis, don't hesitate to examine the bedding upon which you rest, as changing it out may be the key to a better night's sleep and a clearer head in the morning.
[Images: Martha W McQuade via Flickr | CC BY 2.0
rachel CALAMUSA via Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 2.0 ]
Hi! I'm Karen Totino, owner of Green Conscience Home. I'd love to hear your thoughts on any of our posts, so comment away! One of my goals is to get the community discussing some of these eco topics, and hopefully help each other out!