Memory foam mattress. Some people love it, while others hate it.
Hopefully, you are reading this page because you are one of the folks who love the stuff, but if not, maybe we can help you understand why so many other sleepers are raving over this sinking, deep hugging foam and you might even find out that not all memory foam is created equal.
Truth be told, memory foam does not have to be the deep sinking, overheating material that it was in the early 2000s.
Memory materials can actually be quite firm and the best ones can even sleep exceptionally cool. Stick around to find out everything you might want to know about memory foam bed in our buyer's guide.
- What Defines Memory Foam?
- How It's Used In Beds
- Advantages of Buying a Memory Foam Mattress
- Potential Drawbacks
- Considerations and What To Look For
- How to Choose the Right Mattress for You
- How Long Will a Bed Last?
- What Kind of Foundations Can Be Used?
- Other Considerations
- Frequently Asked Questions
What Defines Memory Foam?
This is sometimes called temper or viscoelastic polyfoam, but you likely know it as memory foam. Technically speaking, this is a type of polyurethane foam, but what makes it different is its viscoelastic properties.
Visco comes from the word vicious, meaning sticky and thick, and elastic means it can resume its original size and shape. The construction of memory materials uses a number of extra compounds that give it this unique feel, usually in response to heat and pressure in tandem.
Memory materials are made to distribute weight evenly over a surface and they typically do an excellent job at relieving pressure due to their close conforming properties. The material is made to contour to each of the sleepers curves, giving it that deep hug like feel. It is this same reason that many people feel like memory materials sleep too hot because the heat can get trapped up against their skin.
See Top Rated Memory Foam Beds here.
Traditional foams use a closed cell design. This is typically denser and may be what most critics associate to the memory feel. In its most basic form, this does not have any type of added cooling, though it is important to know that closed cell materials can be infused with a cooling gel.
A common criticism regarding temper foams is that they sleep too hot. Gel-infused materials use some type of conductor to pull heat away from the sleeper’s body. Memory materials that use conductors like copper, gel beads, or graphite can be used to help keep the sleeper cool.
This type is usually less dense than closed cell memory materials. It has an open construction that allows air to flow more freely through the design and extra cooling gels can be added.
How It's Used In Beds
Viscoelastic materials were designed to contour the sleepers curves and take the strain off of sore joints. It is usually a softer material that fosters quite a bit of cushioning. Some brands will cut it into an egg-crate shape to help with the airflow and cooling.
There are very few all-memory-foam-beds being sold today. Memory materials are typically used in the comfort or surface layer of a mattress. In a memory mattress, the top 1 to 3 layers will use visco-foams, either quilted into the cover or layered beneath it, while the thicker base is constructed with a high-density polyfoam to add the needed support. Memory materials can also be a supplementary material in a hybrid to provide cushioning comfort for the sleeper.
The material can be used in many ways, but it will not normally be found at the base unless it is used in a dual sided mattress. It is not a very supportive material, and that is why it is typically followed up with a much stronger and denser base layer, something like polyfoam, coils, or latex.
Advantages of Buying a Memory Foam Mattress
Unique Support Capabilities
Although memory materials are known for being extra soft, they do not always have to be like this. Higher density foams can be quite firm and foster a decent amount of support for sleepers. Not only can they be firm, but temper materials can be used in other ways to increase the overall support of a mattress.
While visco-materials are not necessarily a support material, it can be used to supplement a stronger and more supportive base layer. Viscoelastic foam functions great as a transitional material. It can help ease the sleeper’s body into the more supportive layers below, helping them feel more comfortable as they find stability in the base layer.
Some temper materials are infused with copper, an element that can not only help with cooling but can also add support. When copper is used in memory materials it can tighten under pressure, generating more support for the sleeper on top of the mattress.
Great for Pain Reduction
The soft and conforming aspects of viscoelastic foams are ideal for helping folks who suffer from daily pain in their joints and muscles. This is one of the key reasons that mattress makers have used the material to manufacture thousands of beds designed to help people who suffer from pain.
Memory foam coupled with other materials can target back pain as well as excessive pressure build up. This is done through using varying densities of foams to help with spinal alignment. This can also help ensure that the sleeper’s weight is distributed as evenly as possible.
People who have other types of pain can benefit from a memory mattress as well. Getting a good night’s sleep is key to overall health and purchasing a comfortable mattress can go a long way. Depending on what your issue is, a temper mattress may not get rid of your pain, but it should help you start to find relief.
Exceptional Pressure Relief
Waking up in the middle of the night due to pressure can be worse than a nightmare. You’ve read it already, but it is worth stating again, visco-materials have a knack for wiping away annoying strain and pressure that keeps sleepers up at night. The soft foams conform to areas like the hips and shoulders and keep them from sinking into the firmer surfaces beneath.
The thicker the foam is, the higher the potential is for relieving pressure. But if sleepers choose a foam that is too thick for their needs it can end up having a reverse effect because they lose the much-needed support for their back, which can create all new pressure points. So sticking to memory foam layers between 1 and 4 inches may work best for those people who are experiencing extra pressure buildup at night.
This is a common knock on memory foam. People feel like they sink too far into soft foams and because there is such a slow response, they struggle to push themselves out of bed. Though this can be true for some mattresses, this is not a universal problem for viscoelastic materials.
While that stuck feeling can be a legitimate concern, most manufacturers have maneuvered around this problem, through material innovations and using a combination of bedding materials.
Some memory mattresses are not as soft as others, so there is not as much sinkage to account for. This makes rolling around and adjusting quite easy.
Many memory mattresses also have latex, responsive polyfoams, or coils layered beneath the temper foams. So, while the top layer may be slow to respond, sleepers can easily push out of the bed thanks to the responsive layers beneath.
Almost everyone can agree that waking up in a pool of sweat can be not only disgusting but it can be absolutely miserable as well. While overheating can be a problem for some memory mattresses, most brands have figured out ways to avoid this problem. Through open cell construction, cooling mattress covers, and innovative gels, overheating on a memory mattress could soon be a nonexistent problem.
Many foam beds are made with a mixture of chemicals, some of which can linger in the foams for several days. So when you unbox your mattress and are met with an obnoxious odor, it can be quite frustrating, especially considering opening a new bed should be an exciting experience.
If this happens, try not to worry too much. For most products, this smell should dissipate after a few hours. If your mattress smells like this for more than a few days, you should contact the company where you purchased the bed to see if there is a recommended method to get rid of the off-gassing.
Considerations and What To Look For
When buying any significant purchase, it is important to know how much you want to spend. Mattresses can drastically range in price, anywhere from a few hundred dollars to a couple of thousand. They say a dollar saved is a dollar earned, and this is why establishing a budget before shopping is an excellent idea.
Knowing the worth of your mattress based on materials can let you know how much value you are getting for your money. After you’ve done the proper research, be sure to compare brands that have similar models to help ensure you are getting the best bargain possible.
Another great way to save is to look for coupons and special discounts, these will often appear for select brands around holidays. If you take these steps, coupled with other common saving practices you as the shopper stand to get a better deal.
Most companies offer customers a trial period. These can range from one month to an entire year. It is important for customers to take advantage of this time and allow the proper amount of time before trying to return a purchase.
Mattresses take time not only to break in, but the body of the sleeper also has to adjust from sleeping on one bed to another. By giving themselves at least 30 to 40 days to break the mattress in, customers do themselves a favor by minimizing the risk of having to go through the hassle of having to return their product.
Density of Layers
Not all memory foam is created equal and one of the ways that foams differ is in density. Density is considered to be the defining factor of longevity in visco-materials. The more little foam cells in the material, the denser it usually is. When there are more foam cells to bear the weight, the material should not break down as fast.
A denser rating on a layer of foam will usually indicate that it is a nicer material and will typically last longer. A less dense material has the opposite effect, it may be more cheaply made and might not last the sleeper quite as long as a more dense foam.
Memory foam densities can be anywhere between 3 to 7 pounds, with the higher end being the premium materials. 5 and 6-pound viscoelastic foams can be quite good, but the lower the number the greater risk shoppers run of purchasing a cheaply made material. This factor can greatly affect your budget, so knowing what you want beforehand should definitely pay off.
Indentation Load Deflection
This measures how soft or hard a memory material will be. These ILD ratings are often calculated and expressed in a measurement of 10lbs to 15lbs. The ILD test is calculated by figuring out how many pounds of pressure it takes to indent a four-inch foam at 25% or 1 inch deep.
The majority of the time, sleepers may find that the higher the ILD the better the material might be.
The thickness of the temper foam is going to have a huge impact on how your bed feels. A thicker foam could relieve more pressure but it might also compromise support.
Most memory foam layers are going to be anywhere between 2-4 inches. Denser foams can be a bit thicker as they are going to be more supportive.
A thinner 1 or 2-inch foam would be a nice supplementary material over coils or some other type of material. It is also not uncommon to see two foams with varying densities to be stacked on top of one another.
This was touched on briefly in our density section but it is something worth going over again. Shoppers want a bed that is going to last them for a long time. Denser memory foam might be rated to last longer, but another thing sleepers might want to look at is what kind of warranty the brand provides.
If the company provides a lifetime warranty, this may show how confident they are about their products. (Just be sure to read the fine print!) Sleepers may also want to consider what other materials are used in their mattress apart from the viscoelastic materials.
Every sleeper has different preferences and firmness may be the preference that varies most often from person to person. Most beds are rated as either a soft, medium, firm or some other variation of these three terms, like extra plush, plush, and luxury firm.
A firmer mattress could be suited for someone who is a little heavier. This is because these beds provide more support, where a softer mattress might leave the sleepers sinking in way too far.
The opposite can apply to people who are more lightweight, they can often sleep on a softer bed without sinking too far through all the layers. They find support in a softer mattress because there is an overall less mass to be stabilized by the bed.
Know what firmness you prefer and be sure to find a mattress that matches that preference. Doing so can save you the hassle of having to return a bed that did not work out.
How you sleep can play into how firm you like your mattress. Each position presents its own unique set of characteristics that should be accounted for.
Side sleepers will often report pressure in their shoulders and hips. This buildup of strain occurs because these areas of the body are heavy and they rest over a smaller surface area. While not all side sleepers are created equal, many of these folks tend to like a softer mattress because it can wash away the stress that gathers in these areas, allowing them to sleep pain-free.
Stomach sleepers may have the biggest grudge with memory beds and for good reason. Old school temper foams were overly soft and were not necessarily tailored to the needs of stomach sleepers. These individuals typically love a firmer surface that can keep their hips elevated, keeping them aligned with their back.
Good news stomach sleepers, there is a lot more variety in viscoelastic beds these days, so finding a firmer or more supportive memory bed is not an overly difficult task.
There is a lot of varying preferences between back sleepers. Some like a firmer mattress, while others prefer a softer bed. What back sleepers really need is a bed that can fill in the small of their back and that provides adequate support.
Temper beds tend to be a great option for back sleepers because it conforms to their curves, leaving them nicely cradled in a comfortable sleeping position.
While all three sleeping positions rest nicely on viscoelastic beds, there is one thing lacking from a memory option that combination sleepers want.
Responsiveness and bounce, on a memory bed, there is not much to be found. Bounce can help simplify the sleeper’s movements at night. Combo sleepers should do well on a memory bed that is followed up by a more responsive material like coils or latex in the base layer of the mattress.
Having the necessary support in the lower back should be critical for obtaining a good nights rest. A bed that sinks too low around the hips can throw your body’s alignment off and might cause you to wake up in a world of pain.
Temper foam followed up by a strong material should be ideal for people worried about lumbar support. Memory materials should distribute weight evenly and when there is support in the base, sleepers should be left with little to worry about.
Hypoallergenic and Allergy Considerations
It may not be something you often think about, but having a healthy sleeping surface can keep you more healthy as well. Many beds trap things such as dust mites, mold, mildew, and pet dander, none of which you want to be sleeping in night after night.
There are many options out there for people who have allergies or asthma. Customers should check on what materials were used to construct their mattress.
Beds with certifications can demonstrate a cleaner manufacturing process, while luxury and premium brands can go above and beyond with additional organic certifications to make their sleeping spaces more natural. If you cannot find the information you are looking for, simply ask customer support if their mattress is hypoallergenic.
Some companies either have more industry experience or have created a name for themselves faster than others through quality products and successful marketing campaigns. Being an industry leader certainly pulls some weight and having a recognizable name can make a brand feel more reliable. Big name bedding companies have the confidence of thousands of satisfied customers and usually have thousands of reviews to back up their products.
Going with a reputable brand can be a good way to go, but remember to do your own research. There may be some smaller companies that can offer similar products at a more affordable price. It is always important to keep your options open when making a purchase as significant as a new bed.
If you want, you can take a look at our top rated bed picks for 2020 and see some good options.
What goes into your bed may be the greatest factor to consider when comparing cost. Some materials are healthier while others may have a higher comfort factor. Comparing and contrasting these various areas can help shoppers save a lot of money down the line.
Things shoppers should look for is adhesive bonding between the layers versus tufting. The tufted approach is a more traditional look, and is arguably the more quality option, while adhesive bonding can help save some money. Keeping an eye on manufacturing processes such as this can determine products overall worth.
The other thing shoppers want to be aware of is the quality of materials. How dense is the foam? Are the materials organic or natural versus a synthetic material?
Materials such as pocket coils, latex, organic wool and cotton, are used in more expensive and premium products. Not all beds are created equal, so it is important to find out not only what materials you want but what option will best fit your budget.
Most online brands are going to provide some sort of sleep trial for their customers. These trials can range from 30 days to an entire year. The purpose of this time is to give sleepers the opportunity to test out their mattress; to figure out if this feel and firmness works for them.
Most companies ask that sleepers give their product at least 30 days of use before trying to return the mattress. The reason being; most beds take time for the sleeper’s body to adjust to. They have to adjust from their former sleep surface to something that is entirely different and this can take time
Most, but not all, companies will take on the return shipping charges if customers decide to send back their bed. Other brands may provide some type of charitable service where the product is donated to a local charity or support organization.
Bedding manufacturers can qualify for a number of certifications. These third-party organizations can attest to a variety of qualifications, such as using low emissions, creating safe products for adults, children, and infants, and the use of organic materials.
Common certifications you may see as you are shopping include:
- the STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX®,
- GREENGUARD Gold Certification,
- and GOTS certifications.
These certifications can demonstrate a brands commitment to a cleaner and more healthy manufacturing process. As you are searching for a bed and come across certifications such as these, do your research to understand exactly what each one means. Most of the time they will be listed on the brand's webpage but a quick Google search can also provide you the information.
Read the Consumer Reviews
Thousands of customer reviews go unread, it is in your best interest to read them. Looking at how many stars an item receives on Google shopping or Amazon may not always cut it.
Reading both the good and bad reviews can really help customers know what to expect from a product. You can figure out what was wrong, if problems were resolved, and what things customers absolutely loved about a product.
Sleepers will not only find out what was good versus bad, but they may also learn how other people experienced the product. Shoppers can figure out if the bed is good for couples, if it is too soft or too firm, and how well other people slept on it over an extended period of time.
Taking reviews with context is also important. A one-star review may read something like, “the bed was too firm.”
While this particular reviewer may find “firm” as a bad thing, some other shoppers might really enjoy a firm mattress. It is important to remember that opinions are subjective to experience.
How to Choose the Right Mattress for You
Do as much research as you can. Find exactly what kind of bed you want. If you are set on memory foam, great, but go deeper than that and figure out what type of foam you want and how much it typically costs.
After this find the best brands selling this type of product and compare and contrast materials versus price. These steps and more can help you find your best bed.
How Long Will a Bed Last?
The answer to this question varies from mattress to mattress but the usual answer is at least 7-10 years. How long your bed lasts will depend on what materials went into it. Higher density foams will likely last longer than low-density materials and premium or luxury beds can last up to a lifetime.
Some brands have forever or Everlong warranties, meaning even if the product does not last forever, the warranty can help make sure you never have to buy a mattress again. If something goes wrong you can claim your warranty and potentially get a brand new product.
What Kind of Foundations Can Be Used?
This is going to completely depend on the bed of your choice. This is a good question to ask the brand when you are buying your bed, most even sell their own foundation specifically designed to work with their product.
The general answer to this question that works for most beds though is a strong, supportive base that retains airflow. This can mean a box spring, a traditional base, a slatted platform base with at least 3 inches between slats, or an adjustable base. Some beds can even rest on the floor, but it is important to make sure with the company first.
Memory Foam Mattress Topper
A mattress topper could be a great way to add the comfort you are looking for without shelling out hundreds of dollars for a new bed. While these can still be expensive, they are typically far less than a new bed and can foster the cushioning comfort you are looking for.
Memory foam toppers are made for beds of all sizes and many have great reviews. They can be used on any type of mattress to help relieve pressure. Shoppers could consider purchasing one of these to supplement their current sleeping situation or purchase it with a cheaper bed to provide their desired comfort.
For people who share a mattress and have different firmness preferences, one sleeper could use a foam topper to make their bed feel softer.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are memory foam mattresses easy to clean?
The simplest way to clean out your visco-foam mattress is going to be to use a vacuum. First, pat down the foam to unlodge any larger particles from within the memory cells. Next, using a hose attachment for your vacuum, run it over the surface of the bed to help pick up dirt, dust, and other debris.
If you have an undesired stain in the foam, avoid using harsh chemicals like ammonia or bleach. A mild detergent should be used coupled with water until you have bubbles. Then, using a sponge, scrub out as much of the stain as you can reasonably manage. Use only the bubbles without ever soaking the sponge as you do this.
If you spill something on your memory mattress and it needs to be dried, place it under the sun and turn it every few hours to make sure it dries evenly all over.
Memory foam is a comfortable material but it comes with its own set of considerations. Viscoelastic foam is great at relieving pressure and giving sleepers that deep hug feel that only memory foam can offer. On the other hand, it has a slow response that can sometimes make adjusting in bed more difficult.
Hopefully, this guide has provided you with the tools and knowledge you need to make a well-informed purchase. Be sure to check our site for some of our top rated memory mattresses. But if reading this turned you off visco-foams we have reviewed hundreds of other types of mattresses that you might like.
Author: Sleep Advisor
Our team covers as many areas of expertise as we do time zones, but none of us started here as a so-called expert on sleep. What we do share is a willingness to ask questions (lots of them), seek experts, and dig deep into conventional wisdom to see if maybe there might be a better path towards healthy living. We apply what we learn not only to our company culture, but also how we deliver information to our over 12.7M readers.
Sleep research is changing all the time, and we are 100% dedicated to keeping up with breakthroughs and innovations. You live better if you sleep better. Whatever has brought you here, we wish you luck on your journey towards better rest.