The Savvy Sleeper’s Guide to Memory Foam: Pros and Cons
More people than ever before are considering memory foam when they set out looking for a new bed. Because this type of mattress is considerably different from the “normal” innerspring bed, it’s not uncommon for people to have questions when shopping for the best memory foam mattress. For starters, wondering if memory foam is a good fit for them or not. In this guide, we’ll be looking at the pros and cons of memory foam beds based on owner reviews, and the most important things to know when buying one.
Should You Choose Memory Foam?
Buying a mattress is a pretty personal thing. We all have a different idea of what feels comfortable when we sleep, including what feels too firm or soft. Your body type and any medical conditions can also influence what you need from a bed.
In terms of overall averages, people are significantly more likely to find memory foam beds satisfactory compared to innerspring beds (81% versus 63%, according to Sleep Like The Dead). Memory foam also performs slightly better on average than other specialty mattresses, including water and latex beds, which average between 78% and 80% owner satisfaction.
While the numbers are on memory foam’s side, there is still a percentage of people who may not consider it ideal. Not all mattresses are created equally— different brands, formulas, and constructions can have fairly different characteristics, density, and support.
Benefits of Memory Foam Mattresses
Given the popularity and high owner reviews of memory foam, there’s clearly a lot to like. The most significant advantages focus on comfort, durability, and support.
- Relief of Pressure Points
One of the key things that distinguish the memory foam from other materials, such as regular poly-foam, springs, or fiber filling is how it responds to pressure. Memory foam is specifically designed for the purpose of absorbing pressure, which it accomplishes by molding to the shape of the person and distributing weight across its surface.
Rather than actively resisting your body weight (and squishing soft tissues in the middle), memory foam accommodates curves and eases pressure, creating a sensation often described as weightless or cloudlike. The more memory foam in a mattress and the denser the foam, the more pronounced the effect is.
- Back and Joint Support
Sleeping on a memory foam bed can also provide back and joint support. As body weight is evenly supported across the surface of a memory foam mattress, it also works to support your body’s natural alignment. Other types of mattresses concentrate weight on the heaviest areas of the body, which can result in distorting the position of your hips, legs, or shoulders relative to your spine.
The regular foam layer that sits below the memory foam also plays a role in support, preventing you from sinking too far down.
- Limits Motion Transfer
The ability to isolate motion can be a significant benefit for people who sleep with a partner or with a pet. On other types of mattresses, a person rolling over or getting out of bed on one side can disturb the other sleeper as springs bounce or water shifts, for example.
Since the material absorbs pressure and does not conduct motion, however, this effect is virtually eliminated with a sturdy, well-supported memory foam bed.
- Provides Good Longevity
Mattresses prove one of the larger purchases for the average household, costing several hundred or even several thousand dollars. Given the cost, people in turn typically expect to get several years of good sleep out of a new bed.
While there is a significant difference among brands within the categories, memory foam tends to outlast innerspring beds. They are significantly less likely to receive complaints of sagging in the first few years of use as well. Many manufacturers also say that memory foam beds do not need to be rotated as often as spring beds, and they do not need to be flipped.
Another point is that several higher-quality memory foam brands offer strong warranties, around 10 years of full-replacement coverage. Some will even cover impressions as shallow as 0.75”, while most innerspring brands cover sagging deeper than 1.5”.
- Large Price and Brand Selection
Innerspring beds remain the most widely available mattress type, but among the specialty mattresses, memory foam is the most accessible. Most mattress showrooms will carry at least a brand or two of memory foam and many more can be found online and via larger retailers.
Although some people think of memory foam as expensive, in today’s market there is little difference between it and the average innerspring price. Sleep Like The Dead estimates the average innerspring mattress buyer pays $1590 while the average memory foam buyer pays $1610, totaling a difference of $20. Latex, on the other hand, tends to come in a couple of hundred dollars higher. There are several memory foam options spanning from budget-friendly to total luxury, affording shoppers a strong range of choices to compare.
- Usually Fairly Easy to Compare
Another benefit of memory foam beds is that once you learn the basics, they are actually fairly straightforward to shop for. Usually, comparing the type and density of memory foam, density of the core foam, and the warranty is enough to discern a good deal about a bed’s potential quality.
There aren’t dozens of details about coils or a book of terms on latex that you need to master before feeling confident about picking a good mattress. Plus, many medium and small brands are fairly open and transparent about the quality of their materials and products. Make it a habit to compare different brands of memory mattresses to ensure you’ll get the best memory foam mattress out there.
To summarize, memory foam is best for:
- People experiencing joint or back pain
- People who toss and turn or experience pressure points
- People bothered by movement or noise
- People who want a wide range of options
- People who experience discomfort with spring beds and are concerned about latex allergies, or who prefer low maintenance beds
- People looking to get a long-lasting mattress for the money
The minority of memory foam owners who dislike their mattresses usually mention issues related to heat, odor, or durability.
- They Can Sleep Hot
Heat is probably the most prominently mentioned con of foam mattresses. Depending on the brand and type of memory foam, usually about 5% to 15% of reviewers mention feeling like they sleep hotter on memory foam compared to conventional beds. For innerspring beds without memory foam layers, heat complaints are closer to 5%.
Gel foams are often touted as the answer to this complaint. However, Consumer Reports’ tests found little difference compared to non-gel materials. Temperature neutral, plant-based memory foams did demonstrate faster heat dissipation than gel in one study by manufacturer Cargill.
Odor is a shorter-term drawback that can be associated with any new mattress using polyurethane foams or adhesives. Strong chemical odors are described by about 10% to 15% of memory foam owners, usually dissipating in a few days to a couple of weeks.
Some people with strong sensitivities to odor complain of headaches or other issues related to memory foam. Other buyers are concerned about avoiding volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can be released in the air by certain foams and adhesives. The EPA says finished poly foams are safe, and no studies have linked memory foam with long-term health issues.
Looking for foams made with a proportion of natural ingredients, water-based adhesives, and low/no-VOC fire barriers can help minimize potential odor. Lower density foams are also less likely off gas, and some manufacturers suggest unpacking a new bed and letting it breathe for a few days to minimize smells.
- Lower Quality Foams Lack Longevity
While memory foam as a category has above average lifespans, lower-quality, low-density foams can have fairly short life spans under five years. Typically, but not always, these types of beds tend to be cheaper and have shorter warranties. When comparing mattresses, this makes the density information important.
- Some Types Can Feel Cumbersome
The other potential disadvantage for some people is that since memory foam is not a bouncy material, it can take more effort to move around on or get off of, and some complain about getting intimate.
Temperature sensitive, dense memory foams take longer to recover to their original shape when you get up or move, meaning they are most likely to be associated with this complaint.
Picking the Right Memory Foam Bed
If weighing the pros and cons of memory foam beds tells you that one might be a good fit for you, it can be helpful to have an idea about the key traits that distinguish different memory foam beds before shopping. It’s also good to search for online mattress reviews to make sure you’ll buy the best one for your needs.
The first factor to be aware of is density— a measure of how much a cube of material weighs.
- Denser memory foams weigh more, and higher density is associated with greater durability and pressure relief, but also higher temperature sensitivity and more heat/odor.
- On the other end of the scale, low-density foams are less likely to smell, sleep hot, or feel restrictive, but have less durability and less effective pressure relief.
- Generally, low density is considered under 3.5 lbs, high density is over 5.0 lbs, and everything in between is medium density.
Also important is memory foam type. Regular memory foam is the traditional, temperature sensitive material that slowly contours and slowly recovers. Gel memory foam is often slightly less temperature sensitive and includes beads or mixtures of gel said to feel cooler. Plant-based foams replace a portion of petrol products with plant ingredients and generally are temperature neutral with quicker recovery.
Your sleeping position and body size are important when picking out the right bed. If you sleep on your back or are a small-framed person, a thinner layer of memory foam (2” – 4”) is likely to feel fine. If you sleep on your side or have a larger frame, you’ll want a thicker layer of memory foam (3” – 6”) for adequate cushioning.
When shopping for a new mattress of any kind, don’t forget to check on the warranty policies, too. For mid-range or higher memory foam bed, you should expect about 10 years of full replacement warranty. Some brands will cover sagging at 0.75”, others may not kick in until 1.5” or more. Promotional or lower-end beds may have shorter or no warranty.
If you’re ready to get started, here’s a quick comparison of seven popular memory foam brands highlighting different types and price ranges. As you can see, most memory foam beds rate well in reviews, though individual brands can vary, especially on things like complaints of heat, durability issues, customer service, and more.
|Brand||Memory Foam Type||Density||Queen Price Range||Review Score (out of 5)||Warranty|
|Amerisleep||Plant-Based||MF: 4.0-5.3 lb||$999 – $1899||4.7||20 Years|
|BedInABox||Gel, Traditional||MF: 3.0 lb||$699 – $2399||4.7||20 Years|
|Comfort Dreams||Gel, Traditional||MF: 2.0-4.0 lb||$330 – $575||4.0||5 Years|
|Sealy Optimum||Gel, Traditional||MF: 4.0 lb||$1299 – $2999||3.9||10 Years|
|Serta iComfort||Gel, Traditional||MF: 3.0-4.0 lb||$1074 – $2774||3.8||10 Years|
|Simmons Comforpedic||Gel, Traditional||MF: 3.5-5.5 lb||$1100 – $2300||3.9||10 Years|
|Tempurpedic||Traditional||MF: 3.0-7.0 lb||$1699 – $7499||4.2||10 years|
Review scores correlated from brand websites and third party review websites. Some manufacturers do not provide information on density.
If you’ve been thinking about a new bed and memory foam’s perks mesh with your sleep preferences, test out a few memory foam beds in stores or start researching online. Another interesting thing to keep in mind is that memory foam retailers (especially online) are more likely to offer generous sleep trails, often ranging 100 days or more, giving you the opportunity to test a memory foam bed in your own home and see if it’s right for you.
Memory foam beds ultimately make a good choice for several reasons, ranging from comfort to durability. The variety of types, brands, shapes, and sizes means there are options to suit most people. When searching, be sure to reference customer mattress reviews and other online mattress guides to help you find the right mattress for you.