Which is the better mattress; memory foam or gel memory foam? The answer to that question depends heavily on preference. Is overheating a concern? Then a gel memory foam mattress is the better choice.
What about back pain? Memory foam mattresses are manufactured in a variety of densities and firmness options, so your back can get the support it needs.
Types of Memory Foam Mattresses
Memory foam was first developed by NASA for use aboard the space shuttle. Since its inception, it has evolved into the bedding material of choice for millions of consumers.
The rise in popularity can be attributed to how well memory foam performs as mattress material and the high level of comfort it provides. Memory foam has evolved substantially since its inception, and there are clearly more options available to the consumer than there were for astronauts.
In fact, Memory foam mattresses come in a wide variety of types and densities and can include many different features.
Traditional Memory Foam
Traditional memory foam is the commercial evolution of the foam invented by NASA and is manufactured from polyurethane or convoluted foam.
Traditional memory foam is designed to contour to the shape of the body and provide cradling support for the body’s most sensitive areas.
Though traditional memory foam is exceptionally comfortable, consumers have pointed out two significant drawbacks to a foam mattress; they are too soft, and they overheat.
Latex Rubber Foam
Mattress makers developed latex rubber foam to counter the “sink” that is commonly associated with traditional memory foam mattresses. Latex rubber foam is infused with Talalay latex which adds spring to the mattress and provides a firmer sleep surface.
Open Cell Memory Foam
Open cell memory foam is designed to solve the issue of overheating in traditional memory foam.
Memory foam tends to envelop the body which has the effect of trapping body heat close to the skin, thus increasing the likelihood of overheating.
Open cell memory foam is less dense than traditional memory foam and features an open construction to improve breathability and prevent overheating.
A gel-infused foam mattress is a type of memory foam mattress that is infused with a gel substance in the manufacturing process and designed to provide a cooling effect.
Mattress makers utilize gel-infused foams to draw heat away from the body, prevent overheating and provide a cooler, more comfortable mattress.
Memory Foam Mattress Construction
Though every mattress brand is different, all memory foam mattresses share certain construction characteristics and include specific features.
Layered Construction – A single layer of memory foam will never provide a comfortable sleep surface. The weight of the sleeper will compress a single layer of memory foam beyond its ability to provide support or cradle the body.
It is for this reason that the majority of memory foam mattress brands feature a layered construction. A layered design enables multiple levels of different foams to combine their density to cradle the body and provide support adequately.
Reinforced Edge Support – A common complaint of memory foam mattress customers is lack of edge support. Memory foam mattresses tend to sag and compress around the edge when entering and exiting the bed, and when sleeping near the side of the mattress.
As a result, many memory foam mattress now feature reinforced, or higher density foams along the edge of the mattress to make entering and exiting the bed easier and more comfortable.
Core Support – Another consumer complaint with memory foam mattresses is their tendency to sink and sag in the center. This has the effect of causing stain in the neck and lower back.
In response, many memory foam mattress brands utilize a reinforced core, made from high-density foam to counteract sagging and provide additional support.
Hybrids – Memory foam is often utilized in the construction of hybrid mattresses that feature a combination of innerspring or latex combined with layers of memory foam.
Memory Foam Brands
Some of the popular memory foam brands include:
- Brentwood Home
- Real Sleep
Memory Foam Price Range
The price of a memory foam mattress will vary according to the quality of the mattress, the popularity of the brand and the features that the mattress includes, such as:
- Additional support
- Mattress cover options
- Materials used
However, memory foam mattresses are generally less expensive than innerspring or hybrid mattresses and range from approximately $300-$1,500.
Additionally, memory foam mattresses are often rolled, boxed and delivered via Amazon, FedEx, UPS or another delivery service. Hybrid and coil spring mattresses often require a white glove delivery crew for proper installation.
What is a Gel Mattress?
A gel mattress is a mattress that features a cooling gel component to assist in regulating mattress temperature. The gel used in gel mattresses is a cooling phase-change material composed of a myriad of different chemical compounds.
The phase-change material is similar in form and function to the standard ice pack used in coolers and lunch boxes, in that it remains cooler, longer than its surroundings.
By incorporating cooling gel, mattress makers aim to eliminate the problem of overheating in their mattress and ultimately provide a more comfortable sleep surface than a standard mattress.
Gel Mattress Construction
The mattresses that most commonly feature a cooling gel component are memory foam mattresses, though cooling gel is not exclusive to foam mattresses.
Cooling phase change gel is utilized in coil spring mattresses, latex, foam and hundreds of hybrid mattress combinations.
Gel Infused – Memory foam layers are infused with cooling gel during the manufacturing process and enable the memory foam to keep its conforming characteristics while remaining cool throughout the night.
Gel Padding – Mattresses that feature gel padding generally perform best at preventing overheating. The gel pad is typically positioned as the top layer of the mattress and serves to draw away, and dissipate heat from the body.
Gel Beads – Gel mattresses may also feature layers or infusions of gel beads which serve the same purpose as gel infusions and padding, but do so in specific areas of the bed that tend to accumulate excess heat.
Gel Mattress Brands
Some of the popular latex mattress brands include:
- Classic Brands
- Olee Sleep
Gel Mattress Price Range
Like traditional memory foam mattresses, the price of a gel mattress varies depending on the specifics of the mattress. However, the gel is utilized in a variety of different mattress types, some of which are more expensive than others.
- Innerspring Mattress with Cooling Gel Cover: $1,200-$4,500
- Hybrid Gel Mattress: $500-$4,000
- Memory Foam Cooling Gel Mattress: $300-$1500
Comparison Between Memory Foam and Gel Mattress
Memory foam and gel mattresses share some obvious similarities. However, it is the subtle differences that determine which is the better mattress.
Let’s start with similarities related the memory foam utilized in the construction of both mattresses.
Conforming – The defining characteristic of memory foam and its namesake feature is its conforming reaction to any weight applied to its surface.
In other words, memory foam conforms to body weight, which means sleeping on a memory foam mattress allows your body to relax completely, yet remain supported in critical areas such as the lower back, and neck.
Pressure Relieving – All memory foam mattresses, including gel-infused mattresses provide a significant measure of pressure relief.
Memory foam envelops the shoulders, hips, head, and legs relieving them of strain while supporting the more sensitive areas such as the lower back, neck, and knees. Thus the body can fully relax with little to no strain on any area.
Applicable to all sleep types – Memory foam and gel mattresses are popular with individuals of all sleep types and, depending on firmness can provide the comfort and support needed to relieve pressure and strain on the body, regardless of sleep posture.
Medium-Firm – Memory foam and gel mattresses are available in multiple levels of firmness options, but are generally considered to be medium-firm.
Motion Isolation – Memory foam and gel mattresses generally feature a high level of motion isolation. Memory foam effectively absorbs vibrations and dampens motion, which is ideal for anyone who shares their bed.
Pain Relief – Gel and memory foam mattresses typically provide a significant degree of pain relief.
Memory foam mattresses, including those infused with cooling gel contour to the body to provide support, while the gel serves to keep the body cool and comfortable.
In both instances, the body is made more comfortable, so it can achieve restorative sleep, and reduce the overall sensation of pain in the body.
Durability – Memory foam mattresses and their gel infused counterparts are generally more durable than traditional innerspring and coil mattresses; however they both tend to sag after long-term repetitive use.
Now it’s time to dig into the differences between memory foam and gel mattresses to see which one really is the better mattress.
Traditional memory foam mattresses are no match for gel mattresses when it comes to temperature regulation and providing a cool sleep surface.
Memory foam mattresses, especially traditional foam mattresses that don’t feature any cooling components envelop the body and trap heat near the body.
The primary purpose of a gel mattress is to remain temperature neutral, thus providing a cool sleep surface and preventing the body from overheating.
However, the phase-change material included in the composition of cooling gel often emits a chemical odor that can take days to dissipate.
It is very common for memory foam mattresses to incorporate cooling gel components. Thus, before you purchase a mattress, it is important to consider a number of different factors regarding how and your partner sleep.
Two individuals in the same bed double the amount of body heat and vibration that felt throughout the mattress, which is why couples stand to benefit the most from a gel mattress, especially a gel-infused memory foam mattress.
Stomach sleepers require greater support than those who sleep on their back and stomach. Stomach sleeping allows the hips to sink too far into the mattress which can cause discomfort and unhealthy spinal alignment.
As a result, a gel mattress, specifically a coil or latex mattress with cooling gel components is the recommended mattress because they provide a firmer sleep surface than a traditional memory foam mattress.
Individuals who sleep on their back will benefit most from a memory foam mattress that includes cooling gel features and components.
The memory foam contours to the curve of the lower back, and relieves pressure points and strain by supporting a neutral spinal alignment.
The addition of the cooling gel infusion, padding, beads or layer will only serve to improve the overall comfort of the mattress and can provide no negative effects that we can see.
A common complaint amongst side sleepers is the additional pain in the neck and shoulders caused by the drastic gap in space between the head and the surface of the mattress when lying on one’s side.
The lower-density memory foam mattress allows the body to sink further into the surface of the mattress, reducing the amount of space the head must clear before resting on the pillow.
By relieving the strain on the neck, the memory foam mattress further aligns the body and supports a more natural spinal position.
Side sleepers will benefit from a memory foam mattress with cooling gel features and components for the same reason as back sleepers. The only change is in the areas of the body that will feel the most relief.
Heavy sleepers will feel more comfortable sleeping on a cooling gel mattress than a memory foam mattress.
Individuals who weigh more than 230 pounds often compress a memory foam mattress beyond the point where it can provide adequate support. In addition, heavier sleepers often cite overheating as one of their primary concerns when purchasing a mattress.
Heavier sleepers should avoid memory foam mattresses, as they often allow the body to sink too far into the mattress, causing discomfort and enveloping the body in heat retaining foam.
For sleepers on a budget, the most affordable choice is a traditional memory foam mattress. Though it is not at all uncommon to find an affordable memory foam mattress that includes cooling gel, it is more likely that it will be more expensive than a foam mattress without cooling components.
And the Winner is… The Gel Mattress
The winner of the comparison is the gel mattress. The gel mattress is superior to traditional memory foam because it is utilized in memory foam mattresses, where it only adds to the benefits of that particular mattress.
When gel is incorporated into other mattress types, such as innerspring and latex, the gel improves the overall comfort of the mattress by ensuring that its occupants never overheat.
Therefore, we feel that when presented with two mattresses of the same type the better option is always the mattress that includes a cooling phase-change gel in its design.
Most Affordable/Cheapest Memory Foam Mattress
The three most affordable/cheapest memory foam mattresses currently available for purchase online are the:
- Zinus Memory Foam 12 Inch Green Tea Mattress
- Best Price Mattress 8-Inch Memory Foam Mattress
- Classic Brands Cool Gel Ventilated Memory Foam 8-Inch Mattress
Considering the three most affordable/cheapest memory foam mattresses, we recommend the Zinus Memory Foam 12 Inch Green Tea Mattress for its seamless combination of quality and value.
Most Affordable/Cheapest Gel Mattress
The three most affordable/cheapest gel mattresses currently available for purchase online are the:
- Linenspa 5 Inch Gel Memory Foam Mattress
- Best Price Mattress 7-Inch Gel Memory Foam Mattress
- LUCID 10-inch Full-size Gel Memory Foam Mattress
When choosing between the three most affordable/cheapest gel mattresses, we recommend the LUCID 10-inch Full-size Gel Memory Foam Mattress because it provides a higher level of comfort, temperature neutrality and value when compared to the competition.
Best Mattress for the Money
The best mattress for the money is clearly the LUCID 10-inch Full-size Gel Memory Foam Mattress.
For less than the cost of a plane ticket, the LUCID 10-inch Full-size Gel Memory Foam Mattress provides the contouring support of traditional memory foam while remaining cool and comfortable throughout the entire night.
The LUCID 10-inch Full-size Gel Memory Foam Mattress includes dual layers of gel-infused memory foam and a temperature regulating mattress cover. All of which combine to create an exceptionally supportive, cooling mattress that all sleep types will find comfortable.
There are plenty of over-priced and ineffective innerspring, latex and hybrid mattresses on the market, but when it comes time to purchase a mattress the most important thing to remember is comfort over price.
In that regard, the highest recommendation we can give is to choose the mattress that provides a supportive sleep surface, conforms to the shape of the body and includes a cooling gel component to ensure you remain cool all night long.