Memory foam mattresses are a relatively new arrival on the scene, and consumers can be forgiven for thinking that there are only one or two types available. However, as with most products there’s a massive number of variations in memory foam mattresses, from cheap options that use the lowest quality materials right through to superior grade, luxury alternatives at the upper end of the market.
Again, as with most other things, it’s fair to say that you get what you pay for – when the price of a memory foam mattress appears ‘too good to be true’ it will invariably be an inferior, poor quality product that, a) won’t contain genuine memory foam material, and b) won’t be able to offer anything like the expected performance levels of a premium alternative. Even when it comes to some of the more expensive offerings you might not be getting what you expect. When it comes to mattresses, and memory foam mattresses in particular, the price shouldn’t be considered in isolation when you’re making a buying decision. Broadly speaking, the offerings can be split into three categories; lower-end, mid-range and top-end.
Let’s take a look at the differences.
Lower end of the market
A mattress is an investment in your health, in the most immediate sense. Your nightly sleep quality can be a direct influence in how you feel throughout the day, and how well-rested and rejuvenated your body is. Think about how good you feel after sleeping well, then think about the effects of a bad night’s sleep. It’s not hard to see the effects in action. Regular poor sleep can lead not only to feelings of daytime tiredness and irritability, but actual health problems over time, from aches and pains to some serious conditions. The mattresses in the lower end of the memory foam market, simply put, don’t provide you with anything like good sleep quality and therefore risk you experiencing all of the above. So any minor financial ‘savings’ you make when opting for a cheap memory foam mattress will shortly lead to a cost in how you feel every day.
So what are you actually getting with these mattresses? Well, there are a number reasons they’re so cheap, and the main one is related to the materials that are used. Many, if not most, mattresses that come into this category don’t use memory foam at all, and retailers are using the term to wilfully mislead customers. The cheapest of these mattresses are known to consist of nothing more than a single block of standard foam, which needless to say shouldn’t be considered as memory foam mattresses in any sense whatsoever.
Besides delivering a sub-standard level of comfort and sleep quality every night, the low quality materials that are used in such mattresses cannot offer anything in the way of longevity, and will deteriorate extremely quickly – far quicker than you’d expect of a normal mattress. So not only are these poor quality mattresses delivering a dreadful level of performance right from the start, they’ll get worse and worse. In perhaps the very definition of a false economy, you’ll need to replace a cheap mattress a lot earlier than a quality one that can perform for longer, so they can actually end up being surprisingly expensive.
There’s nothing positive to say about these types of mattress. They’re dishonestly mis-sold as something they’re not, they’re potentially harmful to your health, they’re definitely detrimental to good sleep quality and they don’t last very long. They’re marketed purely on the basis of being a cost-saving ‘bargain’ and a low-cost way to experience memory foam comfort, but in reality they’re quite the opposite.
Mid-range of the market
The memory foam mattresses that are available in the mid-range of the market do indeed contain a measure of memory foam material, but it tends to be of such a low density and height combination that it provides a distinctly sub-standard performance. Many of these mattress types are sold on the suggestion that the thicker the memory foam layer the more supportive the mattress will be. This is a false suggestion, and largely plays upon the relative unfamiliarity that the general public has with memory foam mattresses. An excessively thick memory foam layer, particularly with the low density material used in such mattresses, creates an extremely soft, spongy surface that effectively envelops the sleeper. This may feel somewhat comfy in the first instance, like settling into a deep sofa, and the novelty of the memory foam sensation compared to lying on a sprung mattress can be initially unusual. However, this offers nothing in the way of body support and will most likely result in a restless night of continually trying to find a suitable position, and a morning filled with aches and pains where the body wasn’t suitably supported. A couple of nights on a mid-range memory foam mattress can provide an unexpected and very unwelcome night-time workout for the body, and needless to say a poor level of sleep quality.
Low density material, besides being unable to deliver adequate support, also suffers from poor longevity thanks to the movement within the foam itself. This means that the mattress is liable to sag in areas that take the most weight, particularly under the hips and upper back. With a more open cell structure, low density foam is able to condense and shift more easily – creating the softness – but this effectively ages the memory foam quicker than reasonably expected, creating inconsistencies after a short period. In such circumstances even that initial softness is lost, leaving behind a distinctly uncomfortable surface and certainly nothing you’d benefit from sleeping on.
Density ratings (always referring to just the memory foam layer rather than the entire mattress as a whole) are calculated on how much raw visco-elastic material is used in the manufacture of the memory foam, with high density being represented by closely-packed cells and a heavier, supportive attribute, and low density being a relatively lesser-constructed variety, with more air cavities. (The actual density rating is always represented by a weight, such as 50kg/m3. As indicated, this is arrived at by measuring the weight of a cubic metre of the memory foam material.) With this in mind, the fact that low density memory foam costs less to manufacture immediately tells you why the mattresses in the mid-range of the market are cheaper.
The technical specifications will certainly be more impressive than the non-memory foam alternatives that exist in the very lowest end of the spectrum, but they won’t be able to offer the level of performance that you be entitled to demand, either straight away or in the long term. Again, it’s a clear false economy to choose a mattress from this range, as you’re committing to a product that will under-perform from the outset and begin to fail within a short time.
Top end of the market
Memory foam mattresses at the top end of the market use premium materials at higher density levels, and tend to consist of a carefully layered combination of components that come together to provide an optimum sleeping surface. This happens in a number of ways.
First and foremost, the visco-elastic memory foam layer is cut to an optimum depth that both works with the body weight of the sleeper and the component layers beneath it. With temperature-sensitivity, the memory foam shapes and moulds under the sleeper to create support where every part of the body is in contact with the mattress. This means that pressure points such as the hips, lower back and shoulders are provided with a consistent level of support and aren’t stressed throughout the night, as they would be with a soft or past-its-best mattress. By quickly creating a supportive and comfortable surface, the memory foam mattress allows the sleeper to settle into a position that will effortlessly take them into sleep, rather than a lengthy period of shifting around to get comfortable.
The visco-elastic memory foam that’s used in these mattresses is categorised as high density – HD – offering temperature-sensitive, pressure relieving performance for complete support, along with a longevity that low density alternatives can’t compete with. As well as the use of high-grade, high density memory foam, the other component layers of top quality memory foam mattresses are also among the best options available.
Memory foam in most of its forms is known to have a relatively strong level of heat retention, which in practice means that it can ‘sleep warm’, to use the industry parlance. Mattress manufacturers at the top end of the market acknowledge this issue with their designs and material choices in order to provide mattresses that remain comfortable and don’t have a tendency to overheat in certain conditions. Typical solutions include air-flow layers embedded into the layered construction, and ventilation-friendly covers. Lesser, cheaper alternatives don’t have such considerations, which is another reason why they can’t hope to match the performance of premium options.
Of course with better quality materials, better design and an all-round better performance to deliver a great night’s sleep, the memory foam mattresses at the upper end of the market are more expensive than their lesser quality namesakes. However the benefits of choosing quality are immediately experienced with great sleep and all that comes with it, night after night. Also, the longevity of these mattresses, due to the higher grade of materials used, far exceeds that of cheaper alternatives. It’s no coincidence that the warranties and guarantees on better quality mattresses are longer – the manufacturers are confident in their products.
So, when you’re considering the choices available to you when buying a memory foam mattress, remember to bear in mind that there’s a lot of difference between the top and bottom end of the market, and that your sleep quality and ultimately your health and wellbeing will be affected by your choice - a hurried decision based on bagging a 'bargain' shouldn't even be considered.