Gel Memory Foam vs. Memory Foam: What’s the Difference?
Memory foam has been a go-to material for mattresses since it was first introduced in 1966 because it offers unrivaled pressure point relief and supportive conformability, and it has managed to stay a lasting favorite as it remains highly sought after even still today. However, reviews of these mattresses prove that not everybody loves memory foam, and there are many sleepers who report uncomfortable sinkage and disruptive night sweats on these beds.
The solution? Gel memory foam. It emerged only a few years ago as a new and exciting version of the well-known classic memory foam, and it was engineered and introduced to mitigate memory foam’s largest issue: overheating.
To put it plainly, sleeping on memory foam is similar to sleeping on a giant sponge, so it’s no surprise why this material easily absorbs body heat and grows warmer throughout the night. Gel memory foam prevents overheating by offering a cool-to-the-touch sensation for sleepers and moving body heat away from the sleeper.
While memory foam mattress manufacturers have taken other steps to address temperature regulation, such as incorporating copper, graphite, plant-based oils, and even green tea into their foam’s makeup, gel memory foam mattresses remain the most popular solution for hot sleepers. But, is it really as effective as it’s made out to be?
In our post, we explore the differences and similarities of gel memory foam and memory foam mattresses, discuss how gel foams can keep your bed chill throughout the night (and if they’re effective), and run through the various benefits of both standard memory foam and its gel-infused counterpart.
What is Memory Foam?
Memory foam, also known as viscoelastic polyurethane foam, is a variation of poly-foam designed to respond to heat and pressure. It molds to your body, all the while providing essential support by equally distributing pressure.
Memory foam mattresses contour to and cushion the body evenly. Memory foam’s contouring abilities are due to its viscoelastic properties; allowing memory foam mattresses to conform to your body’s curves and bounce back to its original shape.
Memory foam doesn’t just adjust to your body, it also isolates your motion. Memory foam mattresses are loved by couples because they respond to individual movement, keeping motion from rippling across the bed and disturbing another sleeper. Even if you share your mattress with the most restless of sleep partners, you can still get sound sleep on memory foam.
Memory foam mattresses come in varying degrees of firmness, so you can choose the most comfortable option for your sleeping position and body type. These conforming mattresses are especially convenient for side sleepers because they put additional pressure on their shoulders and hips and need extra cushioning for those pain-prone areas.
What is Gel Memory Foam?
Originally made available to the market in 2011, gel memory foam is much newer than traditional memory foam. The primary advantage of gel memory foam? The cooling properties of the gel are able to wick away body heat without holding it in. Those additional cooling properties make gel distinct from traditional memory foam.
Gel infusions are added to memory foam through multiple techniques; swirling gel into the memory foam, injecting gel beads into the foam layer, or adding a gel layer (usually in the comfort and/or transition layer(s)). Gel mattresses with gel swirled into the foam are generally preferred over simply adding gel beads as those tend to absorb body heat—gel beads start to feel “liquid” due to the heat, especially if placed in the top layer.
Gel foams conform to the body just as much as other memory foams, and it has the same supportive properties; the only real difference between materials is the presence of additional chilling gels. That said, gel memory foam mattresses do tend to feel a little more buoyant or “lifting” than standard memory foam; however, that can also be said for plant-based foams, as well.
What Are the Similarities?
Memory and gel memory foam are more similar than they are different. Both are viscoelastic variations of poly-foam, and they offer many of the same body-contouring, pain-relieving advantages. Below, we discuss a few of the benefits of these two common types of mattress materials and how they could help you.
Gel and memory foam mattresses are made to conform to your body and bounce back to their original shape once you get up. The contouring feel of memory foam offers unique comfort since it distributes your weight equally across the mattress and prevents pressure build-up in any particular part of the body. Conforming mattresses are especially useful for side sleepers who put extra pressure on their shoulders and hips at night.
Superior Motion Isolation
Due to the viscoelastic properties of gel and memory foam, these materials absorb movement very well, and this ability has made them popular mattresses for couples. Memory foam helps to keep motion from transferring to other areas of the mattress, making them ideal for those who are worried about waking their partner.
Pressure Point Relief
Memory foam and gel memory foam mattresses adjust to the body to reduce the chance of pressure points and discomfort. The viscoelastic foam responds well to pressure and heat, making it effective at conforming to a shape. On a memory foam mattress, pressure points ease as the bed molds to your body so you can more fully relax and drift into sleep.
What Are the Differences?
There are three main differences between gel and memory foam mattresses, the primary being the additional cooling properties of gel memory foam. There are, however, other factors to consider; temperature and firmness are both vital to look at when searching for a comfortable mattress. Price and overall quality should also be strongly researched depending on your needs.
For more information on what to seek when shopping for a mattress, and why it matters, read below.
Your body cools down when you initially fall asleep, so having a breathable, cooling mattress is important to prevent heat-related sleep disturbances.
Memory foam is not the most breathable of materials, but many manufacturers infuse their memory foam mattress layers with things like copper, graphite, and green tea extracts to pull body heat away from the sleeper and out of the bed. Eco-friendly, plant-based memory foams are also better for hot sleepers since they’re naturally more breathable than more synthetic foam types. Gel-infused memory foam is very similar to copper-infused or graphite-infused foams because the infusions within the foams all serve the same purpose.
The added gel in memory foam contributes to its density, meaning gel memory foam is usually denser than other types of foam. Not to mention, the gel within this foam offers a bit of buoyancy to keep you “lifted” in the mattress. The extra responsiveness of gel can make gel memory foam mattresses seem firmer, but they’re still available in options ranging from super-soft to ultra-firm. That said, those seeking a more “cloud-like” or contouring bed will probably prefer a standard memory foam mattress.
Age & Durability
Gel memory foam has only been around for about a decade, so its longevity still remains to be seen. Even still, its similarities to traditional memory foam strongly suggest the materials have similar lifespans. With that, either mattress type should last about 8 to 10 years.
Pound for pound, gel mattresses tend to be slightly more expensive than their memory foam counterparts. Part of the reason for this is the cost of the extra materials in the gel mattresses.
However, price is highly dependent on other factors, including overall quality, thickness, and layers included in the mattress. As a result, the difference in price largely depends on the quality of materials and craftsmanship.
Which is better: memory foam or gel memory foam?
Both memory foam and gel memory foam have strengths, and selecting the best option ultimately depends on your personal needs. Gel memory foam is better for those who tend to get overheated at night and want a mattress to promote cooler sleep. On the other hand, traditional memory foam is suitable for sleepers who want a contouring, pain-relieving mattress and don’t want to spend a lot of money.
What types of memory foam are there?
There are three different types of memory foam: standard memory foam, otherwise called “traditional” memory foam; plant-based memory foam, an eco-friendly option; and gel-infused memory foam, an option for hot sleepers.
Plant-based memory foam contains fewer petrochemicals than regular foam and is more responsive and breathable, while gel infusions within foam wick away body heat to keep hot sleepers comfortable.
How do I choose the best memory foam mattress for me?
To decide on the best mattress for you, compare different mattress qualities, such as temperature, firmness, and price point. However, remember that your sleeping position is the most important factor to consider while mattress shopping, as it will help to determine the ideal level of firmness for your mattress. Side sleepers benefit most from soft to medium mattresses, back and stomach sleepers sleep best on medium to firm mattresses, and combination sleepers will find the best rest on medium mattresses.
Are there any cons to memory foam mattresses?
All memory foam mattresses, including those designed to stay cool, can still retain some heat. Heating throughout the night has been a common problem since memory foam was first introduced; however, brands address this by adding extra materials to keep their memory foam cool, such as copper and graphite.
There is also a potential of sagging in memory foam, especially at the edges (where people enter and exit the bed). However, most of these mattresses now come with reinforced edges to help this issue.
Do I need to flip my memory foam mattress?
There is no need to flip a memory foam or gel memory foam mattress. These mattresses are often made with a specific construction, and flipping the mattress will leave you sleeping on the uncomfortable core side. Instead, we suggest rotating your memory foam mattress 180 degrees every few months to even out wear and tear.
While similar in many aspects, memory foam and gel memory foam mattresses do have a few distinct differences; the primary being how they cool you down. However, both offer many wonderful benefits, and it is hard to go wrong with a memory foam mattress of either type.
Both memory foam and gel memory foam conforms to your body for comfort and pressure point relief, and they each come in varying degrees of firmness to suit all types of sleepers. So remember, when deciding between the two types of memory foam, all you really have to consider is your need for temperature regulation.
This article is for informational purposes and should not replace advice from your doctor or other medical professional.