Why a Memory Foam Mattress is Your Back’s Best Friend


“An aching back is one of the biggest signs it’s time to break up with your current mattress.” So says a recent report by The Better Sleep Council. Your mattress is supposed to relieve joint pressure and give you the support and comfort you need to get a good night’s sleep. However, a mattress gradually loses its ability to do this and the quality of your sleep deteriorates. It happens so slowly that you might not even notice it until you start waking up with your back killing you.

If your mattress is more than seven years old, it has reached the end of its useful life. Other signs that you need to replace it are aching hips or other joints when you wake up in the morning, your inability to find a comfortable position while lying in bed, and waking up more tired than when you went to bed.

Buying a new mattress is a major purchasing decision. You want one that feels good to you and you probably have a personal preference as to its firmness or softness. In addition, if you have a sleeping partner, that person’s preferences must be taken into account. The two of you might prefer a Queen- or King-sized mattress as opposed to a standard Full size. Finally, there are a number of mattress types.

Types of Mattresses

Innerspring mattresses have a steel coil support system. Depending on brand, the coiled springs can be individually wrapped and pocketed or connected into a single unit. Either way, the coils are covered by padding and/or upholstery. The more coils, the better the support. Hybrid mattresses combine the coils of an innerspring mattress with one or more kinds of foam on top. Likewise, pillow-top mattresses combine the coils with a three-inch top layer of cushion foam on top. Euro Top mattresses are a variation, placing their foam layer within, rather than on top of, the mattress’s uppermost layer.

Specialty foam mattresses don’t use coils. Their support system is composed of one or several types of foam. In a memory foam mattress, the foam is high-density viscoelastic that closely contours to your body as you shift positions during sleep. The original memory foam mattresses were hot to sleep on since the foam trapped body heat and was slow to release it. Gel mattress then appeared that infused the foam with gel, allowing body heat to dissipate more quickly, resulting in a cooler sleep. Latex mattresses use latex foam as the support system. In some brands, the upholstery layers also contain latex foam.

Air beds, also known as dial or adjustable air mattresses, use air as the support system. The air chambers run through the mattress and adjusting the amount of air also adjusts the firmness of the mattress. Depending on brand, an air bed can have a single control or a double control so that each partner can adjust his or her own side of the bed.

Waterbeds were a phenomenon of the late ’70s and early ’80s that today account for less than five percent of the mattress market. Waterbeds use a water chamber as the support system. Hard-sided waterbeds have a water chamber inside a wood frame. Soft-sided waterbeds encase the water chamber inside a rigid foam frame covered by a zippered fabric casing. Both types usually sit on top of a platform. Free-flow waterbeds have nothing to obstruct the water; waveless waterbeds have baffles to limit the water’s motion. Some beds come with a heating element and a control to adjust the water’s temperature.

Advantages of Memory Foam Mattresses

Of all the various types of mattresses, memory foam mattresses made of viscoelastic are the only kind found by sleep experts to be beneficial in improving sleep and reducing back pain. While objective scientific studies are lacking due to the highly subjective nature of sleep and its benefits, these sleep experts as well as study made by mattermattress report “unsolicited glowing reports” from their patients who use memory foam mattresses.

Why such enthusiasm? Memory foam mattresses are thick, usually between nine and 12 inches thick, divided into several foam layers, the support layer(s) being polyurethane and the memory layer(s) being viscoelastic. Your body’s heat softens the form when you lie on it, allowing you to sink in and get support along the curves of your body. Despite what a lot of people think, The National Sleep Foundation says that firm mattresses actually may be less effective than these more “giving” memory foam mattresses when it comes to relieving back pain and promoting more restful sleep.

These mattresses also may be especially good options for older people. Their ability to quickly conform to any body position reduces the number of times a person needs to move in an effort to find a more comfortable position. Reduced movement also reduces the number of times older people are awakened from it. And whatever your age, being less aware of your partner’s movements is an added benefit.

What to Look For

There are many brands of memory foam mattresses. When it’s time to buy yours, such a wide choice may be confusing. It might be difficult for you to distinguish between brands to arrive at which one is best for you. You may ask, are memory foam mattresses reviewed anywhere? The answer is yes. Online mattress reviews are an excellent way to see side-by-side comparisons of mattress brands based on such criteria as value, luxury, budget, comfort, and customer reviews.

One major consideration is your sleeping preference. Do you prefer sleeping warmer or cooler? If it’s the latter, a gel memory foam mattress is your best option. Gel is embedded throughout the foam either as a liquid or as beads depending on brand. Also, consider the foam’s density; the higher the density, the warmer your sleep. A density of 3.0-5.0 pounds per cubic foot gives the mattress durability without causing major heat retention.

The viscoelastic memory foam layer(s) of the mattress should total at least four inches in thickness. Anything less might decrease your comfort by making you feel like you’re lying on the polyurethane “support wall” underneath the viscoelastic foam.

Whatever your ultimate brand choice, sleeping on a memory foam mattress will be a new comfort experience for you and your back will thank you.