Lay Me Down
The bedroom is the keeper of the soul, the place where dreams are made and bodies refreshed in sweet, sound sleep. This most intimate of spaces should be the most healthy, hospitable room in your home. Though other rooms can certainly accommodate physical and emotional closeness, this is the room intended for physical intimacy. Yet for all its potential for communion, the bedroom can also be a place of isolation. There's no greater solitude than that suffered during sleepless nights, when our closest allies are fear, apprehension, doubt; in counsel with them, our psyches go into exile. This is genuine solitude, and it reaches into our dreams where our unconscious unreels itself.
The bedroom, then, is the province of contradiction. A place that serves intimacy as well as it does isolation, it accommodates the extremes of human experience. Because whether you call it dreams and sex, or solitude and intimacy, these are the experiences that the bedroom accommodates with the most grace, the walls that form both a narrow cloister for the soul and a gateway to a wider sphere of human exchange.
--From Geography of Home, by Akiko Busch (Princeton Architectural Press, 1999)
Feng Shui for the Bedroom
According to feng shui, the ancient Chinese philosophy of arranging one's environment for optimal well-being, the bed--where our bodies regenerate through sleep and where we nurture our intimate relationships--is one of the most important features of a home. Placement of the bed in relation to the bedroom door, which is the mouth of chi (energy), is crucial.
Feng shui practitioner Katherine Metz shares the following bedroom basics.
- The family bedrooms should rest behind the midline of the house and occupy the upper floors.
- The path to the bedroom should be easy and uncomplicated, allowing you to relax before you even reach the bedroom.
- Place the bed in a commanding position, which means that you have full view of the room and the door and you are not in line with the door.
- Avoid placing the bed under a toilet on the floor above.
- To bring more love, compassion, and understanding to your relationship, hang a round mirror in your bedroom.
If you are not sleeping well, check your bedroom for the following sources of distress.
- Placement of the bed over the garage or entry.
- Placement of the bed near a fuse box or other electrical source.
- Many doors, especially if they are in line with the bed.
If you are physically ill, check your bedroom for these problems:
- Lack of air circulation under the bed.
- A toilet on the other side of the wall, at the head of the bed.
If you have lost your sense of personal power and life has become a struggle, check these features.
- Placement of the bed on the door wall, out of a commanding position.
- A bed enclosed in a very small space, especially with no room at the foot.
If you are arguing with your partner, or your partner has left, check the following:
- An empty doorway to the master bathroom from the bedroom.
- A ceiling beam that runs down the middle of the bed.
- Many doors, even if they are not in line with the bed.
Research on the health effects of electromagnetic fields is both controversial and inconclusive. Nonetheless, a growing number of builders and designers believe limiting exposure to EMFs should be an important consideration for anyone who wants to reside in a healthy environment. The Institute for Bau-biologie and Ecology in Clearwater, Florida, offers the following suggestions for creating a healthy bedroom.
- Remove as many electrical devices as possible. If you must have appliances in the bedroom, keep them at least 6 feet from your body and unplug them before sleeping. The TV is the most dangerous, even when unplugged. Place it a minimum of 3 yards from the bed.
- Avoid metal-spring mattresses. Natural mattresses without metal springs are very difficult to find. A natural futon mattress is easier to find and comes in thicknesses from 3 to 8 inches.
- Avoid metal bed frames. These often carry a magnetic field. Replace with wooden bed frames. Remove metal boxes, typewriters, and wires from under your bed.
- Avoid electric blankets. A person's normal voltage is less than 1 millivolt. An electric blanket can surround you with up to 76,000 millivolts.
- Avoid synthetic carpets. Use natural rugs or natural floor covering. Jute backing is preferable.
- Cut electricity to the bedroom. A device called a "demand switch" or "cut-off switch" automatically cuts the flow of electricity to the bedroom when there is no demand.
- Avoid waterbeds. These are like sleeping under a high-tension line. Stagnant water is depleting to the system and holds an electromagnetic charge derived from the heating element.
- Avoid ionization-type smoke detectors. These can ruin your sleep, and their damaging effects can extend up to 50 feet.
- Avoid plastic materials.
- Avoid synthetic pillows. Use natural pillows filled with cotton.
- Avoid synthetic wallpaper. Replace with natural material or nontoxic paint.
- Open window at night. Even just a little helps. This is the cheapest way to get fresh air and negative ions.
- Be aware of magnetic fields. Do not place your bed near a refrigerator, a computer, a furnace, or a TV, even if they are on the other side of the wall. Raise your bed at least 16 inches from the floor to avoid magnetic fields from wiring in the floor.
- Do not sleep directly above a garage. The metal in the car may cause distorted geomagnetic fields.
- Remove 'baby phones' from a crib. They may emit strong electromagnetic fields.
Scented, Sensual Sleep
Used in the bedroom, natural aromatics can coax our minds to a state of contemplation and reflection. They comfort us and allow our minds to drift off to sleep. They can also arouse us, inspire us, and help us heal.
Make a dish of potpourri with the dried plant material of your chosen scent, then add a few drops of the essential oil to the bowl. Light a beeswax candle scented with pure essential oils or a candle-based diffuser, which heats a small bowl of scented water. Place a cotton ball with a few drops of essential oil close to the bed orbetween your pillow and its case. Spray the bedroom or linens with a spritzer made from ten drops of essential oil per ounce of distilled water.
- Relaxing scents such as lavender, chamomile, lemon balm, and linden blossom are popular in the bedroom.
- Floral scents such as rose and jasmine lighten the heart and bring out our sensuality.
- Warming scents such as sandalwood, frankincense, and vetiver add a sense of enchantment and combat nervousness and insomnia.
- Air purifiers with antibacterial and antiviral properties such as eucalyptus and bergamot help battle winter colds and flu.
Once Upon a Mattress
Beds have always been an important part of homes. Egyptian pharaohs discovered the benefits of raising a bed off the earth--King Tut slept in one made of ebony and gold. Louis XIV, who reportedly owned more than 400 beds, often held court in the royal bedroom.
Whether King Tut had a good night's sleep on his luxurious bed depended not on its materials but its mattress. Personal taste plays a big role in choosing a mattress; the best way to shop for one, according to the Better Sleep Council, is the "rest test." Go to your favorite retailer, slip off your shoes, and lie down.
Many conventional mattresses are created with plastics, foams, and polyesters that emit toxic gases. A healthy alternative is to choose a mattress constructed of certified organic cotton or industrial hemp, which is stronger and more absorbent than cotton. Wool is also a healthy choice; its fibers contain a great deal of air that provides a springy, soft texture comfortable for sleeping. Wool is highly absorbent and wicks moisture away from the body--a compelling feature, given that the average person perspires away a pint of water overnight.
Between the Sheets
The fibers used to make sheets and blankets can be laden with chemicals that pose environmental and health concerns.
Chlorine is applied to many types of fabric immediately after they're woven to give consistent color. Because chlorine will not stop breaking down fabric once it's been applied, more chemicals are then added to neutralize its effects. (These chemicals can't completely stop the degradation, which is why untreated fabric or whites processed with a natural oxygen bleaching process are likely to last longer.) Chemicals are also used to dye fabric, and formaldehyde, a suspected carcinogen, is often used for shrinkage control.
If you're not sure you want all those chemicals in bed with you, just turning to sheets and comforters made from natural fibers may not be enough. The claim that cotton is "natural" or "green" probably means it is not dyed with chemicals or chlorine bleach, but it may have been grown conventionally--and cotton is the world's most heavily sprayed field crop. Planted on only 3 percent of arable land, cotton crops account for 25 percent of the total pesticides and herbicides used annually--about 350 million pounds per year. Put another way, it takes 1-1/4 pounds of agricultural chemicals to produce the cotton in a single set of queen-size sheets, according to Christine Nielson, president of Coyuchi.
Michael Halley of Natural Selections explains that the pesticides and herbicides used to grow many fibers don't break down in water. Therefore, they remain in fabric even after the material has been washed several times. "That's not going to kill anybody, but you are going to have some residue from the field because of the nature of fibrous plants, which are exposed and open while they're growing," Halley says.
But let's face it, the bottom line is how these sheets will affect the quality of your sleeping experience. "The thing we hear most is that the bedding is so soft," Halley says about Natural Selections' organic cotton sheets. "You want to have this against your skin."
Two Million's a Crowd
You're not alone.
Mattresses and bedding are hospitable homes for millions of dust mites, the microscopic relatives of spiders and ticks that thrive in warm, humid places. A single mattress may contain up to 2 million of the scavengers, which feed on the dead skin scales that humans constantly shed. As much as 20 percent of a pillow's weight is made up of dust mites and their waste, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.
The body can react to allergens in dust mite fecal particles with itchy, watery eyes, congested sinuses, wheezing, sneezing, and coughing. Dust mite allergens are a major trigger of asthma and other breathing difficulties.
The easiest way to rid bedding of mites is to wash it weekly in hot water (cold-water washing removes about 90 percent of mites). Soaking sheets for 30 minutes in a solution of one part dishwashing liquid and four parts eucalyptus oil before laundering should remove the majority of the creatures. Experts recommend airing bedding daily for at least 20 minutes and vacuuming mattresses regularly. Keeping the area under the bed swept or vacuumed and free of clutter also helps cut down on dust mite populations.
Baby's Bedding & Buntings
Sheets, blankets, pillows, bumper pads and comforters, clothing, and diapers should be soft and made of natural fibers that breathe, absorb, and comfort. Such fibers include 100-percent organic cotton, kapok, hemp, and untreated wool.
Choose natural fabrics without permanent-press or other finishes that may improve their appearance, reduce the need for ironing, and retard flammability. These finishes often contain formaldehyde or plastic resins that may linger for awhile, even after washing.
Select cotton fabrics that are organically grown and unbleached or naturally colored. Green cotton, while grown conventionally, is not bleached, dyed, or treated with fabric finishes.
Opt for wool fabrics that are chemical-free and fire-resistant when selecting blankets, mattress pads, sweaters, and baby buntings. This water-resistant fiber makes a wool puddle pad a must between the mattress and sheets to avoid diaper-leaking moisture.
Enclose the crib mattress in an impermeable encasement made of tightly woven "barrier cloth," polyurethane, or vinyl to prevent dust mites from thriving on the cell and moisture residue that accumulates on baby bedding and mattresses. Air out plastic encasements for at least a week before using.
Avoid goose-down pillows and comforters that may trigger allergic reactions and asthma attacks, even increase the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. To avoid the latter, also make certain that crib bumpers are firm.
Purchase an organic-cotton pillow and cover it with a natural fabric pillowcase when baby needs a pillow, about the age of one year.
(Reprinted with permission from Natural Home Magazine)