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What is memory foam? Everything You Need to Know!

a headshot of our reviewer Connie

Written By Connie

CPD Sleep Consultant

What is memory foam

9 April 2024 5 min read

Memory foam mattress is a new type of a solution for consumers that seek ways to further their sleeping experience. The foam was invented by NASA back in the 1970s for the purpose of protecting airline passengers and pilots in case of a crash landing. Today, memory foam is a staple material for making mattress toppers, pillows and as a layer of comfort for a variety of mattresses. It is made out of viscoelastic foam that reacts to changes in heat and pressure, molding itself to the shape of the person’s body. Sleepers using memory foam describe this feeling as sinking into the mattress or getting “hugged” by it.

Components of the memory foam

The mattress doesn’t only have memory foam in it, contrary to its name. Usually the amount of memory foam (which is very soft) takes up between 25 to 40 percent of the mattress, also known as the comfort layer.

What’s inside?

The supportive element within the mattress consists of innersprings or polyfoam in high density providing a sturdy base. The sleeper remains at the surface of the mattress – effectively preventing the sleeper to fall too deep into the mattress itself.

The sturdiness of the foam is defined by the ILD (indentation load deflection). This measurement defines how much pressure applied to the memory foam will make a four-inch indentation in it. High ILD means a firmer memory foam and vice-versa. ILD values range from 8-20. The values below 10 are extremely soft, from 11-15 they are very soft while from 16 to 20 are soft. Higher ILD values are great for heavier sleepers as they apply more body pressure to the memory foam. Lower ILD is suitable for lighter sleepers.

What’s memory foam density?

Memory foam density is another aspect that should be taken into consideration. It indicates the support your mattress provides – measured by the pounds of weight found in one cubic foot. The density value ranges from 2.5-8 pounds per cubic foot. Additionally, this also tells us how quickly the mattress will return to its regular shape after use. If the density value is high, the memory foam will slowly retain its shape but it will also be better and contouring to your body and isolating unwanted motion.

memory foam density

Types of memory foam

Many options are available for the types of foam that you can see on the market. Without going into an unending list, I will mention four common types that are most popular on the market.

an image of memory foam layers on a mattress topper

The feeling and benefits

The unmatched contour ability is the selling point for this type of mattress. Memory foam creates a custom form based on the sleeper’s body. Due to it reacting to pressure and heat – it will always “hug” your hips and shoulders, providing correct alignment to your spine and consequently neck (given that you have an appropriate pillow). The reactive aspect of the memory foam makes it a staple solution for alleviating back pain, very much so for side sleepers.

Pros and cons

Look at the pros and cons in the table below to decide if foam is the correct purchase for you. Sleeping preferences are very personal so make sure that you review this table in order to make the most informed decision.

Pros:Cons:
Conforms to the bodyHeat retention
Supports back, shoulders and hipsExtremely soft
Easy shipping and unpackingHas some off-gassing
Great motion isolationLow bounce feel

Cost

All of the previously mentioned attributes of memory foam mattresses factor into the price. Traditional memory foam is cheaper, while other mentioned types are in the upper parts of the price bracket. The higher the density, size, thickness and amount of layers – the bigger the price. Due to a large variety of foam mattresses, the prices are on a wide scale ranging from 100 up to a couple of thousand pounds.

Longevity

Just like cost, the longevity of your mattress will depend on the amount of wear and tear, the type of memory foam and its density. The average lifespan of a memory foam mattresses is about 7 years. Another thing that should be taken into consideration is the warranty offered by the retailer. The best warranty you can get is 5 years while the most common ones range between 1-3 years.

an image of a happy couple on a memory foam mattress

Is it the right choice for me?

The answer to this question is largely dependent on your physical build and sleeping preferences. People that have weight issues or are very hot sleepers will probably have some discomfort when using this kind of mattress. Memory foam retains heat, even if you buy the ones that have cooling mechanisms. If you are a heavy weight sleeper, the feeling of sinking into the foam may go too far into the mattress for comfort. If this is the case, looking into high-grade ILD mattress foam may solve this problem. But remember, even if you get a 20 on the ILD scale, they are still soft and may not suit every sleeper. In that case, you should consider buying an innerspring mattress.

Conclusion

Making an informed purchase is something we all want to do. This article has covered the relevant aspects of memory foam mattresses that should be helpful to most consumers. Don’t be motivated by the popularity of this solution as it does have its downsides. Weigh both parts of this equation and surely you will end up with a mattress that is perfect for your good night rest.

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About the author

Connie
As a CPD certified Sleep Consultant I know how important sleep is. And as a combination sleeper, I have found it difficult to get products to suit my sleep style. I have more than 2 years product testing experience with The Sleep Advisors which means I have slept on, with and under more than 500 products with varying degrees of success. This is added to more than 2 years experience as a product reviewer for Closer, Heat and Grazia magazines, so I've got a rigorous process. I love sharing my sleep testimonials with our readers and hearing their experiences too.
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