While the first memory foam was developed in 1966, it wasn’t until the next generation that they were used for domestic purposes. It was initially too expensive to be used in mattresses or pillows, however, with current advanced technologies, it has become more affordable.
The most common uses for memory foam are for mattresses, pillows, blankets, and shoes. They can prevent several medical ailments and reduce the symptoms of countless others. The main ingredient in memory foams is polyurethane along with a combination of other elements. These elements impart their unique characteristics to the foam.
Features of memory foam
- Temperature Sensitivity:
They respond to pressure and temperature. It softens in reaction to your body heat. However, each product and composition has varying degrees of temperature sensitivity. The more sensitive the foam is, the more it will soften and hug’ your body and can contour to each individual’s body shape by reacting to the body temperature.
- Response Time:
When pressure is applied to memory foam, it softens and takes the shape of the body. After the pressure is removed, it takes time for the foam to return to its original state. This response time depends on many factors such as composition, the rate of elasticity, variable viscosity, and resilience.
With large response times, consumers often complain of a stuck or trapped feeling. The older consumers might also find it difficult to get off the mattress and can worsen back and mobility problems. Therefore it is better to use memory foam with a smaller response time.
Durability is an important factor to consider, no matter what product you are using. In the case of memory foam, durability is directly dependent on density.
A density of less than 4 lb./ft³. is likely to not last as long, while a density greater than 5.3 lb./ft³. is considered to be uncomfortable as it is too dense.
The ideal density ranges from between 4-5.3 lb. /ft³. This range provides an ultimate balance between comfort and durability.
- Temperature Control:
One of the major problems with the earlier memory foams was that they tended to get too hot. This was crucial since many people sleep best when there is lower body temperature. Hot mattresses or pillows tend to make sleeping uncomfortable.
However, the newer products have embraced heat control technology to release any trapped heat and continue to be a huge topic with even the modern versions of memory foam.
A solution to the temperature retention problem was introduced in the form of open-cell technology. Open-cell technology allows air to flow through bubble-like cells with air passages in and around them.
The ease of airflow allows better breathability. This keeps your body temperature lower and provides you comfort as well as durability during sleep.
Now that we have defined the feature or characteristics of the ideal memory foam mattress, let’s delve right into the actual types.
Traditional Memory Foam
Traditional Memory Foam is polymer-based made of polyurethane. It was developed for the first time and commercialized in the mid-1990s. It is made from the original process and has changed very little throughout the years even after the complaints from consumers.
It is specifically designed to respond to body temperature and contours to every kind of body shape. This relieves the pressure on the joints and back and helps in increased circulation throughout the body.
The response time for these mattresses ranges from 45-60 seconds. As mentioned before, this can create a feeling of being stuck and can cause mobility problems. With this in mind, it is best if those who lack a wide range of mobility, such as the elderly, should avoid them.
They come in a wide range of densities starting from 3 lbs./ft³ to the denser 7.0 lbs./ft³. This density can make them less durable or too uncomfortable to use.
Another benefit is that these foam is antimicrobial and can repel bacteria, dust, and mites. This can be incredibly beneficial to those suffering from allergies. This type of foam can also reduce the transferring of motion transfer. People who toss or turn in their sleep won’t bother others sleeping on the same mattress.
However, this type of memory foam has a lot of issues with heat retention since they are based on petroleum products that give them less room for breathability. The heat gets trapped inside the mattress since you are sleeping in the mattress rather than on it.
This issue has yet to be solved by the manufacturers. Some have tried to cut holes in the foam while others have tried different solutions, all have had minimal effect.
Gel-Based Memory Foam
Gel or Visco memory foam uses small gel particles infused with Visco to reduce trapped heat and lower the response time. The gel is either infused into the foam or distributed within the layers of the mattress.
Later they were then produced using beads containing gel. They are a phase change material, meaning, they change from a solid form to a liquid form to achieve the desired temperature, stabilization or cooling effect. It is the same sort of gel used in sports equipment or shoes. It can be beneficial to those who suffer from poor posture while they sleep.
Gel mattresses supposedly prevent heat from becoming trapped inside the mattress. This helps consumers sleep more comfortably. When you lay on the mattress, the gel particle absorbs body heat and helps keep the product cool, although these claims have been contested by the other types of memory foam.
The gel technology relies on the gel absorbing the heat and transferring it to the other portions of the mattress. However, the gel is only able to absorb a specific limit of heat. After this limit is surpassed, the gel eventually warms up to the heat of the body. Initially, the foam will be cool, but with time as the gel becomes saturated with heat, it will also begin to heat up.
Gel memory foams have a response time of 30-45 seconds, making it much better than the traditional one. However, this is still a long amount of time and results in a ‘stuck’ or trapped feeling as well.
The durability of this type of foam is not that long. They have a density of 3-4 lbs. /ft³. While this can be incredibly comfortable to anyone sleeping on the bed, this can result in easy wear and tear of the foam. So, they will not last as long.
Gel foams, like the traditional versions, are anti-microbial as well and can help if you suffer from dust allergies. It will also help prevent motion transfer so that you are not disturbed by the tossing or turning.
Plant-Based Memory Foam
Instead of polymer-based products, plant memory foams are developed using plant-based oils. Aloe Vera, green tea extracts, and activated charcoal are combined with the foam to increase breathability as well as heat control technologies. These products are environmentally friendly as well as beneficial to human health. Plant-based memory foam was produced to address the concerns regarding Volatile organic compounds that can result from gel or traditional types of mattresses.
It does not use the temperature of the body heat to mold itself. Instead, it uses the pressure from the body to contour itself. The pressure is distributed throughout the surface of the mattress, making these mattresses pressure-less.
Plant-based memory foam provides 10 times more breathability as it features an extensive open cell structure technology. It sleeps 25 % cooler than the traditional types. This is due to the large and wide cells as well as the temperature neutral system it relies upon.
The response time of this foams is excellent, ranging from 5-8 seconds. This is a large difference as compared to the other types of mattresses. Based on response time, plant-based foam mattresses are the preferred ones for patients or the elderly as they do not give the feeling of being stuck.
Plant-based foams also possess an ideal range of density from 4.5 lb. /ft³ to 5.3 lb. /ft³. This type is the most durable out of the three memory foam types.
The most important feature of this plant-based material is that they release no Volatile organic compounds. This is very beneficial to the environment as well as to human health.
This type of product also is antimicrobial and prevents motion transfer.
One of the most concerning points about memory foam products is that they release Volatile organic compounds. VOCs, as their name suggests, are organic compounds that evaporate at room temperature. These can cause a wide range of health problems especially, to those who are prone to allergies. The gases also give off an odor which can be very unpleasant.
Traditional memory foam releases the highest amount of chemicals at 61 whereas the gel foam is a bit lower in its emission of chemicals. Plant-based memory foams feature low to zero VOC release and do not cause many health hazards.
Memory foam mattresses are an excellent investment especially, for those suffering from chronic back or neck pains. All three types offer their own advantages. The plant-based memory foam appears to be the best option. However, it is harder to find in the market and is more expensive.
The traditional foam is the least expensive and functions better with a top layer. The gel infused is a new technology that is still being explored and researched. Memory foam provides a better alternative than spring mattresses because they provide durability and comfort at the same time.