What Is Memory Foam (and How Does it Work)?

April 4, 2022 | Casper Editorial Team

Fact checked by Russell Jelinek

You may recognize memory foam from those notable 90s commercials,  showing actors jumping on a memory foam mattress next to unspilled glasses of wine. 

The ability to evenly distribute weight made memory foam mattresses very popular — especially with restless sleepers — and its reputation continues to grow. Research and Markets reported the memory foam mattress and bedding markets will break $8 billion in the United States by 2023.

But what is memory foam, and how do you know if it’s a good fit for your sleeping preferences? If you’re thinking about making the switch to a memory foam mattress, read further to learn about the benefits and drawbacks, types of mattresses, foam densities, and materials used.

What is Memory Foam Made Of?

Memory foam is a type of synthetic material called viscoelastic foam. It’s different from other foam because it has more resistance, making it an ideal material for mattresses.

It’s soft and durable, with heat-wicking abilities that provide support for aching joints. This makes it popular with sleepers of all body types and sleep styles. Memory foam also comes in different levels of firmness, so you can find a mattress that works for your sleep habits.

What Are the Pros of a Memory Foam Mattress? 

There are numerous benefits to sleeping on a memory foam mattress. Multiple mattress review and medical websites have linked memory foam mattresses with good sleeping posture and reduced back pain. If you’re unsure about making the switch, take a look at the perks it provides: 

However, some shoppers still prefer the sturdy feel of an innerspring mattress. Learn the differences between a memory foam vs. a spring mattress. Or check out a hybrid mattress, which blends together memory foam and pocket-wrapped coils for the best of both worlds. 

What Are the Cons of a Memory Foam Mattress?

Not all memory foam mattresses are created equal. Just as there are lots of benefits, there are also some drawbacks to traditional memory foam mattresses: 

  • Can be heavier than traditional spring mattresses (here are Casper’s weight specifications)
  • Can begin to dip and sag over time, losing recoil 
  • Can take time to conform to new sleeping positions
  • Not everyone loves the feeling of sinking into memory foam

Sleepers of all styles rely on Casper mattresses for the ultimate sleeping experience. With features like multi-layered premium memory foam, AirScape™ to keep you cool, and Zoned Support™ to help align your spine, Casper has the perfect mattress for any sleeper.

Does Memory Foam Wear Out?

Most mattresses have a lifespan of 7–10 years. To increase your memory foam mattress’ life span and maintain its quality, you can:

With proper care, you can extend the life of your memory foam mattress. If you’re looking for a budget-friendly alternative to breathe some new life into your aging mattress, check out our Casper mattress topper.

How Does Memory Foam Work? 

Memory foam uses your body heat to soften and mold to your contours, wrapping you in a cushion of support and relaxation. Memory foam usually has multiple layers of foam — depending on how firm you want your mattress. 

It’s important to understand that memory foam thickness is not the same as density. 

  • Thickness refers to your mattress’ height, while density refers to its firmness. 
  • Firmness of a memory foam mattress is measured in indentation load deflection (ILD). This refers to the weight required to make an indention in the mattress, measured in pounds.

A heavier mattress has higher-density memory foam. Memory foam densities range between: 

  • Low: 1.5 to 2.5 lbs per cubic foot 
  • Medium: 2.5 to 4 lbs per cubic foot
  • High: 4 to 8 lbs per cubic foot

In some cases, mattresses can weigh more than 100 pounds. Regardless of weight, the density accounts for the support, durability and longevity of the mattress. If you’re looking for more support, a medium- to high-density foam mattress is your sleeping chariot of choice. 

What Are the Different Types of Memory Foam Mattresses? 

Don’t let the sleep jargon scare you. We’ll touch on the differences between traditional, gel pod, and open-cell foam mattresses, their features, and the best sleep styles for each mattress type. 

You can also find hybrid versions of each memory foam mattress type. Hybrid mattresses are a cross between traditional innerspring and memory foam mattresses for sleepers who can’t choose just one mattress type.

Traditional Memory Foam Mattresses

The earliest version of the trio, the traditional memory foam mattress, is what comes to mind when most people think of memory foam. This mattress provides the perfect sleeping experience, compressing around body curves during sleep. 

Pro: Cradles your body in any position

Con: Can get hot, especially in warmer climates

Open-Cell Memory Foam

Open-cell memory foam mattresses are like a sponge, constructed from millions of small passages. These small tunnels allow air to circulate and heat to escape when weight is applied.

Pro: Ventilation allows for a cooler sleep environment

Con: Can be more expensive than traditional memory foam

Foam Mattresses with Gel Pods

Foam mattresses with gel pods are regarded as more advanced mattresses when compared to traditional memory foam and open-cell foam. Gel pods are incorporated into the top layer for progressive comfort and full body support.

Pro: Gel pod layer can absorb heat without softening mattress

Con: Can be pricier than other memory foam options

How Much Does a Memory Foam Mattress Cost?

Memory foam mattress prices range in low, middle, and high tiers. The average cost of a queen-size foam mattress is $1,050.00. A Casper Original mattress starts at $895 and the Casper Original Queen, our most popular mattress size, is $1,295. 

  • Low-tier memory foam mattresses usually have one layer of foam or use memory foam alternatives like polyfoam to keep prices down, sometimes sacrificing mattress longevity.
  • Middle-tier memory foam mattresses will use real memory foam and integrate some special features like gel pods for quality sleep at an affordable price.
  • High-tier memory foam mattresses will offer a range of features like adjustable firmness at a premium price.

How Do I Choose the Right Memory Foam Mattress?

A good mattress is the key to quality sleep, so you’ll want to weigh your options. Ask about these characteristics to help you choose your perfect mattress:

  • Size —  You need to make sure your mattress is the right size for your bed frame, or you won’t be able to use it
  • Comfort — Investigate each mattress’ ILD so you can compare the firmness of each model
  • Thickness —  Mattress thicknesses generally range between 6 and 18 inches. While density is different from thickness, thinner mattresses will generally soften more.  

To find your perfect mattress, check out our store locator to find a Casper vendor near you so you can try before you buy. If you’re not completely happy with your new mattress, you have  100 days to return it for a full refund — on us. 

For some, sleeping on a memory foam mattress is like sleeping in another world. It’s a big decision to purchase a new bed, especially one you’ll be sleeping on for the next 10 to 15 years. 

But this big commitment has its rewards, so get ready for a good night’s sleep. Before purchasing a memory foam mattress, do your research, speak with a sleep specialist and take time to understand what features matter the most to you.