by Karen Totino
As temperatures fall and snow piles up in the Northeast, most of us will be bundling up to keep as warm as possible and adding a few extra blankets to our beds—but not all bedding is created equal. When seeking out the healthiest and most sustainable way to keep warm, wool bedding stands head and shoulders above the range of options available to consumers in many ways.
Wool possesses some unusual properties that have made it an excellent material for either carpeting or bedding for centuries. Naturally resistant to stains and inherently flame-resistant, wool gains high marks in the field of healthy fabric because it doesn’t need to be treated with highly toxic flame retardants. When it comes to bedding, however, wool excels even further with a number of beneficial qualities, such as lacking the harmful chemicals inherent in synthetic substitutes and down products.
When we sleep, our body works hard to keep us comfortable, mitigating the environment in our bedroom. Temperature and humidity variations can rob us of the most restorative benefits of sleep because the body is working hard throughout the night regulating its external temperature. Recent studies have shown that our choice of bedding material has a dramatic effect on both the quality and length of our sleep cycle, particularly the REM, or restorative, phase. Wool bedding is second to none in keeping us cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter without overheating, thus preventing the body from exerting itself through perspiration to regulate overnight temperature. Researchers at the University of Sydney, in Australia, found that sleeping on wool gives a 25 percent better sleep. They put eight healthy volunteers through polysomnography tests, testing how each person slept with wool, cotton and synthetic sleepwear and bedding and at different temperatures. The results showed that wool gives a longer and deeper sleep, with the most difference at higher temperatures.
Although goose down has long been considered the ultimate bedding material, wool beats it handily as a hypoallergenic fabric. Down doesn’t breathe, creating microclimates that can exacerbate the energy the body needs to invest to remain comfortable. Many people wake up in the middle of the night hot and sweaty, needing to stick an arm or leg out from the covers to cool off. Aside from flammable qualities that also require chemical treatment, down creates a thriving habitat for dust mites. One-tenth of the American population exhibits a strong reaction to dust mite allergens caused by the insect’s feces and decaying bodies. Down pillows, for example, can accrue two pounds of dust mite feces over the course of two years, while wool is naturally resistant to mites. Wool is also resistant to bacteria, mold and mildew, all of which require moisture to survive, just like dust mites.
Wool even possesses the ability to bind and store toxins, particularly VOC outgassing from traditional mattresses, flooring, furnishings and wall coatings. Simply by adding wool bedding or a wool carpet, we can improve the air quality of our bedroom.
Another benefit of wool pillows, comforters and blankets is their completely sustainable nature. Sheep aren’t killed to harvest their wool, just shaved. The harvesting does not damage the animal. If the sheep or alpaca providing wool graze in a pesticide-free pasture for three years and is shorn using humane methods, its wool is considered not only sustainable, but organic and cruelty-free.
Karen Totino is the owner of Green Conscience Home and Garden, in Saratoga Springs, now carrying bedding accessories and dog beds made with wool sourced in New York state and cleaned with biodegradable soap. For more information, call 518-306-5196 or visit Green-Conscience.com.