When it comes to investing in new furniture and accessories for the bedroom it’s important to get the best of the best. We don’t only use all of these bedding items and furniture pieces for years, and even decades, but we also rely on them for our health.
Our time in bed gives the body a chance to reset and prepare for the day ahead, as well as deal with muscle repair and memory consolidation. If we’re resting on a poorly-designed sleep surface, we’re not only sabotaging our chances of a good night’s sleep, but we’re also increasing the risk of dealing with health problems down the line.
That in mind, if you’re looking for a new mattress, it’s important to invest in something that is high quality and designed to suit your own sleeping style.
Although there are a few material types to choose from, no single mattress is right for everyone, and as a result, you should do plenty of research before pulling the trigger on a new mattress.
A few of the things we’ll take a look at in this article, beyond just what memory foam is, are things like sleeping positions, the pressure point relief that mattresses provide and how to choose a memory foam mattress that suits two sleepers.
All that said, let’s take a look below at the world’s favourite mattress material and why it might be for you and your partner, or why not.
Understanding Viscoelastic or Memory Foam
To kick off our article on what memory foam is, we first need to delve into the technology that made the material possible; Viscoelastic.
Even though the phrases ‘memory foam’ and ‘viscoelastic’ can be used in place of one another, there are some differences when we get down to it. Because there are a tonne of manufacturers out there designing their own mattresses, their version of ‘memory foam’ might be different to another.
As you’ll see in advertisements, a lot of mattresses have firmness levels that differ from one another — as well as foams that react differently to the body’s movement and heat. Thus, it’s important to understand memory foam and viscoelastic as being interchangeable words, though they may not offer the same results for their corresponding products.
To keep things simple, your visco-foam is generally quite dense and a good sleep surface for those who like the firmer mattresses. It isn’t as ‘sinkable’ as curated memory foam and it is going to take a little longer to fully conform to your body shape as you sleep.
Both of these foams, however, will eventually conform and contour to the body and slowly return to their original shapes after you get out of bed.
NASA and Memory Foam
Going back to the Space Race, the memory foam material was actually invented by a NASA research and development team as a material intended for astronauts.
That in mind, it’s no surprise that it’s so comfortable and so frequently used around the world; it was quite literally designed from the ground up to be as comfortable as possible. To add, the Tempur brand then latched on to the foam and begun to release various bedding products featuring the material, and created enough hype for memory foam and viscoelastic to become a mainstream bedding material.
That said, you could probably find memory foam in everything from shoes, hat liners, backpack shoulder straps and more if you really looked at the labels.
To end, memory foam has fast become one of the world’s favourite comfort-focused materials and as a result, has been endlessly redeveloped and refined over the years to become a sleep-inducing material in beds.
If that’s gotten you excited about a new memory foam mattress, then take a look below and we’ll go over a little more about the experience of sleeping on memory foam and its benefits for the back, joints and muscles.
What is Memory Foam
The material that makes up memory foam is a man-made polymer (as opposed to naturally occurring materials like latex) that is called polyurethane. You’ll likely know that this material comes up in things such as car seats and sofas, plus things like spray foams that you’ll find used to insulate homes.
The good news is that polyurethane, like most plastic-like materials, is a high-density polymer and because of this, is very supportive and relatively light. You’ll also be glad to know that because of the density and material’s responsiveness and ability to ‘bounce back’ you’ll be getting more use out of these mattresses than their spring counterparts.
The Memory Foam Types
As we mentioned above, a lot of development and research has gone into memory foam over the last few decades, and because of this there are tonne of different types on offer with their own ups and downs.
A few of these include:
Open Cell Memory Foam
This is the type of memory foam that’s the most minimal and ‘basic’ in a sense. It’s got an internal structure that has more space for ventilation, compression and movement which means it sleeps cooler than other types of foam and is also more responsive. You’ll find the mattresses with open cell memory foam more able to return to their original shape after you’re finished sleeping on it.
Traditional Memory Foam
The foam developed back in the 60s is the type that’s able to easily contour to the body and offers great support as we sleep. It moulds around joints and lifts weight from the body for a low-pressure and cloud-like sleep.
One issue with this type of foam is the fact it’s a bit too dense. That said, it will absorb and hold heat, making it too hot throughout the night. Something that the open-cell material remedies.
Gel Memory Foam
One of the more recent additions to the memory foam world are the gel memory foams, and these are arguably the best available thus far. With gel beads integrated into the structure for heat-absorption and dispersion, these materials offer the perks of traditional and open-cell foams but with a far more powerful cooling effect.
In short, the gel memory foam mattresses will regulate their temperature and your body heat throughout the night as you sleep, something that no other materials can currently do — at least not continually for eight to nine hours.
With those foam types out of the way, it might be a little clearer which types of memory foam are best for you and your partner.
The Perks of Memory Foam
With our specifics out of the way, let’s take a look at how memory foam works to improve comfort as we sleep, and what some of the biggest perks are. Remember; when compared to traditional spring mattresses, memory foam can be a tonne more comfortable and cooling.
Note: the advantages of memory foam will always depend on your sleep style and location, so be sure to factor this in when judging the perks below for yourself.
Utilises Body Heat
At the top of the list, one of the best perks of memory foam is its ability to harness your body heat to improve the mattress’s contouring ability.
Unlike coil mattresses, the memory foam models will actively work to collect your body heat, soften as you sleep and then contour around your hips, shoulders and back for the best pressure relief possible.
To add, those in warmer climates will have a memory foam mattress that is ultra-soft and more contouring than the colder locations, which is great when it comes time for the mattress to mould to your body.
There is also the ability for memory foam to ‘fall away’ in a sense and allow the spine to sit naturally along the surface of the mattress in a healthy, straight line.
In all, by utilising your body heat to improve comfort, memory foam is able to become more comfortable throughout the night as it warms up and softens — keeping you comfortable for longer.
Pressure and Pain Relief
In line with what we’ve outlined above, memory foam is one of the better material choices for those who deal with pain during the night. These mattresses are going to be your best bet when it comes to alleviating pain from joints and arthritis for example.
You’ll see almost all of the weight lifted out of your joints as you sleep, and this is a great perk for anyone who struggles to stay asleep at night.
As we’ve mentioned, older mattress technologies have little to no contouring support embedded within them, which means your joints are essentially ‘crumpling’ up on one another, causing added pain.
For example, springs actively work to push back and upward on your joints, which can be painful for those with specific types of joint pain like the aforementioned arthritis.
All those details out of the way, memory foam deals with pain from almost every angle in that there’s nothing hard or solid inside these mattresses. Your body is able to sink as far as it needs to with regards to your hip and shoulder depth, and that means you really won’t be experiencing any pain coming from the upward mattress pressure.
On another note, movement and motion disruption on memory foam is also extremely limited in that there’s no springs or movement-transferring materials in here. You’re able to toss and turn as you please and you’re not going to send vibrations through your mattress waking up a partner.
To end, memory foam is our ideal choice for those who suffer from pain or who are woken routinely throughout the night by a partner who moves just a little too often. You’re looking at a disruption-free and pain-free sleep.
Disclaimer: Not all memory foam mattresses feature hypoallergenic qualities, however, it is far more simple for the allergy-reducing technologies to be integrated into memory foam mattresses when compared to spring variants.
One other key benefit or advantage of memory foam is its ability to be hypoallergenic. Given that foam is dense from the outset, it doesn’t lead a whole lot of space for nasties to build up within it — making it a great material to reduce allergies by design.
Add the fact that there are brands actively working on adding hypoallergenic features into their memory foam materials because it’s so simple, and you have a recipe for a sneeze-free and runny-nose-free sleep.
In all, if you’re someone who does suffer from allergies, a memory foam mattress might be your ultimate sleep partner.
The Cons of Memory Foam
With a few of the biggest perks out of the way, it might seem that memory foam is a winner all around, though, there are a few minor downsides that might make the material look a little less enticing.
Take a look at some of the cons of the memory foam material below.
Dense and Weighty
A con that isn’t too much of a big deal unless you move your mattress a lot, or have it on a Murphy frame, is the weight.
When it comes to density and weight, memory foam is a whole lot heavier than the ventilated and relatively hollow spring models out there. The entire mattress is virtually a solid, which means lifting it up can be difficult.
If you’re making the bed for example, you might get a shock when you go to lift up a corner and you almost can’t get your fitted sheets under it without it falling back down.
Some models of foam do have air pockets integrated within them to combat this weight problem, however, the memory foam models are a lot heavier than spring beds.
They Sleep a Little Too Warm
As we mentioned at the start of the article, memory foam can be a heat sink if you’ve not chosen a model that’s suited to your environment.
If you take a look at a traditional innerspring mattress, you’ll know that there’s essentially a huge air gap around all of the springs, which means there is plenty of space for heat to be dispersed from the mattress.
For memory foam — there is no air gap.
That said, over time you may notice your bed getting hotter and hotter from your body heat building up in the bed, and this will be very uncomfortable.
To deal with this issue, we would either suggest researching your climate zone and correlating what you find with a memory foam mattress brand that designs beds for this location. Generally, all you’ll need is a gel-infused memory foam or an open-cell variant to offset the heat.
You could also opt for sleeping with the air conditioner on at all times, if this is best for you.
Keeping in mind that gel-infused foam and open-cell foam do combat a lot of the heating issues, there will always be a warmer feeling coming from a memory foam mattress. However, reviews online and from experience, you will get used to the slightly warmer sensation over time.
Aren’t Waterproof or Water-wicking
If you’ve ever spilled anything on an innerspring mattress, you’ll know that you can soak it up with a towel and leave the mattress un-made until it dries out, which usually doesn’t take all that long.
On a memory foam mattress, you’ll have a hard time getting it dry if you do spill something on it, given that it’s so dense.
Water and other liquids will simply stay in the mattress for long periods of time, making it harder to sleep on, or to dry out before bed. Add to this the fact that water and liquids will degrade your foam; you have a recipe for disaster should you accidentally pour a glass of water, wine or soda on the bed.
We would suggest that a waterproof cover be the first accessory you invest in for your new memory foam mattress. You’ll increase the lifespan of the bed and not need to worry about fluid damage from kids or yourself.
You Have to Wait for the Moulding to Occur
A disadvantage that is rather frustrating is the slow moulding or body contouring experience that a lot of memory foam mattresses have.
Although we know a large part of investing in memory foam is getting the great body contouring experience, the other large part is actually waiting for this to happen should you move.
If you’ve remained in one position for an hour or two, the bed will have conformed to this shape of the body. When you move, you’ll have to sit and wait for the foam to contour to the new position, which can sometimes take a while depending on how warm the foam is.
Of course, the bounce in the foam will generally push your original body shape out of the bed, though, it won’t always re-contour very quickly.
Chemical Smells and Strange Odours
Disclaimer: Although these smells do have a rather toxic odour or concerning fume-like feel to them, there aren’t any chemicals in these mattresses that can cause serious harm or cause damage to your health.
When you first open a memory foam mattress, or sleep on it, you’ll notice that there can sometimes be a very strong chemical smell coming into play. For some, this smell is fine and bearable, though for others it can make it impossible to sleep on the bed for a few days.
To deal with this, we suggest opening your mattress and having it air out in a spare bedroom if you find that you really can’t bear the smell of the off-gassing.
Digging into this experience a little more, foams are created through a chemical-based manufacturing process, which means there are always strange smells going to come from these beds. Much like the smells that come with new balls, for example.
It’s good to note that the smell that comes from the mattresses are generally indicative of the quality of the foam, so if you’re on the look out for a high-end memory foam mattress, you’ll be able to avoid some of the fume smelling experience.
In all, the odours coming from the freshly opened mattress aren’t dangerous, though it might be worthwhile to let the bed air out for a few days before you move it to the bedroom.
Over the past few years the price of memory foam has reduced considerably, however, they still remain a fair bit more expensive than their old-school spring counterparts.
You can expect to pay anywhere from 50 per cent through to over 400 per cent more for a memory foam mattress when compared to a standard coil spring model of the same size, and for some, this is too much to stomach.
It’s good to note that you’ll be getting some more shelf life out of these beds though, as memory foam is more resilient than a lot of other materials out there, however, budget typically does come first when we purchase our beds.
We suggest that you do a whole lot of digging before buying into a memory foam mattress, so that you’re able to get a good deal. In most cases, your gel-infused models will be the most expensive, with open-cell coming in second place and traditional foam being the more affordable option.
With all of those pros and cons out of the way, we’re sure it might be a little more difficult to know whether to choose a memory foam mattress or not. However, continue reading on to our information about durability, materials and alternatives to make the choice a little easier.
Beware the Marketing Jargon
We’re going to let you in on a little secret here; memory foam is not all the same.
If you head online or in-store, there’s a good chance you’ll be told that memory foam is simply memory foam and that’s that. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
There are a tonne of different alterations and adaptations made to memory foam by brands, and these all come with their own unique features, comfort levels and more. That said, always be sure to check the specifics on a memory foam mattress before making a purchase.
A few things to look for include:
- Gel-infused foams
- Multi-layer support
- Special material integrations
- Dual-comfort levels
- Interchangeable foams
With those points out of the way, you’ll be more able to choose a memory foam mattress that suits you best, and not be swayed by salespeople touting the wrong information.
Memory Foam Durability and Reliability
As we mentioned, memory foam is a little on the expensive side, and so you’ll want to make sure you’re buying into something that’s going to last.
It isn’t too hard to find a foam mattress that’s going to be a long-laster given that memory foam is durable by design and lasts longer than springs.
However, a few considerations do need to be made before you buy.
- Your bodyweight
- The type of the foam
- The density of the foam
- Your location
These factors can have a considerable effect on how long memory foam mattresses last, and whether they’re going to last a long while for you or not.
That said, with those points in mind when you’re shopping for a memory foam mattress, you’ll be heading in the right direction for a new long-lasting bed.
A rather high-tech feature of memory foam, when compared to older mattress technologies, are the density options.
These foam densities are going to dictate a few things, including cost, longevity and comfort, so it’s important to scroll into the Technical Specifications sheet on your mattress’s website before making a purchase.
A general rule of thumb is to look for memory foam mattresses with a thickness or a ‘density’ of around at least 4 lbs or around 2kgs per square foot. This will ensure you’re getting foam that’s going to hold up and not sag over time. Ideally, you’ll want to go up to 6 lbs or 3kg for the best quality out there.
One rather murky trick that manufactures have been trying is jamming their foams with ‘filler’ to increase their density and make their mattresses seem thicker or more dense than they are, so be wary of this.
A few of these fillers can include anything from silica, clays and more.
Although these aren’t bad materials, per se, they will have a negative effect on the quality and longevity of the mattress.
Considering Your Weight
As your mattress is going to be supporting you for years to come, your bodyweight needs to be a factor in buying memory foam too.
Going back to density, you’ll want to choose a mattress that’s denser and firmer if you’re a heavier person. In doing this, you’ll get better support along with a bed that lasts for longer, so it’s a win-win situation.
Keep Covers and Mattress Protection in Mind
In line with the water-wicking issues above, the body’s oils will also have a negative effect on memory foam and can even slowly eat away at the material.
We won’t go too into detail on this aspect, though all you’ll need to know is that a good protective cover is essential in keeping your memory foam mattress clean and protected from erosion.
It’s also just a little more hygienic to keep your mattress covered with a water-proof and impurity-proof covering.
Typical Longevity and Replacement Time
We’re happy to say that even with all of the perks and features, or points of failure rather, memory foam mattresses still offer a great sleep experience for a decade.
As we know, it’s always good to stay on top of your mattress’s sleeping experience, and if you’re noticing any sinkage or issues such as permanent contours, then it’s time to order a replacement.
However, you can expect your memory foam mattress, or the materials within it, to last for at least eight years, with ten years being the typical replacement time for these mattresses.
A few things to lookout for when it’s time to replace a memory foam mattress include:
- Finding it hard to get to sleep.
- Noticing dips or sinkage in the bed.
- Little to no body-contouring ability.
- The mattress beginning to smell.
- Increased allergies like runny noses or sneezing.
In all, memory foam is an exceedingly hard wearing material, though at some point it will need to be replaced.
Our Leading Alternative
Before we get to our conclusion, we have an alternative to memory foam for you to consider.
If you’re on the fence about memory foam, or you’re sure that it’s not for you after reading out article, we suggest you consider; reflex foam. This type of foam offers a near-identical experience to the memory foam mattresses, however, the foam within these mattresses rests on a bubble-structure.
These bubbles enable plenty of bounce, and an ideal level of body contouring support along with an increased firmness for back sleepers. A second big perk of this mattress material is the fact that it’s cheaper than memory foam too, making it even more enticing.
With all of the above said, we’re sufficed to say that memory foam is an incredible material and there are a tonne of perks when you’re coming from an innerspring or coil spring bed.
It lasts longer than these beds, offers superior comfort and can alleviate pressure point pain with no trouble at all. It can be a little more expensive and harder to maintain in some aspects, though, in Sleepify’s opinion, the benefits far outweigh the cons.
Take a look at a few of the memory foam mattress reviews on our website for some more information when it comes to buying a memory foam mattress and which one to choose.