Whether you like a good ten hours, or you can cope with just six a night — we all need sleep. The average person spends nearly a third of their life asleep in fact. And most sleep takes place on your bed — or more specifically — on your mattress. People tend to invest in a good mattress for comfort alone. But new findings suggest that some mattresses might be bad for your health.

There are a lot of people who put up with their uncomfortable mattress despite lumps, bumps and poor support. It can lead to poor posture over time as well as fatigue and even depression. The new research isn’t concerned with this kind of health detriment though. It’s based on something that people don’t even consider when they snuggle down to sleep — namely, chemicals.

Making a mattress

Do you know what chemicals are in your mattress? Probably not — why should you. Manufacturers aren’t required to tell you, so they seldom do. What they are required to do, however, is make their products flame resistant and safe — alongside being comfortable and supportive. But the best chemicals to use to make something flame resistant are generally toxic to humans. And so, toxic chemicals being used to produce mattresses, with residues left behind that could possibly be harmful for anyone who uses the mattress.

Researchers in the US decided to test some products to see exactly how bad the problem was. To do so, they used chromatography and mass spectrometry — the optimisation of which is explored in the article, Adding more Power to your GC-MS Analysis through Deconvolution. Testing 26 products, they found that fifteen contained the flame resistant chemical TDCPP (tris (1,3-dichloro-2-propyl) phosphate) and four contained similar chemical TCPP (tris (1-chloropropyl) phosphate). Both have been found to cause toxicity in humans, including impaired brain development.

Serious effects

TDCPP and TCPP are part of a group of flame retardants known as organophosphates that were introduced to replace the restricted flame retardants known as polybrominated diphenyl ethers. PBDEs were regulated in the early 2000s due to health concerns. One study observed the effect on mice, and found that they caused serious behavioural effects, while others have noted their negative impact on human cognitive ability and dynamic characteristic allowing them to spread.

But at least they’re fire resistant, right? Wrong, unfortunately. Because of their chemical content, these mattresses – when burnt – release more carbon monoxide and deadly smoke than their non-flame-retardant alternatives. A study from 2010 assessed the risks and benefits and found that there was no need for such chemicals. It seems it’s just a case of waiting for legislation to catch up. And in the meantime, try not to lose too much sleep over it.