When you go shopping for a memory foam mattress, you’ll come across two varieties: standard memory foam and gel memory foam mattresses.
If you’ve slept on a memory foam mattress, you know that it can sometimes get too warm.
Gel foam mattresses were developed to counter the heat-retention tendency of standard memory foam.
But are gel foam mattresses, which tend to be more expensive, really cooler? Is it worth the extra cost?
What’s Wrong With Normal Memory Foam?
Not much. In fact, it is one of the best materials for making mattresses. Here are some of its advantages over other types materials like latex foam and springs.
- It has excellent pressure relief. Memory foam wraps around your body like no other material can. This ensures that your shoulders, hips and other pressure points are not digging painfully into the mattress. This is especially helpful for people with back and joint problems.
- It is silent. Hate hearing your bed creak with every little movement you make? Get a memory foam mattress.
- It isolates motion. Your partner movements keeps waking you up when they turn or wake up in the middle of the night? Get a memory foam mattress. It does a great job preventing motion transfer when one of you moves.
- It is light. Setting up a memory foam mattress is easy, even if you are alone. It’s lighter than both latex foam and innerspring mattresses. You’ll also have an easy time flipping the mattress or transferring it to another room or bed.
But what makes memory foam so good is also what gives it one major flaw.
The foam contours to you because of your body heat. The chemicals in the foam react to your natural body heat, allowing the foam to soften and conform to your body’s exact curvature.
Most of this heat doesn’t go away. The foam retains it, gradually making the mattress warmer and warmer.
During hot nights and for people with hot flashes, the mattress can get warm to the point of making it impossible to sleep.
It’s not uncommon to wake up in the middle of the night drenched in sweat.
In comes gel foam.
How Does Gel Foam Help?
Gel memory foam was introduced in 2006.
It was meant to reduce trapped body heat, improve memory foam’s already-good contouring capabilities and quicken recovery time.
Gel memory foam mattresses became popular starting around 2010.
These mattresses consist of gel beads fused with memory foam. They reduce the amount of heat retained by the foam.
Today, there are two types of gel foam.
- Thermal gel foams: They contain gel beads that feel cool to the touch.
- Phase change gel foams: These foams contain PCMs or phase change materials that maintain temperature within a certain range. If it gets cold, they release heat. If it gets warm, they absorb heat.
Does the gel help?
From our own mattress tests and customer reviews, gel foam sleeps only slightly cooler than standard memory foam.
The temperature difference is not big.
But results vary from mattress to mattress depending on the type and quality of gel they’ve used.
Mattresses with PCM gel are generally cooler than those with normal cooling gel.
Another thing to note about gel foam mattresses is that their cooling capability deteriorates over time as the beds wear out. In a couple of years, it might sleep just as warm as a normal memory foam mattress.
Gel memory foam mattress can help some sleepers feel cooler and more comfortable at night.
However, if you have hot flushes, you sleep hot or you live in a hot area buy another type of mattress altogether. Forget about memory foam.
Here are the mattresses we recommend.
- A latex foam mattress. Latex foam doesn’t retain heat like memory foam. On the downside, it doesn’t conform as well to your body.
- A hybrid mattress. This is a mattress consisting of foam and pocket coils. Even if it has memory foam on top, the coils underneath maintain sufficient airflow to keep the mattress cool.
- A hybrid foam mattress with a latex foam (or any latex-like foam) layer on top and memory foam underneath. This allows you to enjoy the benefits of memory foam without the heat.
For more on gel foam vs. memory foam mattresses, read our Puffy vs. Leesa mattress comparison. Puffy is a gel foam mattress while Leesa uses standard memory foam.
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