From first glance, both gel and regular memory foam mattresses seem to offer just about the same level of comfort, and experience. Even ‘memory foam’ appears in both names, though, there are a few key differences that may really sway your purchase of one or the other.
The biggest differences you’ll find in these mattresses are related to the experience rather than the level of comfort, or the sinking feeling you get from a new mattress. Pressure point relief is optimal on both mattresses, as is the susceptibility to sagging on a bad bed frame, though these two mattress types do have a small few differences between them.
It’s important to note though, that the differences between gel memory foam, and traditional memory foam are nowhere near as big as those between spring mattresses and foam mattresses.
With that out of the way, let’s take a look below at a few of the differences between gel foam and memory foam, and why you might prefer one over the other.
What is Gel Memory Foam
In short, a gel memory foam is essentially a polyurethane foam that has been highly adapted to alter its shape based on a person’s weight and body temperature – however, with cooling gel infused within it. A gel memory foam mattress relies on this infused gel or gel beads to draw away body heat and keep sleepers cool during the night.
What is Memory Foam
As with gel memory foam, regular memory foam is essentially the polyurethane blend we talked about above, though without the cooling gels or beads added. It still offers fantastic pressure relief, often includes great comfort layers and works to support sleepers in many ways including motion transfer reduction. Though, without the cooling technology, the memory foam mattresses can struggle with heat retention – especially if they’re not placed in a well-ventilated bed frame.
How Are Gel Memory Foam and Memory Foam Similar
To keep things simple, we’ll take a look at the similarities between the two foams as there’s far more of these than differences. Take a look below at what to expect on both gel foam and memory foam mattresses.
Both memory foam and gel memory foam mattresses have massively superior abilities when it comes to conforming to the body when compared to spring mattresses. On a traditional memory foam mattress or gel variant, you’ll quickly find your body sinking into the foam and feeling like you’re floating, with little to no weight on your joints. This relieves pain and helps sleepers stay comfortable and pain free in just about any sleeping position.
A high-quality foam mattress, gel or not, will relieve back pain, ensure pressure relief and give you a good night’s sleep more often than not.
Isolating Motion Transfer
A second similarity of these types of mattresses are their ability to effortlessly isolate movement. If you sleep with a partner, a gel foam mattress or memory foam mattress will have you blissfully unaware that they’re tossing and turning or getting in and out of bed.
This is generally down to the high density foam absorbing any movement before it makes its way across the mattress.
Strange or Chemical Smells
Both gel foam and memory foam mattresses also share the odd (and sometimes off-putting) chemical smell when they’re first opened and used. Over the first few weeks of use, a gel and memory foam mattress will smell strange and can sometimes be a little too much to bare depending on how you handle these types of smells.
It’s important to know that there’s no need for alarm here as this smell originates from the VOCs or volatile organic compounds that will be separating and breaking down in the room temperature air.
How Are Gel Memory Foam and Memory Foam Different
Now we’ll take a look at the few things that make gel foam and memory foam different. And although there aren’t too many differences, these may sway you to buy one over the other depending on where you live, and your sleeping habits.
Heat Retention and Dispersion
By far the biggest difference is the ability to either hold on to, or disperse heat. All gel foam mattresses come with an unrivalled cooling effect that essentially grabs on to your body heat and throws it out the sides of the mattress. This comes in especially handy for side sleepers and tummy sleepers who can be quickly engulfed by heat when they’re sunken deep into the cushioning.
A regular memory foam mattress will, almost always, hold on to a fair bit of heat, leaving your bed getting warmer and warmer throughout the night. Companies have developed ‘open cell’ technology to try combat this issue, though, some sleepers still make it known that waking up in a hot flush is a common occurrence on traditional memory foam.
Gel is More Costly
As there’s an extra material being added into the gel foam mattresses, these are often more costly than their regular memory foam counterparts. Although not always the case, it’s safe to assume that a gel foam mattress will be a little more expensive than a similarly sized and featured memory foam variant.
Gel Supports Static Sleeping Positions Better
To end, a gel memory foam type of mattress is going to let you stay in place for longer than a regular memory foam variant. Some mattress brands use gel to keep the breathability optimal, which allows you to rest in one place for longer without getting too warm and having to move. That said, this can improve sleep for a lot of people who would prefer to stay in their most comfortable position and not have to toss and turn when things get a little too warm.
With this in mind, if you’re someone who has some pain when sleeping, a gel mattress may be your answer to staying in your favourite sleeping position for longer.
Similar Alternatives to Gel Foam and Memory Foam
If, after taking a look at the above comparisons, you’re still not too sure that gel foam and memory foam are for you, we’d suggest taking a look at a few other mattress types before pulling the trigger on a foam variant.
A more eco-friendly option, latex mattresses are here to offer the cushioning and contouring ability of memory foam, though with a more innerspring bounce and feel. It isn’t quite the best of both worlds, but latex does blend the best of memory foam with the best of coil spring and pocket spring mattresses.
To add, latex will keep you cooler than memory foam, and with heat dispersion coming naturally to latex, it is a passively cooled material that doesn’t rely on an added, costly gel material.
Pocket Spring or Innerspring Mattresses
To the mattresses that seem to be slowly fading away, innerspring and pocket springs can’t be matched by any latex or foam mattress when it comes to firmness and bounce. They’re simply the best and most rigid mattress type, making them more often than not the best for back sleepers.
When compared to gel foam, latex and memory foam, these mattresses will always remain a whole lot cooler in warmer months, so if heat retention and dispersion are your primary factor above all else, then a coil spring or pocket spring mattress should be on the top of your list.
A third and final mattress type that does its best to blend optimal support with the cooling ability of pocket springs is the hybrid mattress. These variants work by stacking a few layers of memory foam, latex or gel foam atop a coil spring core. By doing this, mattress brands are essentially creating an ultra-contouring top layer that supports your body weight with coils below.
These mattresses are also going to be a good bet when it comes to edge support and comfort overall as they bring the best of each mattress type into one.
With all of that said, it’s clear that although gel foam and memory foam are quite similar, there are a few minor differences that you should consider before making a purchase. If you’re a ‘hot sleeper’ and often find yourself waking in a sweat, or like to stay in the one position for a long period of time, then gel may be the best option for you.
However, if temperature isn’t too much of a concern, and the added cost of gel is too much to stomach, then going the regular memory foam route might be perfectly fine for you.
Remember to Trial
Most mattress brands welcome trials, so if you’re unsure of gel or regular foam, then why not try both out for a few weeks and stick with what’s best. Remember that we spend a lot of our lives asleep, and our mattresses play a big role in sleep quality, so don’t stick with a mattress that isn’t going to give you the best experience possible.