What Is Memory Foam? A look at the Pros and Cons
Its beginnings as an astronaut technology combined with viral marketing campaigns have made memory foam one of the most sought-after types of mattresses ever created. A material that forms perfectly to your body while you sleep — what’s not to love?
But before you go out and buy the first memory foam mattress you come across, it’s important to know what you’re getting into first. Continue reading below to get an idea of what exactly memory foam is, the different types of memory foam available, and, most importantly, the pros and cons of memory foam.
What Is Memory Foam?
Memory foam is a very solid and dense type of foam, often made of polyurethane, that “remembers” the shape of whatever object applies force to it, namely, your body. It “remembers” insofar that it retains the shape of your body even after you get off of it. Despite being dense, memory foam is renowned for providing incredible support and excellent pressure relief.
Originally invented by Nasa over 50 years ago to comfort astronauts during launch, memory foam was quickly adopted by the public in the form of mattresses, furniture, cushions, pillows, and all sorts of other products.
What Are the Different Types of Memory Foam?
Generally speaking, there are three main types of memory foam:
- Traditional: The most common type of memory foam, traditional memory foam molds to your body as you sleep. People sometimes complain that traditional memory foam retains too much body heat, making for an uncomfortable warm sleep experience.
- Open Cell: Open cell provides the same experience as traditional memory foam with the added benefit of better heat transfer. Its different internal makeup helps provide a cooler sleeping experience.
- Gel: The most versatile type of memory foam is gel-infused memory foam, which itself has two different types. The first simply absorbs heat, making it great for a cooler sleeping experience, whereas the second — using something called phase-changing material — actually alternates between absorbing and releasing heat as you sleep.
Pros of Memory Foam
Pros will inevitably be different from person to person, but memory foam is widely known for the following benefits:
- Memory foam perfectly forms to your shape
- Memory foam relieves pressure and pain
- Memory foam can be hypoallergenic
Memory foam perfectly forms to your shape
The sinking quality of memory foam is often what people talk about most. Using your body heat, memory foam forms around your body, creating a perfect mold of your body in the process. This mold remains for as long as your weight is applied, ensuring a comfortable and supportive sleep all through the night.
Memory foam relieves pressure and pain
The more space between you and your mattress, the more your weight is unevenly distributed, which can contribute to pain or pressure spots. By forming to your body perfectly, memory foam helps significantly reduce any space between you and your mattress and therefore can help relieve any pain or pressure spots. This is especially useful for people with arthritis or joint pain.
Memory foam can isolate motion
One of the most iconic commercials for memory foam is the bowling ball and the red wine glass on a mattress. In an attempt to show how well the memory foam isolates motion, the bowling ball is dropped just inches away from the glass, which stays standing despite the significant impact of the bowling ball. This isolated motion quality of memory foam is great for partners sharing a bed. Even if someone moves around in their sleep or gets up in the middle of the night, memory foam mattresses make it so there’s less of a chance that the other partner will be disturbed by the motion.
Memory foam can be hypoallergenic
Due to memory foam’s density, there’s less of a chance that debris and allergens can build up inside of it compared to other types of mattresses. This makes it great for people with allergies who otherwise might be awakened in the middle of the night by allergens inside their mattress.
Cons of Memory Foam
As many benefits as memory foam has, it inevitably has its fair share of downsides, including:
- Memory foam is harder to maneuver
- Memory foam can be overly warm
- Memory foam isn’t waterproof
- Memory foam can take time to change shape
- Memory foam can have a chemical smell
- Memory foam can be expensive
Memory foam is harder to maneuver
Memory foam’s high density is both a pro and a con. It’s a pro for the reasons discussed above, but it’s a con because it can make mattresses heavy and difficult to move around. This can make things like moving, renovating, and even changing sheets a bit more difficult than with other mattresses.
Memory foam can be overly warm
While open cell and gel types of memory foam help alleviate this issue, memory foam is notorious for retaining body heat and causing people to become overheated during sleep. This can make memory foam a no go for people living in warmer environments.
Memory foam isn’t waterproof
It may be harder for things to get inside of memory foam, but that also means there’s a greater risk of damage when things do manage to get inside. This is especially true for moisture. Moisture inside of your memory foam can significantly decrease its lifespan if left unattended to. Fortunately, to reduce the chance of moisture invading your memory foam, you can opt for a waterproof mattress cover.
Memory foam can take time to change shape
Memory foam’s elastic quality isn’t instantaneous. It will eventually return to its original shape when you get off of it, but it can take some time. This also applies to changing positions while trying to fall asleep. It will eventually change to fit your new sleep position, but it will stay formed to your old position for a short period of time. This can cause temporary discomfort for some people.
Memory foam can have a chemical smell
Out of the box, memory foam can give off an unpleasant chemical smell. This is caused by Volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are often found in any type of manufactured product with foam, plastic, or thick adhesives. While the odor isn’t harmful and usually goes away in a matter of days, it can still be irritating to people with sensitive senses of smell. It’s also mainly found in cheaper memory foam products.
Taken on the whole, the cons of memory foam tend to be short-lived or unlikely to be encountered very often compared to the pros.