The Qualities, Advantages, and Disadvantages of Memory Foam

Viscoelastic foam or "memory foam" is a very different material and perhaps partly because it has such unusual qualities compared to the many other materials used in mattresses, there is also a lot of misinformation "disguised as fact" about it. It is also subject to many different "formulas" in its manufacturing by different companies which change its qualities ... for better or for worse ... and this too becomes the subject of lots of the hype and misinformation you will hear in the world of marketing and selling mattresses.

What are the basic differences in materials used in a mattress?

There are two basic ways that a material in a mattress reacts to weight and pressure.

  1. Viscous materials tend to flow away from pressure like a liquid or honey and tend to distribute and absorb energy

  2. Elastic materials tend to store energy under pressure and to different degrees push back against compression

Materials in a mattress that absorb compression forces and redistribute pressure away from pressure points are great for pressure relief but not usually as good for support. Layers that store energy and push back can also be very good at pressure relief in softer versions but are also better for support. This also depends to some degree on the point elasticity of the material and its ability to form a conforming cradle that mirrors the shape of the body. All viscous materials are good at this. Some elastic and more resilient materials are better at this than others. The different layers in a mattress are usually designed in such a way that the complete mattress will have both supportive qualities and pressure relieving qualities. The core of the mattress which is the middle and bottom parts (usually innerspring, latex, or higher quality polyfoam) is the part that is primarily responsible for supporting the heavier parts of your body and keeping them from sinking in too far. The comfort layers which is a few inches (usually polyfoam, latex, memory foam, natural wool, horsehair, or synthetic fibers) are responsible for redistributing pressure so you don't get "pressure points" when you sleep. They are also responsible for supporting the inner or more recessed parts of your body (like the small of your back, waist, upper thighs, etc) so that gravity doesn't pull them down against the natural position or curvature of your spine. These parts of your body don't usually sink in enough for the deeper support layers to truly support them.

So what does all this mean in mattress terms?

Its unique combination of qualities leads to the advantages of memory foam for some...but the same combination of qualities that are attractive to some can also be responsible for memory foam's weaknesses for others ...

So there you have it. Hopefully I have covered the main points of the generic differences, strengths, and weaknesses of memory foam as a whole. In my experience and research, memory foam has been the subject of more misinformation and hype than almost any other material in a mattress and this confusion and misinformation has in my opinion led to too many poor or at least inappropriate mattress buying decisions. It is sometimes a frustrating process to "get to the bottom of things". Memory foam is certainly a valid choice in a mattress material for some people and there are many who love it however I believe that knowing more about what it does in comparison to other materials and why and how it does it, is an important part of buying a memory foam mattress. There are many choices of mattress construction available and the more those choices are based on fact, personal experience, and individual needs and personal preferences, the more likely you will be to buy a mattress that is perfect for YOU.

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