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Toxic Sleep





by Dr. Theresa Warner


As chiropractors, we are well aware of the devastating effects of subluxation, especially in children. One cause of subluxation is chemical assault to the immune and nervous systems. This can often occur in children without parental knowledge.

It may be caused by something as simple as the clothing they are wearing or the bedding they are sleeping upon. Toxic chemicals are often used in the final treating of fabrics, which is one of the reasons that new bedding and textiles often have a foul smell and/or rough texture.

Even if these children are receiving regular chiropractic care, if they continue to wear toxic clothing and sleep on chemically treated mattresses and bedding, they will persist in perpetual assault on their nervous systems.

However, there are preventative measures we can take to avoid or eliminate this situation.

As chiropractors it is our responsibility, for our own children and those of our practice members, to find out all we can about eliminating these toxins from our home.

Children are especially vulnerable to chemicals. Their immature immune and liver detoxification systems cause them to be much more sensitive than adults to such things as bleach, dyes, and toxic compounds.

When choosing the right fabrics for your children, many factors should be taken into account. In general, the less chemical processing and fewer dies and finishes added to the fabric, the less likely the material is to cause an adverse/allergic reaction.

There are two divisions of fabrics: naturally derived and synthetic.

Synthetic fibers should be avoided for children. They are generally made of the primary sources petroleum and cellulose (cotton liners and wood pulp). They are not breathable nor absorbable, which makes them hot in summer and cold in winter. Frequently, they hold an electric charge, which produces static cling and requires chemical sprays.

Poly blends and cellulose-based synthetic fabrics (rayon, acetate, and triacetate) require heavy chemical finishes. These toxic chemicals can cause allergies, chemical sensitivities and serious health problems. Pure untreated synthetic fibers (100% polyester and nylon) rarely cause such reactions.

Natural fabrics include cotton, linen, wool, cashmere and silk. The best fabric for children is 100% cotton. Conventional cotton is the type sold in most stores. Although it has a few environmental drawbacks due to pesticide use, it is generally hypoallergenic, washable, breathable, soft and durable.

Be aware that "permanent press" and "wrinkle free" clothing have been chemically treated and should be avoided. The formaldehyde resin finishes can compromise the child's immune system.

Organic cotton is raised without the use of pesticides. Green cotton actually appears beige in color, is unbleached, undyed, and formaldehyde-free. The organic and "green" cotton can have several drawbacks including problems with scratchiness, shrinkage, and a strong and irritating odor, which requires several washings to remove.

Many fabrics receive a variety of chemical treatments, including: static-resistant, wrinkle- resistant, flame-retardant and several others.

All children's "sleepwear" is required by law to meet federal flammability standards. Most fabrics treated with flame-retardant chemicals continuously emit toxic formaldehyde gas.

"Breathing formaldehyde gas above the levels of 0.1 parts per million for an extended period of time will cause many health problems, such as headaches, dizziness, scratchy eyes and throat, nasal congestion, coughing, and immune system abnormalities.

Unfortunately, most fabrics treated with flame-resistant chemicals, especially the Tetrakis compounds, continuously emit toxic and allergic formaldehyde gas -- sometimes as high as 500 parts per million -- at the surface of the fabric ("The Natural Nursery: The Parents Guide to Ecologically Sound, Nontoxic, Safe, and Healthy Baby Care," by Louis Pottkotter, M.D., 1994, Chicago: Contemporary Books). Formaldehyde resins in fabric can cause symptoms such as itching, eczema, hives, and other skin reactions.

Pillows and mattresses can also be the cause of chemical inhalants. Since a baby can spend as many as 18 hours a day sleeping, it is important to give all products a good "sniff" prior to letting the child rest on the item. Organic or green cotton pillows typically emit a strong natural odor that can be very irritating to the throat, lungs, eyes and nose. These pillows and mattresses may not be able to be washed thoroughly prior to use (due to potential shrinkage) and if so should be avoided.

It is important to educate your patients about these toxicities and how they can eliminate them from their homes. There are preventive measures chiropractors and parents can take:

  • Steer clear of purchasing products with chemical finishes such as permanent press, wrinkle-resistant, antistatic, water- or stain-repellent.
  • Avoid fabrics that have been treated with formaldehyde-based resins that can cause allergic skin reactions.
  • All new clothing and bedding should be washed and dried three times prior to your child wearing it for the first time.
  • Use fragrance-free laundry detergent to which no perfumes have been added. Avoid the use of fabric softeners, antistatic products, chlorine bleach and stain removing products as they often contain fragrance and toxic substances that can irritate children's skin, eyes, nose and throat.
  • Avoid "dry clean only" products as they may contain residual toxic chemicals that can pollute the air for up to a week after they are brought home. If you have to dry clean a product, remove the item from the plastic covering immediately and let the fabric air out (preferably outside your home) for a few days.

As parents it is our responsibility to become as informed as possible about these issues. As chiropractors it is our duty to provide this information to our practice members. If we are able to prevent chemical causes of nervous system interference and subluxation in daily life, we will be providing an invaluable service to the children of our community.

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(Drs. Theresa and Stuart Warner, whose New Jersey practice is comprised of 60% children under seven, present 40 pediatric programs around the world each year for chiropractic associations and colleges. The Warners are the founders of "Kids Day America/International," and the non-profit World Children's Wellness Foundation. Comments or questions about issues raised in this column or regarding children's wellness and chiropractic in general may be directed to Dr. Theresa Warner by phone at 732/295-5437; fax, 732/295-1166; or e-mail, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

© Copyright 1986-2001 The Chiropractic Journal


People in this conversation

  • Guest - April Brown

    Carlsbad, CA, USA

    Are you saying that pillows filled with 100% polyester are safe? I’m trying my hardest to detoxify my home especially my children’s stuff, and I get so overwhelmed with info that I feel like giving up. I’ve read elsewhere that polyester is toxic. I left the store today empty handed because every single pillow had polyester fill save one that had polyurethane foam! :(

  • Guest - Steve Jones

    England, UK

    I have subscribed to your posts and feed. As a research associate I must say that I found the post most relevant to my subject area. Many thanks for your work, Steve

    Comment last edited on about 7 years ago by Maff

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