Memory Foam Mattresses Under Oath:
The Truth and Nothing but the Truth
Are you thinking about buying a memory foam mattress? Are you confused about all the hype and confusing claims made by the different advertisements for memory foam?
I've set out to clear the air, remove the "smoke and mirrors," and put into one article all the true information you'll need to
make a selection that will thrill you, give you years of value, and make poor sleep a thing of the past.
The term "memory foam" or "visco-elastic memory foam" was coined in the early days of NASA's space program.
That's why it's also known as NASA foam.
Sometimes, a memory foam mattress is referred to as a NASA foam mattress.
During lift-off, astronauts were being subjected to tremendous g-forces that the human body just wasn't designed to endure.
The need for a new material that would make these conditions tolerable for the astronauts spawned the research that resulted in the invention of this brand-new kind of foam.
If water, springs, air or any combination of those things had been an alternative, the expensive research that followed
wouldn't have been needed, and the need for a new material wouldn't have existed.
Visco-elastic foam has unique qualities. It is able to mold itself to the shape of any object that puts pressure on it and yet when the object is removed, it will slowly return to its original shape.
The picture that comes to mind is the hand above the memory foam mattress that still has the hand print showing on it.
Memory foam is an open-celled foam, which means that air is free to move from one cell to another so when pressure is applied, the affected cells collapse and you feel sort of like you're floating
down into the material.
This collapsing of the cells allows the material to "melt away" from pressure until the entire surface of your body is evenly
supported over the surface of the memory foam.
It virtually eliminates pressure points.
Another unique feature of a memory foam mattress is temperature sensitivity.
Within a short time of your body lying on the mattress, your body temperature will start to cause the memory foam to soften.
Any area of your body that has excess heat, such as a fevered injury, will cause the mattress to soften even further where it is touching—making memory foam the ideal material for a comfortable mattress.
The problem with the NASA foam was that it "off-gassed", putting off a smell that was overpowering in the confined quarters of
a space vehicle.
It was eventually scrapped by NASA. To my knowledge, it was never actually used on any space mission.
At that point, memory foam was just too expensive to be used for mattresses and the off-gassing wouldn't have been acceptable
A few medical research companies started experimenting with the material for use in hospitals. Many patients develop bedsores when confined to bed over long periods of time.
Because it was cost-effective for this application, these experiments led to using memory foam in a variety of health industry settings to alleviate pressure points in hospital patients.
Through this medical research, memory foam became more and more adaptable to use as a consumer product in the form of pillows, mattresses, toppers, chairs, etc.
The Memory Foam Mattress Industry was Born
The memory foam mattress industry started slowly in the early 1990s and then shot into the mainstream in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
So much so that it's difficult to find a magazine, newspaper, or television that doesn't have several ads for memory foam
products running continuously.
With that kind of demand for the product, it's no wonder that a lot of people started forming companies to manufacture and sell to an audience with this enormous appetite.
And yes, as in all industries, some companies are born just to make inferior products and then using terminology that is confusing or misleading, capitalize on the lack of good information that's available to consumers.
So let's clear some of the confusion with a few simple facts.
What is the Difference Between Good and Bad Memory Foam?
Memory foam is graded by it's density. Imagine yourself cutting a huge "dice" (yeah, like the kind you throw on the crap table) out of memory foam 12"x12"x12" and slapping it onto the scale in your doctor's
The weight of that 12" sized cube is how you determine density.
For example, if your "dice" weighed 5.9 lbs., it's considered to have a density of 5.9. Or if it weighs 3.2 lbs., the density is
rated as 3.2.
Pretty simple really, isn't it? Like most things, we all thought density would be determined by some E=IR formula or something terribly complex.
You now know more about density than most of the sales people in your local mattress store.
It's also a fact that the less dense foams are made mostly of air, not foam. Less foam, less cost to manufacture—they can
sell it cheaper.
For most memory foam mattresses, it's a fact that the human body is best supported by a density of 5.3 lbs. to 5.9 lbs. Anything
heavier than this and it tends to be too dense and won't allow the proper cell collapsing that allows your body to settle into it.
Any lighter and you won't get the needed support in the hip and shoulder areas.
Another problem is that the lighter foams won't continue to return to their original shape after a relatively short lifespan.
They'll lose their comfort.
Some of the 5.3+ lb. mattresses are still going strong after 15 years being just as comfortable to their users as the first
day, and with no body impressions.
Remember, too, that we discussed temperature sensitivity. Not all foam being advertised as "memory foam" is temperature-sensitive.
Make sure it has this feature so you get that "fine-tuned" comfort.
A better memory foam mattress will contain 3 1/2" or more of memory foam as a top layer. Any less than this probably won't keep you from bottoming out and laying on the underlying base layers of foam.
Those foams aren't meant to be in contact with your body and won't comfortable for you. They are there to help the memory foam
do it's job correctly.
Just remember density and temperature sensitivity when you go shopping for your memory foam mattress and you'll be miles ahead when you purchase.