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Best Memory Foam Mattresses

 

Introduction

Memory foam is the best of both worlds for many sleepers. Its supportive and pressure-relieving qualities are similar to those of latex, but memory foam mattresses tend to have much lower price-points than latex models. Because it is viscoelastic, memory foam changes shape when bearing weight and then returns to (or ‘recovers’) its original form when the weight is lifted. The material also responds to body heat by becoming softer, allowing it to conform closely to a sleeper’s figure. When no body heat is present, the foam becomes firmer and cooler as it recovers its shape. In addition to mattresses, memory foam is commonly found in pillows and toppers, as well. Memory foam mattresses are available in different firmness ratings in order to accommodate sleepers with varying preferences. For instance, those who sleep on their side tend to prefer less firm memory foam to support their hips and shoulders, while sleepers who weigh 230 pounds or more typically find that firmer memory foams are more comfortable and supportive for their figures. In addition, memory foam mattresses possess the following characteristics that make them particularly suitable for certain sleepers:

  • Close conforming and contouring helps provide targeted pain and pressure relief.
  • Spinal alignment and enhanced support between the head and hips, which is beneficial for some side sleepers.
  • Sleep surface isolates motion to certain areas of the mattress.
  • Little to no noise when compressed.

 

What types of memory foam are on the market?

Memory foams used in mattresses sold today include the following:  

Name Ingredients Description
Traditional (or Viscoelastic) Memory Foam Polyurethane The most common type of memory foam used today, and technically considered a type of polyfoam.
Gel Memory Foam Polyurethane infused with gel beads Gel infusion is designed to cool off the sleep surface, though owner feedback suggests mixed results.
Copper-Infused Memory Foam Polyurethane infused with thin copper wire Copper infusion is designed to cool off the sleep surface and provide joint pain relief, since copper can improve blood circulation.
Plant-Based Memory Foam Petrochemicals and botanical ingredients Manufactured as open-cell memory foam with tiny air pockets that release air when compressed. This is designed to increase airflow and provide enhanced pressure relief.

 

What is the typical construction of a memory foam bed?

The term ‘memory foam’ mattress can be misleading because many of these beds contain more standard polyfoam than memory foam components. The typical model will feature a comfort system with one to two top layers of traditional and/or gel- or copper-infused memory foam, followed by at least one bottom layer of transitional polyfoam. Memory foam mattresses may contain additional comfort layer components, as well, such as microcoil or thin latex layers. The support core of a memory foam mattress is mostly or entirely made from high-density polyfoam; in some cases, a thin top layer of memory foam may be present. Memory foam cannot support a sleeper’s body on its own without sinking too deeply. It’s important to note that memory foam mattresses never feature coil-based support cores. If a mattress has a memory foam comfort layer and a coil-based support core, then it is classified as a ‘hybrid’, rather than a ‘memory foam’ model.  

 

What does memory foam do to the feel of a bed? 

  • Conforming: Memory foam conforms closely to a sleeper’s body to help align the spine and alleviate pressure. The deep impression may create a ‘hugging’ or ‘sinking’ feeling for sleepers. When not bearing weight, the material will slowly return to its original shape.
  • Motion Isolation: Memory foam minimizes and confines motion to certain parts of the mattress whenever someone shifts positions or gets out of bed. This can cut down on nighttime disruptions for couples.
  • Temperature: Memory foam retains high levels body sleeper body heat, and responds to these temperature changes by softening. A significant number of memory foam mattress owners complain that the material sleeps too hot.
  • Responsiveness: Memory foam responds somewhat slowly. As a result, some couples say memory foam mattresses are not as good for sex as other mattress types with faster response times (such as innersprings and hybrids).

Firmness is an important consideration with memory foam mattresses. Models sold today are available in varying firmness settings to accommodate different sleepers. Mattresses with lower firmness ratings are usually most suitable for sleepers who weigh less than 230 pounds because they conform more closely. On the other hand, firmer foams are usually the best option for people who weigh more than 230 pounds; softer foams tend to sink too deeply, and may result in back pain and added pressure for larger sleepers.

Firmness in memory foam is measured using indentation load deflection, or ILD, which is the same measurement used for latex mattresses. Technically speaking, ILD refers to how much weight is needed to compress the mattress by 25%. Most memory foam mattresses sold today have ILD ratings ranging from 8 to 21. The table below features a detailed breakdown of different ILD ratings for memory foam.  

ILD Range Feel Qualities Ideal Sleeper
8 to 10 Very Soft Close conforming Targeted pressure relief Noticeable sinking Back or side sleepers Sleepers with below-average weights (less than 130 lbs)
11 to 15 Soft to Medium Soft Moderate conforming Some pressure relief Some sinking Side sleepers Sleepers with average weights (130 to 230 lbs)
16 to 21 Medium to Medium Firm Little conforming Limited pressure relief Minor sinking Back sleepers Sleepers with above-average weights (more than 230 lbs)

In addition to ILD, density is another key measurement for memory foam mattresses. Density is used to determine how quickly the foam will recover its shape, and how supportive it will feel. Density is expressed in pounds per cubic foot (or PCF); today’s memory foams are categorized into three different grades based on their density:  

Density Grade Measurement Qualities
Low 3.9 lbs/cubic ft or lower Recovers shape very quickly Moderate motion isolation Some contouring
Medium 4.0 to 5.9 lbs/cubic ft Recovers shape somewhat quickly Good motion isolation Close contouring
High 6.0 lbs/cubic ft or higher Recovers shape very slowly Excellent motion isolation Very close contouring

  Most memory foam used in mattresses sold today has a density ranging from 2.5 PCF to 8 PCF. Generally speaking, the benchmark for high-quality memory foam is a density of 4 PCF to 5 PCF.  

 

Who should buy a memory foam mattress?

Sleepers of all sizes and shapes may have a positive experience with memory foam, but firmness typically plays a major role. Those who have below-average or above-average weights tend to feel most comfortable on memory foam with a low firmness rating. This is because firmer foams require higher levels of weight before they will conform; lighter individuals may not experience the full pressure-relieving effects. On the other hand, larger individuals tend to sink too deeply into memory foam that is less firm. This can exacerbate ― rather than reduce ― pain and pressure symptoms. These sleepers usually feel most comfortable on memory foam rated ‘Medium Firm’ or higher. Memory foam is often ideal for side-sleepers because it helps align the spine and offers targeted pressure relief throughout the individual’s most vulnerable areas, including the neck, shoulders, and hips. Memory foam may be comfortable enough for back-sleepers as well, although stomach-sleepers often report uncomfortable sinking.  

 

What is the lifespan/durability of a memory foam mattress?

The average lifespan of a memory foam mattress is seven years, which is in line with the industry average for all mattresses. They usually perform for longer than innersprings, hybrids, and all-polyfoam mattresses, while latex and airbed mattresses tend to have lengthier lifespans. Over time, the memory foam layers of a mattress will become softer and less responsive to the sleeper’s body. Sagging and indentations often develop in the sleep surface after four to five years. Additionally, most memory foam mattresses offer little to no edge support, largely due to their all-foam construction, which is considered less sturdy than mattresses with metal components. As a result, many owners report noticeable sinkage at the edges of the mattress where people tend to sit. Sagging, indentations, and sinkage are covered under mattress warranties to a point. In most cases, the warranty will only cover these defects if they measure to a certain depth (usually one to one and a half inches deep). Anything that does not measure to this depth is considered normal wear and tear, and is not covered under the warranty. However, and sagging, indentations, or sinkage that measure to our beyond this benchmark are considered mattress defects and covered under the warranty, provided the marks are not the result of physical abuse or inadequate foundational support. Many warranties for memory foam mattresses span 10 years or longer, and manufacturers may increase the price-point by offering a warranty that extends 20 or more years. However, this is somewhat misleading, given the average lifespan of a memory foam mattress. In most cases, a 10-year warranty will be more than sufficient. When comparing mattress warranties, it’s also important to look at how much nonprorated coverage is offered. During the nonprorated coverage period, the mattress manufacturer will repair or replace defective mattresses at their expense; owners may have to cover shipping and handling fees associated with returning the mattress to its manufacturer, but these costs are fairly minimal. The prorated coverage period begins when nonprorated coverage ends, and this is when filing a claim can become expensive. Prorated coverage means that owners must pay a certain percentage of the original product price in order to replace or repair their mattress, and this percentage usually increases with each successive year of ownership. This often results in owners paying hundreds of dollars to address mattress defects. In order to mitigate these extra costs, shoppers should take time to read the fine print of their mattress warranty; in some cases, a 10-year warranty will only offer two to three years of nonprorated coverage.

 

How much do memory foam mattresses cost?

In addition to mattress size, other factors used to determine the price-point of a memory foam mattress include:

  • Type of foam: Mattresses made with standard memory foam are typically less expensive than those made with gel, copper-infused, and/or plant-based memory foams.
  • Foam density: As stated above, mattresses that are made with low-density memory foam are often less expensive than those made with medium- or high-density memory foam.
  • The amount of memory foam: Mattresses with relatively thick memory foam layers (and less polyfoam) are often priced higher than those with minimal memory foam components.
  • The brand: Regardless of the overall quality of the mattress, some manufacturers price their memory foam models higher than others.

Price-points vary considerably for memory foam mattresses, ranging from $200 or less on the least expensive end to $3,000 or more. However, the bulk of these mattresses cost between $700 and $1,200 for Queen-size models, putting the average price between $900 and $1,000.

 

What are the pros of memory foam mattresses?

Benefits of using a memory foam mattress include the following:

  • Memory foam responds to sleepers based on their body weight for a conforming, customized feel.
  • The material helps align the spine and targets pressure points at the neck, shoulders, lower back and hips, making it suitable for people that prefer to sleep on their side.
  • The firmness of a memory foam comfort layer will vary by model, providing a wide range of options for different sleepers.
  • Memory foam isolates motion to a significant extent when sleepers move or get up, which can cut down on sleep disruptions for couples that share a bed.
  • Memory foam produces little to noise when bearing weight, and is considered a ‘quieter’ alternative to relatively noisy innersprings, hybrids, and airbeds.
  • Memory foam mattresses perform for an average of seven years, which matches the industry average.
  • The average price-point of a memory foam mattress is lower than that of latex mattresses, hybrids, and airbeds.

 

What are the cons of memory foam mattresses?

Drawbacks associated with memory foam mattresses include:

  • Many owners complain that memory foam retains too much body heat, and sleeps uncomfortably hot as a result.
  • Sagging and indentations in the sleep surface are common after a few years of use.
  • As is the case with all-polyfoam mattresses, memory foam models tend to provide little to no edge support, and sinkage where people sit is widely reported.
  • Due to their slow response time, memory foam mattresses require a longer break-in period than other mattress types.
  • Because they cause sleepers to sink somewhat deeply, getting on and off a memory foam mattress can be somewhat difficult.
  • Memory foam is associated with relatively high levels of off-gassing, or unpleasant odors that are emitted when the mattress is unpackaged. In most cases, these smells will dissipate within one or two days, but some models are linked to long-lasting odor.
  • Memory foam is slow to respond, and provides little to no bounce. For these reasons, many couples claim they are not as good for sex.