memory foam mattress
Bedroom Design

What Is Memory Foam + Memory Foam Mattresses? What To Know (Cost, Heat + More)

    Last Updated
    November 10, 2022
    min read

    You might think memory foam is a recent technology, but it was first discovered in the 1970s by NASA. This space-age material, originally developed for airplane seats, became the go-to mattress of baby boomers seeking to relieve aching joints.

    What Is Memory Foam?

    Memory foam is composed of a plastic material called polyurethane and other synthetic materials that add density and viscosity to it. It’s also known as viscoelastic polyurethane foam or low-resistance polyurethane foam. 

    After NASA introduced memory foam to the public domain, it was primarily used in the medical industry as a way to prevent bedsores or gangrene in patients who lay immobile on firm mattresses for extended periods of time.

    Memory foam is now widely used in furniture, mattresses, blankets, sports helmets, and even shoes. 

    What Is A Memory Foam Mattress?

    Memory foam mattresses are one of the most popular types of mattresses available on the market. They come in various degrees of thickness or firmness depending on the way you sleep and lifestyle factors such as your budget.

    Made with polyurethane foam, memory foam mattresses cater to sleepers who prefer material that closely contours their bodies, as opposed to mattresses made with springier materials with faster response times to touch. These attributes offer optimal spinal alignment and support by evenly distributing your body weight.

    What Is A Memory Foam Mattress Made Of?

    Memory foam mattresses are made with a layer of memory foam on top, plus a support or base layer at the bottom made out of denser foam. These types of mattresses are known to retain heat, which is why they’re sometimes made with special cooling features such as a layer of cooling gel or additional air chambers to facilitate better airflow.

    What Makes Memory Foam Mattresses So Comfortable?

    Viscoelastic is known as memory foam because the foam forms around your body and remembers it. It has slow moving properties, so after you press down on it and release the pressure, it will remain in that shape for a few seconds before springing back up.

    As the memory foam pushes down and fits around your body, it can ease pressure points and aching joints.

    What Are Some Pros of Memory Foam Mattresses?

    Memory foam mattresses are popular for many reasons. People buy them because:

    - They’re likely to reduce tossing and turning at night, which is the leading cause of poor sleep.

    - They distribute body weight evenly, which supports your body properly and doesn’t cause painful pressure.

    These mattresses are made with substances that are resistant to allergens, in contrast to other mattresses that can contain up to 10 million dust mites inside after a few years of use.

    What Are Some Cons of Memory Foam Mattresses?

    There have been some complaints about memory foam mattresses over the years. These have included:

    Heat. Some memory foam mattress owners complain that memory foam become warm at night, which can be nice in the winter, but otherwise miserable, especially if you’re a naturally warm sleeper. However, some memory foam mattresses now come with a cooling system.

    Harsh chemicals. Back when memory foam mattresses were first made, they were laced with many harmful chemicals like formaldehyde. Nowadays, thanks to government regulations and public concern, fewer harsh chemicals are used. However, memory foam isn’t often as eco-friendly as other natural mattresses.

    The quicksand effect. Since memory foam contours itself to the body, some people complain that they feel stuck, and like they’re sinking into their bed. While it might be comfortable to some to literally sink into bed, others find it constricting. Temperature-sensitive memory foam is the worst culprit of this common complaint.

    What Kinds of Memory Foam Mattresses Are There?

    There are three main types of memory foam mattresses: traditional, plant-based, and gel foam.

    Traditional Memory Foam: Fitting and Petroleum-Based

    Traditional memory foam mattresses haven’t changed much since they first appeared in the 1970s. They’re still made from petroleum-based products, too, which environmentalists are less than enthused about.

    Plant-Based Memory Foam: Springy and Natural

    Some memory foam mattresses are plant-based and use coconut foam, soy and other plant materials. These mattresses spring back more quickly than traditional memory foam mattresses and have a cleaner footprint.

    Gel Memory Foam: A Cooler Option

    Gel memory foam is a combination of traditional memory foam and gel, which can be in a layer of the mattress or combined with the memory foam throughout the mattress mold.

    Many claim that gel memory foam is a cooler option than traditional foam. However, fewer studies have been done about gel memory foam, so durability and breathability have not been proven.

    Memory Foam vs. Other Mattresses

    Memory Foam vs. Latex Mattresses

    Latex mattresses are known for springing back more quickly than memory foam mattresses. Sleepers who move around a lot at night may find that latex mattresses are best, since they reform to the body more quickly.

    Still not sure? Read our guide on latex vs memory foam mattresses.

    Memory Foam vs. Spring Mattresses

    Memory foam mattresses are considered more comfortable than spring or coil mattresses, as memory foam distributes weight evenly across the body, thus relieving pressure points and other aches and pains.

    Still not sure? Read our guide on memory foam vs spring mattresses

    Memory Foam vs. Hybrid Mattresses

    Hybrid mattresses might be a good fit for sleepers who find coil mattresses too firm and memory foam too contouring and hugging. The best fit for you depends entirely on what you find comfortable and your sleeping patterns.

    Still not sure? Read our guide on memory foam vs spring mattresses

    What do Memory Foam Mattresses Cost?

    Memory foam mattresses can range anywhere from $100 to higher end mattresses at $5k. 

    Other options are available as well, including memory foam mattress toppers and mattress pads. These are cheaper options – usually below $200, depending on the size and brand—and still provide much of the comfort that full mattresses do.

    Sleep On A Purple Mattress

    Purple features the Gelflex Grid which is made out of Hyper Elstic Polymer.  It supports you whole body while also supporting your pressure points.


    What is the best memory foam mattress?

    The best memory foam mattress is one that will ultimately provide you with the qualities you seek for a good night’s sleep. Everyone has their own specific needs when it comes to sleeping well, and doing research is key to helping you find a mattress that’s the right fit for you. 

    When you’re in the market for a memory foam mattress, it helps to list down your priorities and weigh their importance as you narrow down your choices. 

    Before you decide whether a memory foam mattress is right for you, here are some questions you may want to ask yourself before you invest:

    • Do you prefer a springy or soft mattress?
    • How much are you willing to spend on a memory foam mattress?
    • Are you a light or a heavy sleeper?
    • Will you sleep solo, or will you share your bed with people or pets?
    • Do you sleep on your back, side, or stomach?
    • Does a shift in temperature affect the quality of your sleep?
    • Are you prone to body aches and pains?

    This is by no means an exhaustive list of questions, but it can definitely help you get a clearer idea of what the best memory foam mattress is for you.

    How does a memory foam mattress work?

    A memory foam mattress works by contouring your body when you press on it. Compared to other mattresses supported by coiled metal springs, memory foam mattresses are made with dense foam material. The memory foam makes you feel like you are “sinking” into the bed and helps decrease motion transfer as it contours to your body. This foam material is temperature-sensitive, which means that your body will sink more into the mattress as it warms it up.

    There are many reasons that memory foam mattresses are the mattress of choice for many sleepers:

    • Due to its unique body contouring properties and softness, memory foam mattresses have become the top choice for people with mobility issues or who suffer from chronic joint pain. 
    • Unlike traditional spring-type mattresses, memory foam mattresses allow the sleeper’s weight to be evenly distributed because of their body contouring properties. This means that the pressure on your joints, such as the shoulders and hips, is decreased. 
    • Memory foam mattresses offer excellent lumbar support, which keeps your spinal alignment even as you sleep. This, in turn, can alleviate aches and pains in the body.
    • Memory foam mattresses promote better blood circulation, reducing the discomfort of “pins and needles” or numbness and tingling in the body.

    About the authors

    Cecilia Gillen

    Cecilia brings over five years of writing experience primarily centered around lifestyle and health topics. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Media and Journalism from the University of South Dakota. She’s both an advocate for sleep and a night owl at heart.