Vol.1, No.4

Memory foam vs traditional mattresses

If you struggle to get a good night’s sleep because of back or hip pain, consider trading in your traditional mattress for a memory foam mattress.

Traditional mattress springs
Photo Credit: Kemie Guaida
A good traditional mattress is perfectly adequate for most people, but if nightly discomfort is preventing you from getting a good night's sleep then a memory foam mattress might be the answer. Memory foam mattresses are made in a completely new way than traditional mattresses - which isn't surprising, since memory foam was originally developed by NASA.

NASA developed the first memory foam (also known as 'viscoelastic foam') in the 1970s to provide proper support for astronauts over extended periods of time, and also to relieve them of the tremendous g-forces they experienced during a lift-off. It's a unique kind of foam that conforms to your body's contours, and then 'remembers' it's original shape as you change positions. Viscoelastic foam is actually made up of a very high density of individual cells. The real key to how they work though is the fact that they're sensitive to heat.

When you lie down on a traditional mattress, some parts of your body will actually be closer to the mattress than others. Because the mattress is more or less rigid, and your body is not, different parts of your body will feel varying degrees of pressure against it. On a memory foam mattress these areas of pressure exert more heat from your body and help the viscoelastic foam to relax and give underneath you - but only where you need it. Every part of your body remains equally supported, and the foam actually conforms to your body. If you're like most people you probably change your sleeping position many times during the night, and each time you do the viscoelastic foam will 'remember' it's original position and spring back, rearranging itself around your new sleeping position.

For most people the pressure points affected by traditional mattresses don't pose any problem, but if you suffer from musculo-skeletal disorders such as back pain, hip pain, or sciatica, even this small amount of pressure can add up. Long before memory foam mattresses were available to the public, hospitals and nursing homes discovered that they were ideal for patients who were bed-ridden and spent a lot of time on their backs. Memory foam mattresses reduce skin pressure, which improves circulation and helps prevent pressure sores. Even if your needs aren't as severe as those in a hospital, anyone who suffers from back or hip pain will enjoy a better night's rest by sleeping on this space-age foam.

If your budget doesn't allow you to purchase a new mattress right now, you can still get some of the benefits of viscoelastic foam by buying a memory foam 'topper'. A topper is a much smaller thickness of foam that you simply lay over your existing traditional mattress, and it comes in twin, full, queen and king sizes. Toppers come in many different styles, and which one you choose will depend on your physical needs. Memory foam is measured by its density (weight) and thickness. Both of these measurements need to be taken into consideration when choosing a mattress topper, because a thick piece of memory foam can actually be made in many different densities. This density is measured in lbs., and can range anywhere from 3.3lbs. - 6.0lbs. Only your body can tell you which combination of density and thickness is right for you, but most people find they're more comfortable on a higher density memory foam topper.

Whether you choose a memory foam mattress or a memory foam topper, you're sure to notice the difference in your sleep quality. Your back will be supported in a more natural position, and your circulation will be increased by the decreased stress your body's pressure points. Sleeping on memory foam can bring significant benefits to your health - and that's enough to give anyone a good night's rest.