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What is a Memory Foam Mattress?

What is a memory foam mattress - featured. Close up of hand pressing into memory foam

Get to grips with what a memory foam mattress is all about

If you’re on the hunt for a new mattress, then chances are you’ll have considered a memory foam option. Often praised for their ability to provide excellent support, relieve pressure and help with aches and pains, they become a popular choice. But what exactly is a memory foam mattress, and is it always the right choice for a good night’s sleep?

Below, we explain how memory foam works, and assess the benefits and any potential drawbacks of sleeping on a memory foam mattress.

What is a memory foam mattress?

Lie down on a memory foam mattress, and it seems to magically soften around the contours of your body, enveloping you. This happens because of the way memory foam reacts to body heat. Made from a dense type of temperature-sensitive polyurethane plastic, it’s sufficiently pliable to sink when pressed into, taking time to revert back to its original shape. As a result, the foam is able to maintain all-over support, even as you turn and move throughout the night.

Originally developed by NASA for improving the comfort of their test pilots, memory foam is now used in the making of all manner of goods, from couches, chairs and mattresses, to shoes, prosthetics and football helmets, too.

Memory foam mattresses can either be made from pure memory foam or layered together with other comfort fillings such as latex or gel foam into “hybrid” foam designs. These combinations allow for a mattress to vary in the level of support it offers, from soft to firm. A memory foam mattress topper can also provide a degree of comfort and foam support when used on top of a regular mattress.

Why are memory foam mattresses so popular?

A memory foam mattress offers a number of benefits compared to a regular mattress, not least the level of comfort it delivers.

  • It supports your body – Your spine needs correct alignment throughout the night, but this can be tricky, particularly if you’re a side sleeper. Since memory foam adapts to your body’s contours, it’s able to provide adequate support to all the high pressure parts of your body and help maintain a neutral spine.
  • Memory foam distributes body weight evenly – This in turn reduces issues associated with poor sleeping positions, and can help reduce back and neck pain through long-term use.
  • It reduces motion transfer – If you share a bed with a fidgety sleeper – or are a light sleeper yourself – then sleeping on memory foam will ensure you remain undisturbed by your partner’s movement through the night because of memory foam’s motion isolating effects.
  • Hypoallergenic and resistant to dust mites – This is great news for those who suffer with allergies and may be kept awake at night because of them.

READ NEXT: Can You Use a Mattress Topper as a Mattress?

Are there any downsides to a memory foam mattress?

While the majority of people are likely to reap the benefits of sleeping on a memory foam mattress, there can be some downsides.

What is a memory foam mattress. New rolled up mattress sticking out of a cardboard box

You shouldn’t sleep on it right out of the box

If you’re purchasing a mattress-in-a-box, then memory foam needs between 24-72 hours to fully expand to its preferred plump state. There’s also the “off-gassing” period, so called because the mattress can sometimes release fumes when it’s unrolled.

However, if time is of the essence, then sleeping on your mattress before the minimum 24 hours has elapsed shouldn’t be a problem; it just might not be too comfortable.

Heat and moisture retention

Memory foam may not be the best choice for naturally hot sleepers. It’s a heat-retaining material, so by its very nature can cause you to feel warmer at night. Its response to temperature can also mean memory foam can be somewhat softer in hot climates and firmer in cold climates, which may also impact your sleep quality.

Having said that, the introduction of gel-infused foam layers in hybrid memory foam mattresses can help significantly with cooling in this regard.

Sinking and compression

Memory foam is designed to mold to your body, delivering that “sinking in” feel. As such, those who prefer a firm to hard surface while sleeping may not enjoy the experience that a memory foam mattress brings. Over time, the foam will also take longer to spring back; it’s generally recommended that a memory foam mattress should be replaced every seven years to avoid such an issue affecting your sleep.

Higher price

Memory foam mattresses are usually more expensive than regular spring options (particularly if you opt for a king size mattress). Nevertheless, the scientifically researched composition and materials of a memory foam mattress usually makes it worth the cost.

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