Memory Foam: Pros and Cons

Considering a memory foam mattress or similar product? Read what sleep experts say about it.

From the WebMD Archives

Few things feel as good as a good night's sleep. That's especially true if sleep seems to escape you, night after night after night.

If you've heard about memory foam, you may wonder if it could improve the quality of yoursleep. Some people swear by it. Others are less enthusiastic.

What exactly is memory foam? And what are its pros and cons? Here's information to help you decide whether memory foam is worth a try.

What Is Memory Foam?

First designed in the mid-1960s for NASA airplane seats, memory foam is made from a substance called viscoelastic. It is both highly energy absorbent and soft.

Memory foam molds to the body in response to heat and pressure, evenly distributing body weight. It then returns to its original shape once you remove the pressure.

In addition to protecting against impact, these properties make memory foam very comfortable. After its "virgin flight" for NASA, memory foam made a foray into other applications. For example, it was used as cushioning in helmets and shoes. Medicine found a use for it in prosthetics and products to prevent pressure ulcers such as seating pads for people who are severely disabled.

Then, memory foam really took off. It's now well known for its use in pillows, mattress pads, and mattresses, which come in different densities and depths.

What Are the Benefits of Memory Foam?

Could the special properties of memory foam enhance your sleep? Sleep specialist Donna L. Arand, PhD, says that objective studies supporting the claimed benefits of memory foam -- or the effects of any particular type of sleeping surface -- are lacking.

This is true for a variety of reasons, she says. This type of sleep study can be expensive, if conducted independently. Or it is "chased" by a shadow of bias, if supported by industry.

Also, some sleep technology, such as memory foam, is relatively new, so it hasn't been well studied. But perhaps one of the more difficult stumbling blocks to testing the health benefits of mattresses such as memory foam is the subjective nature of sleep. It is simply difficult to measure.

Pagination