Memory Foam Mattress Warnings
Tempur-Pedic, Memory Foam, and the New Gel Memory Foam Mattresses
Tempur-Pedic and memory foam mattresses are the hottest sellers on the mattress market today. And because of all the hype and recommendations about them, so many people are sure they want one.
At least half of the customers who walked into my mattress store would announce, "I want to look at your memory foam mattresses. I've been reading up on them, my sister has one and loves it, my kid's teacher told me about hers, my doctor recommended it, etc."
Memory foam was our biggest selling mattress - and the most likely to be returned. This information was originally written a few years ago based on my experience as a mattress sales person - along with responses and feedback from real, buying customers during that time.
Since then, with over 200 comments and counting, this article has validated its own message through responses like this: "I got up this morning determined to get some truths around these mattresses and happened upon this site. I am so unsurprised to see all the comments on here and feel somewhat relieved it is not just me."
However, there are also many people who swear by their memory foam mattress. There are reasons for that - its just that memory foam isn't for everyone. That is why this article is here: because a memory foam mattress just might be the thing you need, too - or not.
This is one of the most important things you need to pay attention to before you decide to keep a new memory foam mattress: Are you moving more or less after your body has gotten used to sleeping on it..?
Return and Exchange Policies
Before you buy a new Memory Foam mattress, you should know that one of the main reasons why people get frustrated with trying to return or exchange them; is that they are often so expensive compared to other types of beds. And since most mattress stores offer credits rather than refunds if you are unhappy with it - that means that if you start out with Memory Foam and then try to exchange it for a less expensive one, later; there will be a huge credit that lingers in the store (as opposed to you receiving cash back).
The risk is yours - do make sure you understand the exchange/return policy of your mattress store before you complete the sale.
Highlights from Wikipedia
Memory Foam is polyurethane with additional chemicals increasing its viscosity and density. It is often referred to as "visco-elastic" polyurethane foam, or low-resilience polyurethane foam. (Low-resilience = low 'push back' support)
- Higher-density memory foam softens in reaction to body heat, allowing it to mold to a warm body in a few minutes. A lower-density memory foam is pressure-sensitive and molds quickly to the shape of a body pressing against it, returning to its original shape once the pressure is removed.
- Created by feeding gas into a polymer matrix, the foam has an open-cell solid structure that matches pressure against it, yet slowly springs back to its original shape.
- Was commonly utilized in cases where the patient was required to lie immobile in their bed on a firm mattress for an unhealthy period of time. The pressure over some of their body regions decreased or stopped the blood flow to the region causing pressure sores or gangrene. Memory foam mattresses significantly decreased such events.
Memory Foam Mattresses are Very Well Marketed
Memory foam was invented by NASA back in the day... Did you know NASA never used it? Tempur-Pedic was founded by a marketing executive. We can all certainly agree that Tempur-Pedic does a good job of marketing their Space-Age, State of the Art materials.
Some of the most trusted Doctors, Chiropractors and Physical Therapists in this country have recommended these products based on this marketing - which includes lots of impressive research to help make things seem so credible.
I'm not saying its not - just that its all really good marketing.
Memory foam mattresses are especially notorious for their HOT sleep and initially strong chemical smell and offgassing issues.
Memory foam basically contains the same ingredients as regular polyfoam - it's just manufactured differently. Essentially, gas is infused into a foam matrix to give it those neat body-molding and shape-remembering characteristics. This is why it can be so much stinkier than regular foam.
I talk about issues with offgassing - along with the details surrounding Federal Fire-Retardant alternatives and Regulations that are used in mattresses, in this previous article if you are concerned about those things.
What's RIGHT with Memory Foam in Mattresses?
There are good uses for memory foam. It is especially nice for those light, bed-ridden elderly folks who need to be kept comfortable.
Memory foam feels great mixed in with other foam layers on top of a traditional innerspring mattress - and can really make a difference in the luxurious feel between them.
A memory foam topper can be the ideal thing for adding comfort to a mattress. In fact, a memory foam topper on a supportive, plush mattress (firm, but still with some cushion on top, as in the image above) can be a great sleep system - and a comfortable alternative for people who love the feel of memory foam; but for whom a full-on mattress does not work for their body and/or sleep type.
Also, if you have circulation problems and want to sleep warmer - get something with memory foam in it.
An Example of a Good Memory Foam Topper
Comments below have requested a good example. This is one that I would buy because:
1) I like the gel infused into it - gels really do work to help give a little more support; and do a good job of diffusing heat for most people.
2) I like the thicker 4" toppers because they give you the most cozy memory foam sleep experience without being a full memory foam mattress. If you're going to spring for memory foam (or latex) - always make it a good one. Half-way won't feel nearly as luxurious.
Sex on a Memory Foam Mattress
- What is sex like on a memory foam mattress? - Reddit
So we are talking about getting a new mattress and are kind of kicking around the idea of a TempurPedic or something similar. I've slept on one...
Memory Foam Mattresses Feel Strange for Many Sleepers
But, memory foam mattresses are some of the most exchanged/returned mattresses - and that's only one of the reasons why they are so expensive.
They almost always feel really good when you first lay down on them... I always told people, "Its a great nap mattress."
But, what if you are a tosser/turner at night? Lay down for a minute on any memory foam mattress and then try to roll over. Its like you're sunk into wet sand - good luck. I've had older people return their memory foam mattress for this reason: "You don't understand, I HAVE to be able to get out of it easy in the middle of the night!"
This also plays into sex... what will sex be like on a memory foam mattress? It comes down to personal choice. Some people really like having sex on them - but, many others don't like it as well as a traditional 'bouncy' bed. ;)
The flip side to the 'can't move as easily' point is that your body supposedly won't want to toss and turn as much as it does after you get used to sleeping on it.
That may be, I've never slept on one long enough to know what its like after my body has gotten used to it. All I can tell you for SURE is that so many come back to the store just because it is such a different kind of mattress to sleep on every night.
Also, it is a HEALTHY thing for your body to move during sleep - ask your doctor. You don't want to sleep motionless, your joints need a little movement.
Memory Foam Mattresses are NOT Good for Many Sleepers for Bad Back Pain or for Relieving Pressure Points
Memory foam is a dense foam - this is why it is so hot to sleep on. Even without the pressure of a body on top compressing the foam - just lying there - it can't breathe very well.
And of course, when you lay on it - the foam compresses to an even tighter foam that breathes even less.
Also, when memory foam is compressed as when a body is laying on it - the foam that IS relieving the pressure points when you first get on that mattress is getting MORE FIRM (as in hard, 'wet sand' firm) underneath that shoulder or hip, etc., as you continue to sink into the mattress - especially if you don't do much moving (which we talked about, memory foam can diminish body movement during sleep).
GOOD POINT: Memory foam IS a good 'pressure-point-reliever' for sleepers who manage to remain tossers & turners. I'm sure it would be a good pressure point reliever for me for that reason - I doubt it would cure *my* restless sleeping habits. (I'm known for being a kicker. ;)
- Mattress, Back Support and Sleep Comfort Advice
Patients with back pain share their helpful advice about choosing a mattress at Spine-health.com
Pay Attention to Your Back, Spine & Neck
This is one of the important things that you need to pay attention to if you decide to keep a new memory foam mattress: Are you moving more or less after your body gets used to sleeping on it? Are there aches developing in your back, shoulder, neck, etc., that weren't there before? Sometimes you almost don't notice them at first; but you might more later as the situation continues.
Memory foam is also affected by the heat from your body, which can cause the foam in the mattress where you NEED horizontal support - like your back - to sag too much the warmer it gets - especially if the weight of your body is concentrated in your middle and/or hip zones.
There is NOTHING that is 'pushing back up' to support your back and keep your spine correctly aligned once memory foam turns into cozy, warm mush. This is why I recommended the plush/firm spring mattress with a memory foam topper, above - the bed beneath the topper should keep your body correctly aligned. The topper is just meant for cozy comfort.
Many memory foam mattress customers complain of shoulder/neck pain and/or backaches after sleeping on their mattresses for a few years or even just after a few months, sometimes.
This is why - memory foam actually gets MORE FIRM beneath pressure points if you don't move around much; OR you're not supported in the same way throughout the entire night on that mattress as you were when you tried it out in the store - because of the foam heating up and getting too soft where you need support.
And, this misalignment can be difficult to notice at first... During the night, your body just barely sinks out of alignment as your back starts to sway; especially those tricky back, neck and pelvic areas on your body.
If you have been sleeping on a memory foam mattress for awhile; and any part of your body is having problems - get off of it, at least for awhile to experiment. You could be doing slow-developing, long-term damage to parts of your body without realizing it - only because you don't realize it, not necessarily because there is anything wrong with the mattress.
All Sizes Available
About Latex & Polyfoam Mattress Toppers
If money is an issue, get a regular 2-4 inch polyfoam topper and replace it every once in a while when you need to. Some organic toppers can even be washed and/or 'refluffed'.
An ideal latex topper is 4" thick Talalay Latex with an ILD of 19 (most popular) to 34 - lesser ILDs are for pillows and are usually too soft (with the possible exception of Fibromyalgia sufferers).
The thicker latex is, the more supportive it is. Two inches will do practically nothing; and even three inches is not quite strong enough to support a body - although for a memory foam mattress, you might get away with a 3" Talalay latex topper if the memory foam isn't too firm. This is good since it is hard to find 4" latex toppers. They often have to be custom ordered and are expensive.
If you're going to spring for latex, I recommend Talalay processed latex for a topper instead of the Dunlop process - because Dunlop is more dense with less resilience; and will form a body impression sooner almost like polyfoam.
Memory Foam Mattress Potential Fixes
Adding a topper to a memory foam mattress helps many people, especially when it is too firm or too hot. If a new topper alone doesn't do enough to help you sleep more comfortably; there are cooling sleep products available - as well as ideas from other people who have dealt with that issue with semi-success. I suggest doing a general search for something that might work for you.
Its funny... I was starting to notice a developing trend shortly before I quit my job in March. Mattress customers were coming in who had purchased a memory foam mattress from other stores; and they were complaining that they were too hard. (I've had a few requests in the comments for Natural & Latex Topper recommendations for this reason - so I added these examples.)
These customers were often either looking for a topper to add to the mattress for comfort; or they were looking for a different mattress, entirely. I was beginning to wonder if memory foam mattress manufacturers haven't started making them more firm for the reasons I explained, above.
If they are, its not helping much.
A topper will not correct any structural issues that may be going on - like too much sway where you are heaviest. They do have the capability to add cushion if your mattress is too hard, or to cool it down if it is too hot.
Do yourself a favor and MAKE SURE it is the right mattress for you before your time runs out to exchange it.
Memory Foam Customer Experiences in the Comments Below
Thank you so much to the many readers who have shared their memory foam mattress experiences and asked more questions in the comments, below. This article continues with them; and is turning out to be a good online resource on the subject.
It is not an exhaustive resource, however. This is just a stop on your research trail about these popular mattresses.
Update: Good Memory Foam Mattress Alternatives
One last thing... You should know that many Doctors, Chiropractors and Therapists are beginning to recommend latex over memory foam as the mattress of choice. I talk about that why that is more in the comments, below. In fact, when you start browsing the web about this subject, many of them have 'invented' their own latex mattress brands.
A latex mattress is a really good alternative to a memory foam mattress because they both 'mold' around you like a glove - allowing for pressure point relief; BUT latex also gives support where memory foam does not. There are also other reasons to consider a latex mattress.
Another potentially-good alternative to a typical memory foam mattress for people who really like the feel; is a pocket-coil innerspring with memory foam on top. I'll talk more about why they might work in the comments; and you'll also see a couple links.
Mattress shopping hints: Please try not to get too hung up on brand names until you decide 'what kind of mattress' you want - then it is easier to weed through which brand might be best to buy.
I also highly-recommend going to mattress stores to test mattresses out - that is the only way your body will get a good feel for them. Here is some good, general advice while shopping for a new mattress - including how to test them to know which ones will work best for you and/or your partner's best sleep.
© 2013 Catherine Mostly