Memory Foam: Pros and Cons
Considering a memory foam mattress or similar product? Read what sleep experts say about it.
What Are the Benefits of Memory Foam? continued...
Many of Arand's patients who use memory foam have offered unsolicited
glowing reports like these about memory foam: "I'm sleeping great." "Best sleep
I've ever had." "I love going to bed at night." Arand says these anecdotal
responses may be one-sided. That's because she and other staff don't ask all
their patients about their sleep surfaces. "We may only be hearing the good
stuff," Arand says.
Kathy R. Gromer, MD, sleep specialist with the Minnesota Sleep Institute in
Minneapolis, agrees that memory foam may improve sleep. "It can, if it relieves
painful pressure points," she says. But Gromer adds that memory foam doesn't do
anything for sleep apnea or other sleep-breathing disorders -- and sleep
disorders are the primary complaint of most her patients.
"When you lie on the memory foam, the heat from your body softens it in
appropriate points," Arand says, "so this helps to support your body along the
curves and natural lines of the body." Memory foam manufacturers claim this
helps relieve pain and thereby promotes more restful sleep. And, though
consumers often believe that very firm mattresses are best, more "giving"
mattresses like these may lead to better sleep in people with back pain,
according to the National Sleep Foundation.
Although there aren't scientific data to support the hypothesis, Arand
wonders whether memory foam sleep surfaces might be especially helpful for
older people. For them, minimizing extra movement could reduce the number of
times they awaken during the night. Being less aware of a bed partner's
movements might be an extra benefit, she adds. "Without the coiled springs, you
feel your sleep partner's movement less, and that might help, too."
What Are the Disadvantages of Memory Foam?
Gromer says that memory foam products may retain body heat, which could make
them less comfortable in warm weather. However, Arand has not heard this
complaint from her patients. "In our culture, most people can adjust their
thermostats or blankets for the appropriate season," Arand says.
When new, memory foam can produce an odd chemical smell -- a phenomenon
called offgassing. To minimize this problem, the Sleep Products Safety Council,
a sleep products trade group, recommends airing out the mattress or pad for at
least 24 hours before putting sheets on it. "If you follow directions, the
smell dissipates quickly," Arand says, "But I've never heard of anyone having
reactions to it."
Are Memory Foam Products Safe for Young Children?
"I would strongly recommend avoiding this and similar very soft materials
for use in infants' beds," Gromer says. "That's because soft bedding traps
[carbon dioxide] and increases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)