The decision to buy a mattress: memory foam or latex?

The decision to buy a mattress is made once every ten to fifteen years. It is not easy because your decision will determine how you will feel every day for the next ten to fifteen years. You will need to decide whether you want springs, foam, or air. All three types of support will need to be “lined” with layers of foam to give you the comfort you prefer. Options are memory foam, latex foam, and polyurethane foam. Your choice should be based on your comfort needs in relation to pressure, your comfort in relation to temperature, your allergies, your sense of smell and your sensitivity to movement transfer. The options are many. The confusion is mind-boggling. The cost factor of each may be the final determining factor for you. I hope to allay your fears and facilitate a more educated purchasing decision … one that gives you the good rest you deserve for at least the next ten years.

Polyurethane foam is by far the least expensive alternative of the three options. Some hotels use these cheap mattresses on their beds. They do it to save money, but I wonder if they will ever achieve that goal. Solid core polyurethane foam is never very comfortable and the hotels that use it may not be interested in return business. Bunk beds in the past used to come with these mattresses, but today’s market demands a price for the necessary add-on. These 4-inch foam sheets typically sell for $ 99 to $ 139. Most people don’t find polyurethane foam comfortable enough to sleep on for an extended period of time, but this type of foam is on almost all mattresses. It is most often used as a support layer under the softer “comfort” foams that reside close to the mattress surface. Polyurethane foam is a petroleum-based product and as such “releases gases”. The odor or “gas discharge” can last for a few weeks. People who are sensitive to odors often report severe headaches or rashes during the “adjustment” period. This type of foam is the predominant type of foam used in the production of furniture cushions.

Memory foam or “memory foam” has become one of the best-selling segments of the mattress industry. Tempur-Pedic © purchased the rights from NASA to develop the foam for mattress applications. NASA intended to use it to alleviate the gravitational forces experienced during takeoffs and landings. Some say it was intended for the shuttle dashboards and others say it was intended for the cockpit seats. NASA never used it and it is speculated that the release of this petrochemical in the confined spaces of space flight may have been the reason. Tempur-Pedic © marketed its first memory foam mattress in 1991 in Sweden. It instantly became the preferred mattress in Europe. Its success in Europe dictated expansion to the US, where it now leads the “springless” segment of the mattress industry. Almost everyone in the bedding business today includes memory foam products.

Memory foam’s biggest advantage is its ability to conform to the body without creating pressure. It has been used in burn centers around the world for that reason. People with extreme pressure sensitivity should appreciate the inclusion of memory foam in their mattress. Another great advantage of memory foam is its ability to cushion the transfer of motion. Before its existence, separate beds were the only solution for people who could not sleep due to the movements of their partners. The third benefit of memory foam is its unique ability to provide straight spinal alignment. Memory foam is an open cell foam. As the body lies down, the heaviest parts of your body (shoulders and hips) compress or deflate the cells, allowing the foam to provide the natural straight spinal alignment necessary for muscle relaxation. When your spine is not aligned properly, your muscles are pulling (working) to straighten your spine. Pulling muscles are working muscles and working muscles become sore and stiff until they rest.

The quality of memory foam is measured by its density. Density is measured in pounds per cubic foot. Memory foam ranges from 2.5 pounds to 7.0 pounds. per foot. Higher density foams take longer to recover and offer better support and performance. Look for at least 4.5 lbs. density rating and make sure there is at least 2.5 to 3.0 inches of memory foam on top of the base foam or backing layers. The thicker the memory foam layer and the denser the memory foam, the more expensive the mattress will be. Prices for the highest quality queen size sets go for over $ 7000.

Three disadvantages of memory foam are heat, longer set times, and the release of gases. If you have a “hot” sleeper, stay away from memory foam. The foam is very dense; cradle your body; and keeps the heat of your body against you. The air channels below, offered by some as a solution to this concern, do little to help alleviate this problem. Cradling the body can sometimes be uncomfortable for people, as it is difficult for them to roll over or turn the mattress. It takes more effort and that effort will sometimes wake you up, but the argument is that memory foam will drastically slow down your movements and therefore increase your “quality of sleep.” The second negative, often not covered by the poorly trained salesperson, is the rather long break-in period of a memory foam mattress. When delivered, it will feel much firmer than the one you tried in the store. If it is delivered in winter, it will be even worse. The colder the temperature, the harder the memory foam will feel. To break the mattress faster, it is a good idea to remove your shoes and socks and walk on the mattress on your hands and knees. During the manufacturing process, the open cells of the foam are covered by a film. Until the film is broken and the cells are opened, the mattress will feel very firm. Movement and use will break the mattress, but it may take 3-4 weeks for the mattress to feel really comfortable. The final negative aspect of memory foam is its strong odor or “gassing” when new. The odor is a type of formaldehyde odor that can take up to two weeks to dissipate. Opening the windows and removing the mattress during the day to ventilate it should speed up the process.

Natural latex is an especially good choice if you are sensitive to “off-gassing.” Natural latex is a hypoallergenic material resistant to the growth of molds, fungi and bacteria. A 100% natural latex mattress does not “give off gases”, but very few mattresses are 100% natural. Many 100% natural latex mattresses so described have polyurethane edge support systems or base foams and those that do “release gas.” A 100% natural queen mattress set will cost around $ 2,000 to $ 3,000 and should last 15 to 20 years.

There is a lot of talk about the processes used to make latex: Talalay and Dunlop. Talalay is more expensive and produces a more consistent product from top to bottom. Use an instant freeze process to prevent the foam from settling. Produces smoother, more contoured and pressure-free than the Dunlop process. The Dunlop process does not freeze instantly and the resulting sedimentation makes the foam slightly firmer at the bottom. There is no data to show that one process is better than the other. Both are excellent products, so select the one that is most comfortable for you.

Natural latex foam is sometimes feared due to allergic reactions to the animal protein it contains. The majority of reported cases of latex allergies have occurred in the healthcare industry and have involved direct skin contact with vulcanized gloves outside of the US The manufacturing process in the US involves the washing to remove the proteins causing the reaction. The layer of latex you would sleep on will be covered by a fiber material (usually wool or silk), a mattress protector (should be used on all mattresses), and a good quality sheet with a high thread count. The chances of allergic reactions are pretty slim, but if you know you have a severe latex allergy, stay away from it.

Latex mattresses have a little more “stretch” so they are much easier to flip. Motion transfer is more pronounced than memory foam mattresses, but still less than polyurethane options. Natural latex mattresses will last longer than their memory foam counterparts, and their owners will generally repeat the purchase when it’s time to replace them.

Whether you choose memory foam or latex foam, the most important things to consider when selecting your mattress are comfort in the position you spend most of your time in (the position you wake up in) and alignment straight column. Take your time; shop for comfort and shop for sleep. Your quality of life depends on your “good night’s rest.”

Copyright 2010.

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