How to Pick the Right Memory Foam Mattress

Are you thinking of getting rid of your innerspring mattress to make room for a new memory foam mattress? Before you commit to a new bed, there are some things you need to know. You don’t want to spend one-third of your daily life trying to sleep on a lemon and the rest of it walking through life a sleep-deprived zombie.

A new memory foam mattress is a major purchase. The search for the right one should be taken seriously, especially if you’ve never slept on one before. Memory foam mattresses receive really high approval ratings from consumers compared to innerspring mattresses, which means there’s a good chance you’ll be happy with your new bed. Eighty-one percent of memory foam mattress owners report being satisfied with their purchase versus just 63% of innerspring owners, according to review website

With such high satisfaction rates across a broad price range, memory foam mattresses have much value potential in general. They are known for reducing pressure, relieving pain and improving motion isolation. If you shop well, you could improve your sleeping and feel better through the day for years to come.

All About Memory Foam Mattresses and How to Find Your Match

Memory foam was developed by NASA researchers to help keep astronauts comfortable during flights. A few decades later, memory foam mattresses came on the scene and now have become nearly as ubiquitous as their spring-filled counterparts. Unlike innerspring mattresses, memory foam mattresses do not rely on metal springs for support. Instead, they consist entirely, or nearly entirely of polyurethane and viscoelastic foam.

Memory Foam Types

Not all memory foam mattresses are the same. They are available in three different types. What the memory foam is made from determines which type it is. The three primary types of memory foam mattresses are:

  • Traditional memory foam: Essentially the same petroleum-based material developed by NASA in the 1960s with a few improvements. This is characterized by high temperature sensitivity, meaning it feels firmer when cool and softer when warm. This property yields a foam with slow responsiveness.
  • Gel memory foam: Like their traditional petroleum counterparts with gel added to the foam to help improve heat retention. Gel memory foam tends to be a little faster to respond to movements than traditional foams.
  • Plant-based memory foam: Memory foam created from a proportion of natural plant materials to be healthier, cooler and more environmentally-friendly. This material results in temperature-neutral foam with fast responsiveness.

Density & Firmness

Within these different mattress types are varying densities, firmnesses and mattress constructions.

Memory foam density is measured in pounds per square foot, and refers to the amount of polymers versus air in the foam. A denser foam can feel firmer, especially with temperature sensitive types, but the more important difference between densities lies in durability and support capabilities.

Memory foam mattresses often have layers of foam of varying densities. More dense layers are usually on the bottom for support and the foams of lesser densities are on top for initial comfort.

Typically, mattress foams rate within 1-8 pounds per foot, with lower rated foams feeling softer and less supportive. A lower density foam (less than 3 lbs) provides less of the characteristic “floating” feeling while higher density foams prove better at cushioning pressure points. However, there is such a thing as too dense. Mattresses with memory foams over 5 lbs can feel more difficult to move on (slower recovery) and more prone to sleeping hot.

The base layer of foam, sometimes called the core, is also compared by density. For regular polyurethane foams, densities under 1.5 lbs are considered lower quality, and result in a mattress that may feel unsupportive or be prone to impressions. Foams in the high-resiliency range (1.8 lb to 2.4 lb) are generally considered good quality.

As a rule, denser foam is more expensive and tends to last longer. Cheaper mattresses with shorter lifespans often have low foam densities. These mattresses can feel great for a few months, but usually show signs of wear early.

Considerations for Different Types of Sleepers

Sleep position can have an effect on the firmness level you prefer. Take this into consideration:

  • Back sleepers need more support than side sleepers, but a mattress that is too firm will push back against the spine or leave the lower back unsupported. A medium-firm mattress is good for this type of sleeper.
  • Side sleepers need a softer mattress to relieve pressure on the hips and shoulders. Soft to medium mattresses with thicker comfort layers allow the body to sink in to accommodate curves and keep the spine straight.
  • Stomach sleepers need a firm mattress that keeps the torso from sinking too deep, causing the spine to be misaligned. Firm to medium firm beds will likely be best.
  • Combination sleepers, or those who sleep in different positions, need to have a mattress that is neither too stiff and nor too soft. A medium-firm mattress with a thicker comfort layer will give a little for side sleeping, but be firm enough for stomach sleeping.

Heavier people should pay attention to the thickness of their mattress because it is a major factor in owner satisfaction. In reviews, mattresses less than 12 inches thick show dramatic differences in comfort and satisfaction for people weighing over 250 pounds. Beds over 12 inches and with thicker layers of memory foam are more likely to offer comfort.

Memory foams can change their properties as their temperature varies. Your body heat will decrease the firmness of the mattress in places where you touch it long enough for temperature-sensitive types of foam. This is intentional, but you should be mindful of it. If you are trying mattresses in a cold showroom, the mattresses may feel more firm, and vice versa.

Memory foam also tends to soften slightly over time as the mattress breaks in, so this is something else to keep in mind when shopping. Remember, you can always add a topper for more softness, but it’s hard to make a bed firmer.

Pros and Cons of Memory Foam Mattresses

Memory foam mattresses became very popular in a short amount of time. Now, they share a significant portion of the total U.S. market. These mattresses have a lot to offer consumers, greatly expanding choice and comfort options.

As with any product, there are both positive and negative qualities with memory foam mattresses. We’ve compiled a list of the pros and cons of memory foam mattresses so you know what you are getting into, and what to compare when shopping. Not all memory foam mattresses will possess the qualities we disclose, but enough of them do to warrant mentioning. These statements give an overview of memory foam mattresses in general, but keep in mind brands and types can differ.

Pros of Memory Foam Mattresses

Motion Isolation – The ability of memory foam mattresses to keep motion localized is one of their most popular attributes. Unlike typical innerspring mattresses, memory foams allow one person to be less disturbed while the other is moving, a significant benefit for couples.

Pressure Reduction – Memory foam mattresses provide even support that reduces the amount of pressure on one area by spreading weight across the surface of the material. Instead of springs producing many single points of pressure along the sleeper’s body, memory foam contours along the body, compressing in heavier areas and supporting lighter areas.

Pain Reduction – Nearly across the board, users of memory foam mattresses report reductions in back and shoulder pain.

Longevity – Memory foam mattresses made with quality materials tend to last longer than innersprings as they resist impressions longer. Their durability is one of their major selling points. Mattresses with higher foam densities tend to last longer than those with lower densities.

Cons of Memory Foam Mattresses

Heat Retention – The most common consumer complaint about memory foam mattresses is the amount of heat many of them retain. There have been several solutions to help combat this including gels and plant-based foams. This is an issue for about 8% of people overall.

Off-gassing – Traditional and gel memory foams are made from petroleum byproducts, and all mattresses can contain harsh glues and other additives. Volatile Organic Compounds are gasses that are emitted from some substances. They have been linked to numerous health effects, including cancer. Odors reported by consumers are reflective of the amount of chemicals a mattress is letting off. Manufacturers and retailers typically advise consumers to air the mattress out prior to use. About 15% of memory foam owners report strong initial odors overall.

Weight – The densities of foam required to support a person while sleeping can weigh a lot. While memory foam mattresses can be heavy, not many people consider this a problem since they don’t necessarily need frequent rotating and never need flipping.

Memory Foam Mattress Comparisons for 2019

Memory foam beds arrived on the scene in the early nineties with only one brand available to consumers. Now, there are many memory foam mattresses to choose from on the market, offering people a wide variety of features.

What qualities are you hoping to find in a mattress? How much can you spend? What qualities are you willing to forgo to adhere to your budget? These are questions you should have answers to before making a decision.

Below is a table of some popular mattresses available on the market currently. Some of their characteristics are listed along with their cost and a customer satisfaction rating. Rates of satisfaction are based on customer reviews. Take a look at what is out there to get your search started:

ModelPrice (Queen)Memory Foam TypeFirmnessMemory Foam DensityTotal Height (Inches)WarrantyCustomers Satisfaction
Sleep Innovations 12" SureTemp$476Traditional Memory FoamMedium3.0 lb12"5 - 20 Years84%
Amerisleep AS2 (formerly known as Revere)$1199 Plant-Based Memory FoamMedium-Firm4.5 lb12"20 Years96%

* estimate

As you can see, these mattresses are as varied as the people who use them. There are plenty of choices, but don’t allow yourself to experience analysis paralysis. Too many options can overtax your senses and make reaching a confident decision difficult.

Buying a Memory Foam Mattress

Traditional, gel and plant-based memory foam mattresses all have great attributes, although each is different. Think about the qualities you want to find in a mattress when weighing options.

You can find some great potential for value with many traditional memory foam mattresses. One of their biggest complaints is from consumers who feel they sleep hot. Off-gassing is another major complaint with many different lines and models. All petroleum based mattresses need to be aired out for some time. For the most part, though, owners report satisfaction with traditional memory foams.

Gel memory foam mattresses are marketed to combat heat-retention issues in foam mattresses. Though many models demonstrate some improvement in regards to temperature, many consumers still find gel mattresses sleep hot. Off-gassing remains an issue with gel memory foam mattresses also. These mattresses tend to slightly sleep cooler than traditionals, but don’t get caught up in the hype some companies create around their gel. Factors like density are still important to overall quality and comfort.

If you are an environment or health conscious person, plant-based memory foams are a good choice, and a more affordable alternative to latex. Off-gassing is much less of an issue with foams made from significant percentages of plant oils. Consumers report these memory foams sleeping cooler than traditional foams and some people prefer the more responsive feel. Plant-based materials are more sustainable than petroleum products as well.

There are many things to consider when looking for a new mattress, but knowledge and research are two of the best tools for getting a good value and a comfortable mattress. Read reviews and talk to a variety of retailers about your potential purchase. There is information out there. Take your time and you’ll make a purchase you’ll be happy with for years to come.

This article is for informational purposes and should not replace advice from your doctor or other medical professional.

3 thoughts on “How to Pick the Right Memory Foam Mattress”

  1. So glad i read this article, sales person is trying to sell me a coil style mattress for a adjustable base, saying this would support by back better and sleep cooler too. Can not find the name of the bed he said it was on the internet, just brand name. I am beginning to wonder if it assist!!

  2. Very helpful. I have been researching for several weeks. Wish I had found your site earlier, would have saved me countless hours!

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