You’ve seen the commercials – people jumping up and down on one side of the mattress while a glass of wine is perilously close to tipping over (but never does). Memory foam has been a part of our lives for years now, but some might not realize exactly what is memory foam.
Much like powered orange drink and Velcro, memory foam was invented at NASA in the 1960’s for use in NASA spaceship seats and seatbelts. The shock-absorbing, pressure-relieving memory foam has also been used as cushioning in helmets and shoes, and use in prosthetics and wheelchair seating pads.
However, it wasn’t until the 1990’s that memory foam was introduced as a mattress material. Since then, memory foam mattresses have exploded onto the market, especially with the growth of bed-in-a-box brands. Today, you can find many different kinds of memory foams – such as gel and open-cell memory foam – in addition to mattresses made from other foams such as polyfoams and latex foams.
What is Memory Foam?
Memory foam is manufactured similarly to polyfoam, using a complex chemical reaction that was discovered in the 1950s. Memory foam follows the same basic process for creating polyfoam, but includes additives that increases its density and viscosity.
Memory foam responds to heat and pressure differently than other types of surfaces. A memory foam mattress will contour to your body as you sleep and regain its shape once heat and pressure are removed.
What is Memory Foam Made Of?
Memory foam is polyurethane combined with some chemicals that allow it to contour to your body. It’s also called viscoelastic, which combines two concepts: viscosity and elasticity.
- Viscosity – the material moves slowly and reluctantly when pressure is applied.
- Elastic – the ability to stretch and change shape while still returning to its original form.
When you combine these two properties, you get something that contours to the shape of your body, hugs your curves and makes you feel like you’re sleeping on a fluffy cloud. Then, when you get up, it returns to its normal state after you no longer put weight on it.
A typical memory foam mattress will usually hold on to heat a lot longer than other types of material. Polyfoam can be made with different densities in mind – ranging from super soft to rigid. Latex is another kind of foam made of natural and/or synthetic latex that is processed in one of two ways before it is made into a bed.
Latex beds can be all natural. For these beds, the latex is made from rubber trees that are tapped. Once the latex is collected, it is stored, shipped, and processed. Beds made from 100% natural latex are eco-friendly, green options. However, if this is important to you it’s key to research your bed carefully. Manufacturers can mix a certain percentage of synthetic latex with natural latex and still call the bed “natural.”
What are the Benefits of Memory Foam?
It depends on your size, sleep habits, and lifestyle when it comes to choosing the right mattress in order to reap any of the benefits. Here are a few pros and cons for a memory foam mattress.
- Pain Relief – Memory foam is known for helping with pain. It’s a top choice among people with arthritis and people who have fibromyalgia because it best simulates the feeling of sleeping on a fluffy cloud. The contouring also helps to keep the body in a natural alignment, which we’ll get to in a moment.
- Hypoallergenic – There aren’t many places for mold, pollen, dust, and pet dander to hide in this dense of a mattress. This is ideal for allergy sufferers. Also, the components are usually made of things that don’t trigger allergies. There’s no wool, feathers, etc. So, if you’re allergic to these things, you may rest better on this surface.
- Good for All Sleeping Positions – Memory foam’s contouring and cradling properties make it an ideal surface for all sleeping positions. Side sleepers get support in their hips and shoulders; back sleepers get lumbar support; and, stomach sleepers are less likely to have their low back bow into the bed.
- Motion Isolation – One of its best features of viscoelastic is that it doesn’t wake your partner if you’re tossing and turning. The material absorbs pressure and movement. Instead of bouncing like innerspring or latex beds, this one stays put.
- Heat – “Retains heat” is probably the most significant complaint among viscoelastic mattress buyers. However, many homes have the ability to adjust the room temperature with a thermostat or air conditioner, and anyone can switch to lighter bedding if they get too hot.
- Weight - Although dense foam tends to be of higher quality, it does make for a heavier mattress. Luckily, the industry has changed significantly over the past few years. Many of these beds now come compressed in a box and are easier to transport than other types of beds.
- Odor - People who buy memory foam mattresses sometime complain about what is called off-gassing. This is when the VOCs (volatile organic compounds) break down when exposed to air and create a distinct odor. New car smell is one type of off-gassing from VOC’s, although most people find that scent pleasant. There have been no studies linking these odors to any long-term health risks.
- Price – Some memory foam mattresses, especially those made with more materials, can get pretty pricy. The good news is once you buy a new mattress, you won’t have to invest in another one for years. Besides, people spend a third of their lives in bed, might as well buy something of good quality.
Finding the Right Memory Foam Mattress
Most mattresses now have some type of memory foam in them – it’s just a matter of finding the right memory foam mattress. The sleep experts at Mattress Warehouse can help you find the right mattress at the right price. Using bedMATCH®, our patented sleep diagnostic system, we can narrow down the list of best mattresses for you to just a handful in just a matter of minutes.