Memory Foam Explained

Memory foam mattresses have taken the industry by storm in recent years, and they’re popular for good reasons: they’re supportive, healthier for your body, and incredibly comfortable. In this guide, we’ll answer all of your questions about memory foam mattresses, so you can work out whether it’s the right sort of mattress for you. We’ll cover:

How does memory foam work?

Memory foam is a type of visco-elastic material that reacts to pressure and heat. This allows it to change shape and mould to the contours of your body shape, providing greater support and more comfort than any other material. It's a man-made material and is technically described as (are you ready for this?!) visco-elastic, temperature sensitive, slow recovery urethane foam. You'll understand why we prefer to call it memory foam!

What does visco-elastic mean?

Just calling memory foam 'a visco-elastic foam' might not leave you any the wiser, so think of memory foam like this: memory foam is both viscous AND elastic. You are probably already familiar with the stretchy, shape-retaining qualities of elastic, while ‘viscous’ describes a material with a thick, sticky consistency — like honey, for instance. It’s the viscous, honey-like property of memory foam that resists your weight and it’s the elastic property that sees to it that your memory foam mattress returns to its original shape.

Who invented memory foam?

Memory foam is a well-recognised mattress material now, but this hasn't always been the case. The material originated back in 1966 as a development by NASA, when it was initially invented to help improve the safety of cushions on aircraft. The foam was originally called ‘slow spring-back foam’ and was created by pumping gas into a polymer matrix. It all sounds tremendously scientific, but essentially means that the pressure in the foam's cells made it spring slowly back to its original shape!

Like many NASA developments, the potential for the commercialisation of memory foam wasn’t missed. However, the material was initially considered far too expensive for general public use, so was restricted to use in medical environments — for both people and animals! One little-known early use for memory foam was as a medical bed for valuable injured racehorses. Memory foam continued to be used in the medical world, particularly with immobile bed-ridden patients who were at risk of developing pressure sores. Memory foam was (and still is) extremely effective in preventing this problem.

NASA launched memory foam to the world in the 1980s, but there were few companies willing to work with the material initially as the cost was thought to be too prohibitive. As the technology improved and the cost of manufacturing memory foam dropped, its popularity and use increased and, before long, the material was being used in wheelchair seats, mattress toppers, and even as memory foam pillows for people with chronic neck problems. By the 1990s, memory foam mattresses began to enter the public market, and it wasn’t long before they were one of the most popular choices.

Although it’s a relatively simple concept, the many benefits of memory foam make it one of the most effective and comfortable bedding materials — all thanks to those early scientific developments at NASA.

Are memory foam mattresses good for back pain?

Traditional memory foam is a good mattress material for back pain sufferers, as the foam adapts to fit the contours of the body, unlike traditional sprung mattresses, which only directly support the major pressure points like the hips, knees, and neck.

As the weight of body is more evenly distributed, this helps to keep the spine in natural alignment through the night, reducing those aches and pains you feel in the morning. As such, many back pain sufferers find that memory foam mattresses are quite simply the most comfortable and effective solution to chronic back problems.

Why is my memory foam mattress hurting my back?

If a traditional memory foam mattress is hurting your back, it’s very likely that your current mattress is the wrong firmness rating. Your mattress could also be too deep or too shallow for your individual sleeping style, which can also worsen pain. For instance, side sleepers need a deeper mattress with more cushioning, while back sleepers need something a little firmer with less ‘give’. If you’re struggling to find the right sort for you, take a look at our mattress firmness guide.

Are cheap memory foam mattresses good?

Advancements in the way mattresses are produced have meant that it’s now possible to buy cheap memory foam mattresses which are of a very good quality for the price. At Dormeo, we have lots of great-value memory foam mattresses which offer exceptional value for money, so you can enjoy the comfort and support of the latest technology on a budget.

What is the best thickness for a memory foam mattress?

Memory foam mattresses are usually anywhere between 15–35cm (6–14 inches) thick. How deep yours should be depends on your sleeping style and weight: as a rule of thumb, heavier sleepers and those who sleep on their side will usually benefit from a deeper mattress.

  • Side sleepers should usually go for a memory foam mattress with a depth of at least 22cm.
  • Back sleepers may want one with a minimum depth of 15–20cm.
  • Front sleepers should go for a mattress that is at least 20cm thick with a deep layer of cushioning to reduce pressure on the front of the hips and shoulders. If you’re over 16 stone, then a thick mattress — at least 30cm — will be more comfortable.

How long does a memory foam mattress last?

Typically, a traditional memory foam mattress should last for around 8–10 years, which is around the same lifespan as a high-quality traditional sprung style. Just like a sprung mattress, memory foam styles need a bit of TLC from time to time to keep them as comfortable, clean and supportive as possible — take a look at our memory foam mattress care guide to learn more. Remember to keep an eye out for any signs of wear and tear, as this could mean it’s time to invest in a new mattress. You can learn more about what sort of problems to look out for in our guide to when to replace a mattress.

Are memory foam mattresses better than spring?

Sprung mattresses can be more prone to sagging over time than memory foam. This is because the coils in a sprung mattress will gradually become compressed over the years, but the visco-elastic properties of memory foam help it to retain its shape. This is why it’s normally recommended that traditional mattresses are rotated every six months or so, while the majority of traditional memory foam mattresses don’t need flipping over.

If there’s a downside to memory foam, it’s that it retains your body heat, and is usually much less breathable than sprung styles, meaning that it might be less suitable for people who get hot at night. However, it is possible to buy more breathable styles: the unique structure of the core in our mattresses means they’re more breathable than your typical memory foam, and many of our models also feature side vents to help keep you cool at night.

If you can’t make up your mind, why not go for the best of both with a hybrid mattress? These combine a supportive coiled spring base with a comfortable, reactive layer of cushioning memory foam.

Are memory foam mattresses dangerous?

The short answer is no! In the past, some people were concerned that traditional memory foam was manufactured using potentially unsafe chemical compounds. But, modern, high-quality memory foam undergoes extensive testing to ensure it is perfectly safe to sleep on. In many respects, memory foam mattresses are actually better for your long-term health than older open-coil or sprung styles, because they provide the most effective support for the body, which can help to prevent chronic back or joint problems and give you better sleep.

All of our memory foam mattresses are produced using ecologically sound materials which are fully recyclable and completely non-toxic. Plus, as all mattresses are legally required to meet UK flammability regulations, you can be sure that the memory foam used to construct your mattress is going to be fire-safe, too.

Is memory foam good for allergies?

Certain memory foam and sprung mattresses can worsen allergy symptoms, but it all depends on the style of mattress you get. Certain fabrics and materials can be susceptible to build ups of moisture, mould, bacteria, and dust, all of which provides an ideal environment for dust mites, one of the most common household allergens. That’s why it’s important to find a good memory foam mattress with hypoallergenic features designed with allergy sufferers in mind.

All Dormeo memory foam mattress covers are infused with a CleanEffect® treatment, offering anti-bacterial and anti-dust mite protection, ensuring your mattress stays clean and odour-free for a healthier night’s sleep.

If the air is too humid in your bedroom, it can cause dust mites and mould to develop, which can worsen allergies, asthma and other respiratory issues. As well as providing deep comfort, Dormeo mattresses are also designed to be breathable, allowing moisture such as perspiration to evaporate into the air instead of remaining in the mattress.

What is the best foundation for a memory foam mattress?

Ultimately, the most important things is that your bed is supportive and offers good ventilation. We have a range of ottoman and divan beds that will work perfectly with our memory foam mattresses.

Can you put a memory foam mattress on a box spring?

You can put a memory foam mattress on a box-spring bed, as long as the box spring has a solid, supportive platform without too much ‘give’.

Because memory foam mattresses aren’t sprung, they need a supportive base in order to work properly and provide the best support. However, we wouldn’t recommend using a box spring bed that’s over five years old, as this is much more likely to start sagging.

Can you put a memory foam mattress on slats?

Slatted beds provide effective support, and the gaps between the slats allow the memory foam to ‘breathe’.

Can you put memory foam mattress on floor?

We wouldn’t recommend putting your memory foam mattress on the floor, as this won’t allow air to circulate underneath the mattress.

Are Dormeo memory foam mattresses right for me?

At Dormeo we are a pretty happy bunch, because we sleep on Dormeo mattresses. For us it’s quite easy to recommend our products to others because we all sleep on them. We know them, use them and enjoy the benefits.

Here’s how a Dormeo memory foam mattress could help you get a better night’s rest.

Fresh, hypoallergenic covers

Dormeo memory foam mattresses come with a hypoallergenic, antibacterial (SANITIZED®) cover and dust-mite protection.

Environmentally sound manufacturing

All of our mattresses are made from ecologically sound, fully recyclable materials.

Hypoallergenic and antibacterial

The cotton cover of your Dormeo memory foam mattress is infused with SANITIZED® protection, which protects against dust mites, fungi and bacteria. This makes them especially suitable for people with asthma or allergies. The layer below the mattress cover also contains hypoallergenic silicone wadding that provides additional protection against bacteria and allergens.

A memory foam mattress for every sleeper

There’s more than one type of memory foam, so there’s something for every sleeper. Our Octaspring mattresses feature a combination of memory foam and our cutting edge Octaspring core, for all the comfort of memory of memory foam with the latest technology. Or, you might prefer our hybrid mattresses, which combine the support of a traditional pocket spring base with a cushioning upper layer of adaptive memory foam. We even have a premium latex range that includes an extra luxurious layer of super-soft heat-reactive latex. We have loads of different options, so check out our mattress buying guide to work out which is best for you!

Now that you know all about the wonder that is visco-elastic foam, you’re ready to start shopping for the perfect memory foam mattress. Remember, we offer free delivery on all of our mattresses and beds when you order online!

While you’re here, don’t forget to check out our guides centre and blog to find more tips and tricks for getting a better night’s sleep. Not sure what size mattress and bed you need? Our mattress and bed size guide has all the answers.

Written by Phil Lawlor