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Memory foam mattresses are among the most popular beds these days.
They are favored for their unique feel and can work for different types of sleepers.
But how do you pick the best memory foam mattress? And what characteristics should you pay attention to? That’s what we are going to find out today.
What Is Memory Foam?
To tell the truth, there’s no magic behind memory foam. It’s simply a form of polyurethane foam with added visco-elastic chemicals and compounds for increased flexibility (1). It was developed by NASA in the 1970s and later was shared with the public.
The visco-elastic components make memory foam change its properties when affected by temperature. When it’s cool, the foam remains firm and more springy. However, when the heat is applied, it becomes more flexible and soft (2). That’s what makes foam mattresses conform closely to a sleeper’s body.
Thanks to such characteristics, memory foam mattresses remain among the most popular bed types in North America.
Types of Memory Foam
When looking for the best memory foam mattress, you should keep in mind that not all of them use strictly memory foam. The types and layer combinations may vary, which results in different mattress properties.
Now, here are the most commonly used types of memory foam:
- Traditional. Made from petroleum-based materials, traditional memory foam hasn’t changed much since it appeared in the 1970s. As the manufacturing process remains the same, traditional memory foam is considered the cheapest one among all the types. This material has a rather slow response, which so many sleepers appreciate.
- Plant-based. Plant-based foam uses soy, coconut, and other plant oils to replace a portion of petroleum used during the manufacturing process. And yes, keep in mind that typically plant-based materials replace only a part of petroleum, which means the rest would still remain traditional memory foam. This type has a bit faster response and slightly higher breathability than traditional foam. It’s also considered more eco-friendly.
- Gel-infused. Many manufacturers use cooling gel to give memory foam the cooling properties. The way it works is rather simple: gel particles (that are blended with foam) absorb the heat of your body, preventing the foam from retaining it and making you sweat. Of course, this usually works only to a certain extent because the gel will absorb a limited amount of heat. Nonetheless, gel-infused foam mattresses are considered to be very effective when it comes to supporting a neutral body temperature.
- Open-cell. The open-cell technology allows manufacturers to produce foam that has micro airways, which work as air tunnels and allow for good air circulation (3). So, when you lie on a mattress, the weight of your body forces the air through the tunnels. This prevents heat build-up during the night and can make hot sleepers feel more comfortable.
- Copper-infused. Thanks to copper’s conductive properties, copper-infused foam has the ability to absorb heat (similarly to gel). That’s why you can come across this material when searching for the best memory foam mattress. Copper is also naturally antimicrobial and can help your mattress stay “fresh” longer.
Some mattresses also use charcoal-infused memory foam for better thermoregulation. However, this type is not as popular as gel or copper-infused models.
Who Is a Memory Foam Mattress Good For?
To some, a memory foam bed may feel like a perfect, heavenly comfortable sleeping spot. To others, even the best memory foam mattress may become a huge disappointment.
Here’s the deal:
Your feeling of comfort depends on your personal preferences and body needs.
And although research proving certain benefits of memory foam mattresses is lacking (4), based on user reviews, it is possible to say that the following categories of sleepers enjoy this type of mattresses the most:
- Light sleepers. Due to its slow response, memory foam shows great results in motion absorption. So, if you and your partner don’t want to disturb each other by tossing and turning, a memory foam bed would be ideal in this case.
- Owners of adjustable bed frames. Because memory foam is able to mold to different shapes, such a mattress would be ideal for an adjustable bed. Keep in mind that this way, your mattress might have a slightly shorter lifespan (due to extra compression in certain parts)
- People who want good pressure relief. Memory foam is famous for its close conforming. This material adapts to the shape of your body very precisely, hugs the pressure points, and fills in the curves. As a result, you get to enjoy proper spinal alignment, even weight distribution, and reduced tension in your muscles and joints.
- Chronic pain sufferers. The excellent pressure relief that memory foam offers can also help alleviate pain. Of course, this isn’t applicable to cases of severe health issues. But if you deal with chronic back, hip, or neck pain, for example, a good memory foam mattress may reduce the pressure and relieve that pain.
- Athletes. Since memory foam gently cradles the body, it can ensure faster muscle recovery after work-outs and may benefit physically active individuals.
- People with sensitive joints. As memory foam doesn’t typically apply pressure on painful points in one’s body (as long as the firmness is suitable for your sleep position), it works great for people with sensitive joints.
- Users who don’t tend to sleep hot. If you do, you may want to pick a mattress that has gel-infused foam layers. Traditional memory foam may trap heat, especially if you are a heavier individual and sink deeper into your bed.
A quick note: because memory foam mattresses typically have weak edges, you might not get as much space as you need. So, if you require more legroom (or you and your partner want more space), consider getting a larger memory foam mattress than you’re used to.
Also, keep in mind that high-density foams are significantly more durable than low-density ones.
Potential Issues of Memory Foam
No matter how comfortable memory foam mattresses may feel, they may still come with certain disadvantages.
But forewarned is forearmed. So, here are the most common potential issues you might face when getting a new memory foam mattress:
- Quicksand feeling. Due to its ability to conform closely to one’s body, memory foam can make you feel stuck in your mattress. Not everyone appreciates that hugging feel and some people prefer sleeping “on” their mattress rather than “in” it.
- Sleeping hot. Memory foam, when not infused with cooling components, tends to trap body heat. This can become a problem for overweight sleepers or someone living in a hot climate. If you are one of them, you may want to consider hybrids or latex mattresses.
- Potential off-gassing upon arrival. Because of the visco-elastic chemicals added, memory foam often has a strong chemical odor when you unpack it. This is common for many products that are manufactured using plastic, foam, or adhesives. Usually, the off-gassing disappears within the first couple of days if you leave the mattress to air out. But this can still be an issue for people who are sensitive to smell or have respiratory problems.
- Mediocre edge support. This issue is common for all memory foam mattresses. So, if you tend to sleep near the edges, a memory foam mattress might not provide enough support for you in that area. In this case, you may want to opt for a bigger size so that you (and your loved one) have enough room to move.
How to Choose a Memory Foam Mattress That Will Work for You?
We have countless options when it comes to memory foam mattresses.
But how do you pick the best one?
Well, you just need to consider the most important factors that would work with your body type and satisfy your sleeping needs:
- Size. These days, the most popular mattress size is Queen. It is large enough to accommodate two adults while providing enough legroom. However, you may enjoy using other sizes too. For instance, a King mattress will provide more room on both sides, as it is wider than the Queen size. California King is wider but shorter than the standard King and would be ideal for people who need more legroom or tend to toss and turn a lot during the night. If you don’t need that much space, you can also consider Twin or Full mattresses.
- Firmness. Now, typically, the firmness of a memory foam mattress is rated from 1 to 10, with 10 being the firmest. However, you may also come across ILD, or the Indentation Load Deflection. The higher the ILD, the firmer your mattress will feel (5). Manufacturers normally use layers with different ILD ratings, with softer layers on top (10-20 ILD) and firmer memory foam for the support core (20 and more ILD). Keep in mind that strict stomach sleepers require a firm mattress. Back sleepers typically feel more comfortable sleeping on a medium-to-firm mattress. And side sleepers are recommended to buy soft to medium memory foam mattresses.
- Density. Memory foam density is measured in PCF, or pounds per cubic foot. The higher the number, the more supportive your mattress would be. High-quality memory foam usually has a density of around 4 to 5 PCF.
- Thickness. Memory foam mattresses typically range between 6 and 14 inches. As a general rule, thicker mattresses provide more padding and have a softer feel. But note that overly tall (or, vice versa, overly low) beds can make it difficult to get in or out of them. The ideal bed height should allow you to touch the floor with your feet when sitting on the edge of the mattress, with your knees bent at 90 degrees. Considering that the average bed is around 25 inches high (6), you can calculate the suitable mattress height by subtracting the height of your bed frame from 25 or any other number you feel comfortable with.
What Else to Look For in a Memory Foam Bed?
Some factors may get overlooked when you’re searching for the best memory foam mattress.
If you want to make the most informed decision when shopping, pay attention to these:
- Safety certifications. As you spend a lot of time in bed, the safety of your mattress components is crucial. When shopping, look for such third-party certifications as CertiPUR-US, GREENGUARD Gold Certification, OEKO-TEX Standard 100, and GOTS (7). Their seal of approval means that the mattress was made without using phthalates, mercury, or formaldehyde and is safe for both adults and children.
- Suitable foundation. A good, solid frame would help your mattress provide stable support. If you aren’t sure what to get, you can browse through the best frames for memory foam mattresses here. You have lots of options including platform beds, adjustable frames, and slatted foundations (but make sure that the space between the slats is at least 3 inches). Some mattress brands also produce mattress foundations that will pair best with their mattresses.
- Country of origin. Sometimes the quality of a mattress may depend on where it was made. Numerous buyers prefer manufacturers that base their mattress production in the US, Canada, or Europe, as these areas have higher industry standards.
- Maintenance. Models with a removable and washable cover are much easier to clean, so that’s what you may want to look for. Investing in a mattress protector can also make maintenance rather stress-free, as it will protect your mattress from liquids, dirt, and even wear and tear.
What is the best thickness for a memory foam mattress?
For an adequate level of support, it is recommended to use a mattress that’s at least 10 inches thick.
How long does a memory foam mattress last?
A good memory foam mattress would last around 8-10 years before it may start losing its properties.
How long does it take for a memory foam mattress to inflate?
Typically, 24 hours are enough, but with some models, it may take even more than 48 hours.
How much does a memory foam mattress cost?
Quality memory foam mattresses range between $600 and $1,200. The average price for a Queen size is $900.
What density of memory foam is the best?
The medium density (4-5 PCF) is considered the most suitable for average sleepers. Heavier individuals may require 5 PCF or more.
When it comes to memory foam mattresses, we have almost countless options to pick from.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the number of models, just remember these simple shopping guidelines. Pay attention to the foam type, as it can determine the overall feel of your mattress. Pick a suitable firmness level based on your preferred sleeping position and weight. And, of course, don’t forget about the safety certifications.
So, are you ready to pick your new memory foam mattress? What type are you considering? Share your thoughts in the comments!
- Kathy Adams (n.d.). Memory Foam Explained. Retrieved from https://homeguides.sfgate.com/memory-foam-explained-97405.html
- Chris Woodford (2020, April 29). Viscoelastic memory foam. Retrieved from https://www.explainthatstuff.com/memoryfoammattresses.html
- Casper Editorial Team (2020, March 04). What Is Memory Foam (and How Does it Work)? Retrieved from https://casper.com/blog/what-is-memory-foam/
- Annie Stuart (n.d.). Memory Foam: Pros and Cons. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/features/memory-foam-pros-and-cons
- Sleep Foundation (n.d.). What is Memory Foam? Retrieved from https://www.sleepfoundation.org/mattress-information/what-is-memory-foam
- Holly Meehleis (2018, December 6). The Standard Height of a Bed and Mattress From the Floor. Retrieved from https://homeguides.sfgate.com/standard-height-bed-mattress-floor-97238.html
- Christina Heiser (2019, September 17). 7 Health and Safety Certifications to Look for When You Buy a Mattress. Retrieved from https://www.saatva.com/blog/mattress-certifications/