Gel Memory Foam: Making Memory Foam Better

Statistics show that memory foam is an increasingly popular choice among consumers purchasing mattresses. Memory foam offers an incredibly comfortable sleep experience without the pressure points of inner spring mattresses, the extreme rigidity of latex foam, and the lack of support found in waterbed mattresses. Yet even with all of its great qualities, memory foam does have plenty of room for improvement. One of the latest improvements is a substance known as gel memory foam.

Gel memory foam was developed to correct some of the shortcomings of standard memory foam. While it is rare to find mattresses made exclusively from gel memory foam (that would be too cost prohibitive) it's becoming more common to find a standard memory foam mattress with the top two inches or so consisting of a layer of gel memory foam. The combination of these two foams provides all of the benefits of standard memory foam along with improvements that make the sleep experience that much better.

Memory Foam: a Brief History

Before we get into the improvements offered by gel memory foam it would help to understand the history of memory foam and its shortcomings. Memory foam was originally a product of NASA for use in its Apollo missions of the 1960s and 70s. It was developed out of the need to provide seat cushions that could handle the g-forces of space travel without endangering the health and safety of astronauts. Standard polyurethane foam was unsuitable as its lack of softness made it dangerous during liftoff. Natural latex also was not a good option because it could not stand the forces exerted upon it.

The need for a new product pushed NASA scientists to play around with various polyurethane formulas to see if it could be improved. At one point they injected a combination of gases into a polyurethane formula to create a foam with an open cell structure. Testing revealed that the open cell structure was just what scientists were looking for, and memory foam was born. NASA released the formula for commercial purposes in the 1980s and the rest is history.

Shortcomings of Memory Foam

While the earliest memory foam was suitable for NASA's purposes, it could not withstand repeated use as a bedding material over the typical 15 to 20 year lifespan of a mattress. It wasn't until Sweden's Tempur World modified NASA's design that memory foam became suitable as a mattress material. They were able to add some rigidity and durability to the original formula to create a mattress that was better for use in hospitals and nursing homes than standard coil spring mattresses.

At the same time, one of the continuing issues for memory foam is that it is not as rigid as latex or standard polyurethane. For people who need a very rigid sleep surface, the softening properties of memory foam are not suitable. Many people who prefer a more rigid mattress complain they don't like the body hugging properties of memory foam. And while memory foam is good for some people with arthritis and back issues, for others it makes it too difficult to get in and out of bed.

The other big complaint with memory foam is the fact that it is much more uncomfortable in terms of heat. Because memory foam was specifically created to absorb body heat and thus soften, the material doesn't distribute heat throughout its surface very well. The result is that memory foam tends to sleep hotter than any other bedding material. Some experts believe that the difference in temperature between memory foam and a coil spring mattress can be as much as 2°. That doesn't seem like much, but it is on a sweltering summer evening.

Introducing Gel Memory Foam

Gel memory foam is similar to standard memory foam except for the fact that it's been infused with small gel beads. These beads do a number of things that ostensibly correct the shortcomings of standard memory foam. Let's look at some of the corrections below.

  1. Relief of Pressure Points - While it's true that memory foam doesn't have nearly the same pressure point issues as an inner spring mattress, there still can be some minor pressure points for people with sensitive joints. That's because memory foam is both heat and weight sensitive. As an individual lies on it, the foam near the surface of the mattress softens up and sinks. Foam that's deeper in the mattress does not get hot and does not soften. Depending on weight distribution this can cause pressure points on certain parts of the body. Gel beads infused into memory foam corrects this problem by distributing weight more evenly.
  2. More Even Support - One of the chief complaints about memory foam when compared to latex or polyurethane is the fact that it doesn't provide very good support across its entire surface. Again, this is due to the viscosity and heat absorption properties of the material. By inserting gel beads into memory foam it provides a more stable sleep surface which in turn, provides more even support. The slight increase in density also provides a more uniform feel to memory foam.
  3. Higher Compression Levels - When you lay on standard memory foam you notice that it sinks significantly. This is by design. However, the continual compression of memory foam leads to a pretty rapid breakdown if a mattress is too thin. By adding gel beads to memory foam the mattress has a higher level of compression which reduces the stress put on the foam and increases its life. Gel memory foam tends to break down at a much slower pace than standard memory foam.
  4. Better Air Circulation - Traditional memory foam is very dense and therefore has poor air circulation. This can result in higher ambient temperatures and a greater feeling of discomfort on warm nights. Even with a fan or air conditioning unit running, memory foam can be rather uncomfortable during the summer months. By increasing air circulation gel memory foam is better able to regulate temperature and provide a more even comfort.
  5. Better Heat Distribution - Along those same lines, gel memory foam offers better heat distribution across the entire sleep surface. This may be a pro or con, depending on your preferences. For those who enjoy the body hugging properties of memory foam better heat distribution is not a good thing because it reduces those body hugging properties. Individuals who are willing to give up some of the body hugging in exchange for cooler temperatures will find the better heat distribution to be a good thing.

Choosing a Gel Memory Foam Mattress

If you plan to shop for a gel memory foam mattress be prepared that it will cost you a little more than standard memory foam. The process of creating gel memory foam is more labor-intensive and requires additional materials, so it logically costs more. If correcting some of the flaws of memory foam is important to you the extra expense may be well worth it.

As with any mattress purchase, make sure your shopping experience includes testing various mattresses, asking lots of questions, and researching materials as best you can. Because there are so many different formulas for today's memory foam it's also important that you purchase from a reputable manufacturer with a history of quality products. You should avoid memory foam mattresses manufactured overseas, especially those coming from China and India. In many countries of the East manufacturing standards are lax at best, enabling manufacturers to produce poor quality products.