Memory foam and latex foam mattresses aren’t for everyone

A high-quality foam mattress will offer good pressure relief and support, conforming to your frame in response to your body heat and weight. Foam mattresses are made with a variety of materials; the most popular are viscoelastic, latex and polyurethane. Viscoelastic, commonly called memory foam, is the most expensive and most durable kind of foam; it is used in Tempur-Pedic and Bergad Isoform beds. Less expensive polyurethane might feel comfortable at first, but over time the material can degrade and compress more quickly than viscoelastic. Unlike traditional innerspring mattresses, foam mattresses do not use springs to provide support, and they don’t require the use of a box spring. Instead, an inexpensive slatted foundation can be used to raise the mattress to the appropriate height. Memory foam mattresses consist of a layer of 1 to 6 inches of viscoelastic glued to a high-density polyurethane base, whereas latex mattresses are simply a “slab” of latex foam in a cloth wrapper.
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Latex foam is a good choice for allergy- and asthma-prone people since it is dust mite-resistant and doesn’t release fumes (known as offgassing). However, latex itself can provoke allergic reactions in sensitive individuals. Latex is breathable, keeping the sleeper warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer, and some prefer it to viscoelastic memory foam. Latex mattresses also spring back more quickly than a memory foam mattress so it’s easier to move around in bed.

A memory foam mattress can be affected by cold weather, making it feel firmer. The mattress will feel softer once it warms from body contact. Reviewers say that memory foam tends to absorb body heat, creating a sensation of warmth that’s nice in the winter but could feel too hot in the summer. Latex foam, which isn’t affected by temperature, won’t feel firmer in cold weather. Both latex and memory foam mattresses are good choices for shared sleeping, especially if one person tosses and turns more than the other, because they isolate motion.

Foam mattresses aren’t for everyone. We found many comments from owners who say they had to get used to sleeping on one. That’s because foam mattresses don’t feel as fluffy or springy as an innerspring mattress with pillow tops and cushy quilted ticking. Before you buy, you’ll want to take a test nap on a foam mattress. In an interview with the Daily Southtown, Chicago chiropractor Corlin Stein says foam beds might not be the best choice for heavier people because the foam “tends to get crunched together,” resulting in loss of spinal support. Both viscoelastic and latex foam are durable, but they’ll eventually lose their springiness. Latex mattresses are also generally more expensive than memory foam mattresses.

Memory foam comes in several densities; that’s why you’ll see a big price difference between premium brands and budget lines. Although foam density doesn’t tell the whole story, in general, you want a higher foam-density of 4 to 6 pounds. Tempur-Pedic beds (*Est. $1,900 queen size, including foundation) have a foam density of 5.3 pounds. Less expensive, less durable foam beds have a much lower density of 2 or 3 pounds.
Memory foam mattress brands

Among memory foam mattress brands, perhaps the best known is Tempur-Pedic. We found many glowing testimonials at sites like Viewpoints.com from owners who say the Tempur-Pedic is enormously comfortable. We also found a couple of sources, including WebMD.com, that quote professionals who say memory foam mattresses are a good choice for those with back pain or osteoarthritis.

Tempur-Pedic mattresses garner a wider range of opinion from reviewers than other mattress types. While consumers generally like Tempur-Pedic, a few issues pop up repeatedly in owner-written reviews. For instance, many consumers say Tempur-Pedic mattresses take some getting used to, in part because they aren’t as springy as an innerspring mattress and tend to feel firmer, especially in cold weather. While most reviewers say the Tempur-Pedic mattress is very supportive, some note that because the foam conforms to your body you can feel a bit like you’re being swallowed by the mattress, and that it’s hard to move around or change positions easily.

Some owners report that their new mattresses release a strange chemical smell for up to a couple of weeks, a phenomenon common to memory foam products known as offgassing. The odor goes away eventually, but some find it noxious. Tempur-Pedic acknowledges this, attributing it to their “unique” manufacturing process, and says it will replace the mattress if the smell continues to bother the sleeper.

One obvious drawback to a Tempur-Pedic mattress is price. A queen-size mattress costs about $2,100, and that doesn’t include a box spring (*Est. $300). That’s about twice as much as a high-quality innerspring mattress set. Other manufacturers make less expensive foam mattresses that compete with Tempur-Pedic. The most notable of these is Bergad, which makes the Isoform line of foam mattresses. The Bergad Isoform Classic (*Est. $800, queen size), for example, has 5.5-pound viscoelastic foam density, which is comparable to that of Tempur-Pedic. We read more than 100 reviews on Epinions.com from owners, many of whom say Isoform beds are as comfortable as — or more comfortable than — Tempur-Pedic mattresses. At SleepLikeTheDead.com, Bergad Isoform mattresses receive the same comfort rating as Tempur-Pedic mattresses: about 80 percent of reviewers feel both mattresses are comfortable. The Bergad version costs less than half as much, however.

Unlike Tempur-Pedic mattresses, which are sold in stores, you can’t test an Isoform bed prior to purchase because they’re only sold online. Both manufacturers tout a no-obligation trial period, however. If you decide you don’t like the mattress, you can return it to the company and pay only shipping charges (which vary according to where you live). Unlike Tempur-Pedic, whose delivery and return rates are the same, Bergad makes no such guarantee. We read comments from some owners who say they were charged a much higher shipping rate to return a mattress than they paid for delivery, and we found other consumer complaints about unresponsive customer service from Bergad.

Other manufacturers make memory foam mattresses that also receive excellent ratings from owners, though we didn’t find any of these memory foam mattresses compared in any scientific way. Leggett & Platt’s 10-inch memory foam mattress (*Est. $425, queen size) uses 5-pound density viscoelastic for the memory foam layer, and a similar mattress manufactured by MerchSource (*Est. $400, queen size) uses 4-pound density viscoelastic. Both receive a large number of reviews and a very high overall rating at Buzzillions.com, though the lower-density MerchSource mattress is more popular among those who prefer a soft mattress. Sealy offers its TrueForm visco foam line (*Est. $1,800, queen size mattress set) and Simmons produces the ComforPedic viscoelastic line (*Est. $2,600, queen size mattress set).
Latex mattress brands

Latex foam is another bedding option. Some experts prefer latex because it doesn’t absorb body heat like memory foam and is a bit springier, so it’s easier to move around and change positions. These beds appeal to some eco-minded consumers, because latex foam is derived from rubber, a natural resource. Like memory foam, latex is resistant to dust mites. However, these mattresses are much more expensive than memory foam mattresses, and they tend to be very heavy. A queen-size Royal-Pedic mattress (starting at *Est. $4,435 for queen size with box spring), for example, weighs about 145 pounds — about 40 pounds more than a queen size memory foam mattress like the Tempur-Pedic Classic (*Est. $1,900 queen size, including foundation).

Sealy has a latex mattress called Sealy Posturepedic Springfree (*Est. $2,070 for a basic queen set). While the Royal-Pedic mattresses are made of real, natural latex, Sealy uses synthetic latex for their version. Experts prefer natural latex, which lasts for 20 years or more and is biodegradable.

Eco-conscious buyers may want to consider the OMI OrganicPedic line of latex mattresses (*Est. $2,500, queen size), which are arguably the most environmentally friendly mattresses available today. Each mattress is hand-crafted in a chemical-free factory from 100 percent natural, organic materials, and features layers of latex foam that can be replaced individually to prolong its lifespan. In an article in New York magazine, Sarah Bernard chooses the OMI OrganicPedic David mattress as her favorite — after testing 100 mattresses of various types — though she notes that most of the latex mattresses she tried felt similar.

If the OMI OrganicPedic is out of your price range, Bernard also likes the slim (7 inches thick) Ikea Sultan Erfjord (*Est. $900, queen size). This mattress is 85 percent latex and 15 percent synthetic. While not quite as green a product as OMI’s offering, Ikea’s mattress is made with sustainably produced cotton and other natural materials and is biodegradable. It receives favorable reviews from at SleepLikeTheDead.com, WhatsTheBest-Mattress.com and New York magazine, though one owner at WhatsTheBest-Mattress.com notes that it’s more comfortable with a mattress topper.

If you think you’d like a foam mattress but don’t want to spend so much, one alternative is a foam mattress pad that you can simply lay on top of your regular innerspring mattress. Tempur-Pedic sells a 1-inch-thick viscoelastic pad (*Est. $500, queen size), which you can roll on top of your existing mattress. Bergad also sells Isoform viscoelastic pads (*Est. $130 to $260, queen size, depending on thickness) from 2 inches to 4 inches thick. Epinions.com reviewers are generally positive about Isoform toppers, touting them as an inexpensive method of achieving a high comfort level. The nice thing about a mattress pad is that it can easily be replaced. These are covered in detail in our report on mattress toppers.

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