You want to buy a mattress. That sounds like a simple thing to do, right? Well, just like everything in 2024, there are a lot of products on the market to choose from and that is definitely true for mattresses. Not only do you have to choose how firm you want your mattress, then you have to decide what material your dream mattress is made of! And that’s not even considering what is actually best for your body, specifically. You might think you want the fluffiest pillow top available when in reality, getting that type of mattress would leave you waking up with a sore back. Clearly, there is a lot to consider in general when picking a mattress, but if you have an inclination toward a memory foam mattress, keep reading!
Memory foam has been a trending material for both mattresses and pillows, steadily increasing over the past few years. It has been marketed as the cornerstone of new-generation mattresses that have the ability to recover their shape. So, what exactly does that mean and why is that important? What is memory foam? How does memory foam work? How long does memory foam last? And what is the difference between memory foam and other mattresses? These are questions many consumers find themselves asking when considering this as the material for their next mattress, however, such an investment should be examined carefully.
When it comes to mattresses, there are all sorts of types available to consumers. Ranging in material and stiffness, finding the best fit for you can be tricky. Below are some of the most common mattress types currently available in the marketplace.
Also known as coil mattresses, innersprings are one of the oldest and most popular mattress options and still make up a large portion of mattress sales. These mattresses utilize the internal support of metal springs which can vary in shape and gauge. The number and distribution of coils determine how well the mattress will conform to your body, thus you can generally measure the quality of support from an innerspring mattress by how many coils are in the design. Back, side and tummy sleepers can potentially be comfortable with the right type of innerspring mattress. However these have a very short life-span.
Pillow tops essentially have an additional layer of upholstery that is added to the top of the mattress. They are very soft and cushiony, allowing for hips and shoulders to “sink” into the mattress making it an ideal choice for side sleepers. Typically, you can choose the level of softness for your pillow top, and they are generally used with an innerspring mattress.
These mattresses use, you guessed it, water as their primary support system and are best suited for back sleepers. A waterbed consists of a chamber of water which is then padded with an upholstery material such as foam or fibers. The water chamber can be either free-flow or limited-flow, also known as waveless. In a free-flow chamber, nothing obstructs the water from moving from one end of the mattress to another. Limited-flow chambers, however, have fibers that restrict the water's movement. Typically a free-flow waterbed offers slightly less support than those with limited-flow chambers.
While gel functions similarly to memory foam and is often added to memory foam mattresses, it has a slightly different feel than memory foam. One of the most notable differences is the way gel mattresses dissipate your body heat more effectively, so sleepers who run warm may find gel to be an ideal solution.
Finally, we have memory foam which has become increasingly popular due to the way it gradually conforms to the body. Memory foam can offer excellent support for all sleepers, but side sleepers especially. So let’s take a deeper look at what memory foam is and how it works.
Memory Foam: The Basics
So what is memory foam anyway? Well, memory foam was actually developed by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in the 1960’s as part of the flight seating. NASA placed a premium on the comfort of the astronauts they were sending into space, given the extremity of the environment they would be facing. As a result, they developed a material that was able to quickly mold around the body, relieving stress in the process. The cradling nature of the material also helped to alleviate pressure from the G-forces endured by astronauts. The new material was successfully created in 1966 as an outcome of extensive research.
The memory foam material, made from a substance called viscoelastic, remained the property of NASA until the 1980s when it began being used in the development of athletic equipment and within hospitals. It wasn’t until 1992 that the first memory foam mattress was revealed to consumers with its popularity increasing steadily over the coming decades.
Newer memory foams have an open-cell structure that reacts to body heat and weight to form around you as you sleep which helps relieve pressure points and prevent pressure sores. Generally speaking, the majority of memory foam has the same basic chemical composition. However, the density and layer thickness of the foam gives each mattress its unique feel. A high-density mattress will have better compression ratings over the life of the bedding while lower-density one will have a slightly shorter life due to the compression that takes place after repeated use. On average, medium to high-density foams can last eight to ten years while low-density foams will last around four to six years. This is comparable to other mattress materials which last, on average, eight to ten years. Though that timeframe decreases as the person using the mattress ages, Consumer Reports states that anyone over the age of 40 years-old should not sleep on the same mattress longer than seven years.
Benefits of Memory Foam
Now that we understand how memory foam works, we can better understand the number of benefits it offers to those consumers who decide to purchase a mattress of the material.
Pressure Point Relief
As we’ve already mentioned, one of the core benefits of memory foam beds is its ability to mold around the body. When you lay down on memory foam, the material yields and adjusts to your shape, rather than forcing you to contour to it. Unlike springs and other materials, memory foam does not “push back” or place added upward pressure on the sleeper.
Many sleepers can experience discomfort on more traditional mattresses due to the pressure of downward pulling gravity and upward resistance in bedding materials that affect circulation and damage soft tissues caught in the middle. The pressure-relieving benefits of memory foam were used to help prevent pressure sores and minimize pain in sensitive areas in the healthcare community prior to being released commercially.
Given that memory foam supports each part of the body evenly and individually, it is no wonder it helps to keep the back and neck in alignment, keeping your body in a neutral position. Other materials like springs concentrate weight on areas that contact the mattress. This leads to your hips and shoulders bearing most of the weight and inadequate support of the lower back. Such displacement can also create tension and pain in the neck or legs as the body is forced into an unnatural position.
Accommodating for All Sleepers
Regardless of how you sleep, on your stomach, back, or side, memory foam accommodates any position, especially when taking into account the wide array of firmness available within memory foam. Because the foam hugs the body, it eliminates the pain and pressure points of any sleeping position.
This is an especially important benefit for those who share a bed. Since the memory foam material absorbs and isolates motion rather than transferring it, when one person rolls over or gets out of bed, their partner isn’t disturbed.
Memory foam mattresses are relatively low-maintenance when it comes to caring for them. They typically benefit from rotation a few times per year and an occasional vacuuming, that is the extent of the care they require making it one of the easiest mattresses on the market to maintain.
Since its creation and release to the public, memory foam has been increasing in popularity. Clearly, memory foam can offer a number of health benefits and provide purchasers with an easy to maintain option. It is important to understand what options will work best for you when shopping for a memory foam mattress as there are a number of considerations to take into account.