Memory foam is a polyurethane substance developed by NASA in the 1960’s. Originally designed to improve the safety of aircraft seats and cushions, scientists discovered that it had other practical applications, which led to the public release of this revolutionizing substance in the 1980’s. Once in the public domain, memory foam skyrocketed in popularity and would go on to be used in numerous commercial industries. Today, memory foam is most popularly seen in pillows and mattresses due to its energy absorbing and elastic properties that allow it to mold to the body and provide an unparalleled comfort.

Memory Foam Mattresses Vs. Innerspring Mattresses

Innerspring and memory foam are two of the most popular types of mattresses on the market. However, that’s really where the similarities end. As mentioned, memory foam is a polyurethane substance compared to innerspring that are typically made out of a steel coil system.

Memory foam molds to the body distributes body weight evenly, reduces pressure points and is very soft. An innerspring mattress pushes back against the body, typically does not allow for an even distribution of body weight, does not reduce pressure points and is not as soft. Memory foam mattresses also tend to have a greater longevity and are more durable than innerspring mattresses.

One area where innerspring mattresses come out on top is body heat. Traditional memory foam tends to capture body heat and make users feel warmer, which can lead to an uncomfortable sleep. Innerspring mattresses do not normally retain as much body heat, which helps users to enjoy a cooler sleeping experience. However, modern gels and fabrics allow memory foam mattresses to disperse heat rapidly and feature moisture-wicking properties that help sleepers stay cool and comfortable throughout the night, leading modern memory foam mattresses to often outperform traditional coil mattresses in temperature regulation.

Motion or movement (tossing and turning) can lead to an increased amount of noise, vibration and motion transfer with innerspring mattresses. Memory foam mattresses are less noisy and absorb motion, leading to better motion isolation and less disturbance for couples throughout the night.

Types of foams commonly used in bedding and their properties

There are a few main types of foams commonly used in mattresses. Each type of foam provides unique benefits for users.

Latex Foam Mattresses

Latex foam mattresses can come in two categories: natural or synthetic. Natural latex is made from rubber tree sap that’s whipped into liquid and poured into molds and steam baked. Synthetic latex is made of petroleum-based oil with chemical additives. Although lacking in the comfort and pressure relief departments, they do offer more support and are more durable than memory foam. These latex foams often make excellent base layers in multi-layered mattresses and come with a higher price tag than most foam mattresses between $750 and $4,500.

Traditional Memory Foam

Traditional memory foam is the first generation of foam to be used in mattresses. This original foam is very durable, reduces motion transfer, reduces pressure points and conforms to your body. It’s also the most affordable type of foam mattress, costing between $400 and $2,000.  One common complaint about pure memory foam mattresses is a feeling of sinking into the bed, along with higher sleep temperatures.

AirCool (Open Cell) Mattresses

In an attempt to deal with the traditional foam’s heat-retaining properties, manufacturers began using an open cell structure foam, which allowed for better breathability and less heat retention. Additionally, this second generation of polyurethane foam mattresses have improved airflow, is softer than traditional foam and responds to body heat quicker. Open cell foam mattresses are also step-up in price from traditional foam mattresses at a range of $500 to $2,500.

Cooling Gel Memory Foam Mattresses

Cooling gel memory foam was designed to improve the transfer of heat from the bed’s surface, helping to ensure cooler more comfortable sleep temperatures for users. This gel is typically infused into traditional memory foam via tiny beads or liquid. The gel-infused foam is a more durable type of foam with increased density and support, it feels more firm than AirCool or traditional foams. It’s also more expensive than traditional and AirCool foams with a price range of $800 to $3,000.

Green Memory Foam Mattresses

Plant-based foam, or ‘green’ foam, is an environmentally friendly foam with a composition that typically depends on each manufacturer. It has the highest breathability out of any foam mattress which allows for faster heat dissipation and quicker coolness. Additionally, this type of foam mattress is softer and doesn’t require body heat to conform. This type of foam is harder to find in local markets and can cost between $2,000 to $8,000 per green memory foam mattress.

Multi-Foam Mattresses

Perhaps the best of all options, multi-foam mattresses organize different formulations of memory foam to provide support and comfort at various positions. These mattresses often stack 3 or more layers of memory foam at the optimal position. In these mattresses, it is not uncommon to see cooling, or softer foam on top, while firmer foams like latex add a sturdy base layer that provides long-lasting support.

Memory Foam Bed Lifespan

Most traditional memory foam mattresses have a 10-year lifespan. However, to maintain an optimal sleep environment, one should consider purchasing a new traditional memory foam bed every 7 years. Latex foam beds can last up to 15 years, which is longer than traditional, open cell or gel foam mattresses. Perhaps, the best option on the market is a REM-Fit Sleep 300 and Sleep 400 mattress which carries a 25-year warranty. These mattresses use multiple layers of different foams to deliver fantastic durability and longevity.

Tip: Regardless of the type of foam bed, if your foam or latex mattress has an indentation that takes more than an hour to return to normal or sags at all, it’s time for a new bed.

Hypoallergenic properties

In bedding and pillows, dust mites, fungus, and bacteria are notorious for causing allergies. Fortunately for consumers, memory foam and latex foam mattresses are considered naturally hypoallergenic and can help to alleviate allergy problems. Although no mattress is 100% allergy proof without protection, a foam mattress or foam pillow can inhibit the growth of mold or fungus, prevent the spread of bacteria, and provide an inhospitable environment to dust mites.

It’s believed that the open-cell composition of memory foam makes it harder for dust mites to nest and thrive, especially since dust mites typically make a home in fibers like cotton. Though this is not fool-proof. To ensure a 100% hypoallergenic bed, sleepers are encouraged to use an allergy-proof mattress encasement to provide a barrier against dust mites, mold, and other allergens.

Other Memory Foam Bedding Products

In addition to mattresses, memory foam has been successfully used in pillows and mattress toppers with a wide range of options to choose from based on factors like foam type, shape, size, and price. Each type of memory foam pillow and topper provides its own distinct set of benefits just as the foam mattresses do. The perfect foam choice ultimately comes down to one’s preferences and needs.