Gel Memory Foam vs. Memory Foam

Published
by Max Stevens

By now, I’m sure you’re aware of memory foam as it has become a staple in the mattress industry.

But what about gel memory foam? What are the differences and is ‘gel’ just a marketing fad?

Well, it’s definitely not a marketing fad and there are some key differences – including their target market.

The biggest difference and ‘selling point’ is: mattress temperature.

Are you a hot sleeper or a cold sleeper? Maybe you suffer from night terrors making you sweat. Other conditions that commonly cause night sweats are

  • Menopause
  • Mood disorders
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Obesity

And if you suffer from any of these, you may want to read further. In this guide, we’ll compare:

  • the differences between the two memory foam mattress types
  • what types of sleepers should consider a gel memory foam
  • what types of sleepers should consider memory foam
  • and loads of frequently asked questions

What is a memory foam mattress?

a hand pressing a foam mattress
Image: Casper

A memory foam mattress is made from viscoelastic foam. Originally created at NASA’s Ames Research Center to provide shock absorption for their space expeditions.

It’s a common material in bedding accessories now due to reduced manufacturing costs.

When you apply pressure to memory foam, the foam uses the body’s heat to soften and mould into your shape. The foam will return to its original form when you remove the pressure. This property is caused by different effects:

  • Network Effect – The force working to restore the original shape of the deformed foam by pushing the against the applied pressure.
  • Pneumatic Effect – This effect is the delayed time of air flowing into the small pores of the memory foam for it to restore back its form.
  • Adhesive Effect – This effect is caused by the stickiness of the foam particles when pressed together which can make the expansion slower.
  • Relaxation Effect – This effect limits the mobility of the foam and makes the expansion slow and is mainly affected by temperature.

When you lay on a mattress made of memory foam, it moulds and contours your body and provides that hugging sensation. This tends to trap heat since there’s little room for airflow between the body and the mattress.

What is a gel memory foam mattress?

Heat retention problems from using memory foam is why gel memory foam was developed. Gel foam is made of the traditional memory foam infused with phase changing materials (PCM), that is, the gel.

From the name itself, this gel changes its phase in a cycle by

  • changing from a solid to a liquid as it absorbs excess heat from the body and stores that heat and
  • changing from a liquid to solid as it releases the stored heat

It regulates the temperature between the body in contact and the mattress, providing a cooler sleeping surface.

Gel Memory Foam Vs. Memory Foam

Since gel memory foam is like an improved version of traditional memory foam, they have similar properties and benefits.

Similarities Between Memory Foam and Gel Memory Foam

Contouring

Sleeping in a memory foam mattress and gel memory foam mattress will feel like a hugging comfort as the foam conforms to your body shape. Laying on these types of mattresses would feel like sleeping in the mattress instead of sleeping on top of the mattress. Why? The foam  compresses beneath your body.

The foam supports key contact points that receive the most pressure including your:

  • Hips
  • Shoulders
  • Back.

This quality is especially beneficial for side sleepers as their shoulders and hips tend to sink in quite a lot if given a chance.

Motion isolation

Motion isolation can be described as whether or not the movement on one part of the mattress is felt on the other parts of the mattress.

The contouring quality of these foams actually contributes to great motion isolation.

When one puts pressure on the foam, the foam will compress and mould to the body instead of sloping the surrounding foam.

So if you put a glass of wine on the other side of the mattress and jump on the other side, the glass should not be disturbed if your mattress has sound motion isolation. You don’t believe it? Watch this video instead:

<< show Youtube video https://youtu.be/iCmlIG0St-U >>

This quality is especially beneficial for people who share a bed and those who are easily disturbed by small movements.

Quiet

Since both gel memory foam mattress and memory foam mattress don’t contain springs, it doesn’t have the potential to squeak.

So unlike an innerspring mattress or hybrid mattress, you won’t hear any squeak even if you jump on the bed. This feature is especially beneficial to couples who want to be discrete during sex.

Off-gassing

Off-gassing refers to the initial chemical odour from new mattresses, which are byproducts of the synthetic foam manufacturing materials like foam, resin, and adhesives. Another contributor to the off-gassing are flame retardants, which are added to mattresses to comply with British regulations (BS 5852: 1982 Part II & BS 7177) or US 16 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) 1632 and 1633.

Among the mattress types, memory foam and polyurethane foam are more susceptible to off-gassing because of the synthetic materials used.

For mattresses vacuumed and sealed in plastic, or what they call “bed-in-a-box”, off-gassing would be much stronger since the chemicals were trapped on the plastic and not given time for breathing. This would typically go away after a few days of airing out.

Still, for people who are extra sensitive to smells, off-gassing should be considered in buying memory foam mattresses or gel memory foam mattresses.

Differences Between Memory Foam and Gel Memory Foam

Now, let’s talk about the main difference between memory foam and a gel memory foam mattress.

Temperature regulation

As mentioned, a gel memory foam mattress was developed because of the tendency of a memory foam mattress to retain heat.

Gels are designed to draw heat away from the sleeper and regulate the heat. Sleeping hot may sound like a little problem, but it’s not.

A study showed that temperature significantly affects sleep quality, having the best sleep quality at 32 °C and the worst at 36 °C and 38 °C.

More responsive

Because of the gel content, a gel memory foam mattress would have a more responsive surface than a memory foam mattress. It can go back to its original form faster than memory foam, especially with high-density memory foam wherein the response time is much longer.

Combo sleepers are sleepers who change positions at night. An easy way to think about it is to sleep in one sleeping position and wake up in another.

They benefit from using gel memory foam mattresses instead of memory foam mattresses. They’ll feel less ‘stuck-in-the-mud’ when trying to change positions.

What is more comfortable: gel or memory foam?

Gel memory foam mattresses and memory foam mattresses offer a comfortable and contouring support. But if you’re confused about what to get, here are some tiebreakers:

  • If you’re a hot sleeper, go for a gel memory foam mattress.
  • If you’re one of the 80% of women experiencing hot flashes because of menopause, go for a gel memory foam mattress.
  • If you suffer from any of the following that cause night sweats: mood disorders, gastroesophageal reflux disease, hyperthyroidism, and obesity.
  • If you change positions at night, go for a gel memory foam mattress.
  • If you want and need the warmth of the foam, go for a memory foam mattress.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are gel mattresses cold in winter?

As mentioned, PCMs in the gel memory foam work by absorbing excess heat from the body, releasing that stored heat, and adapting to the environment temperature.

For example, when you’ve been lying on a gel memory foam mattress for a while, it will feel soft and warm under your body heat. The foam will stiff up again and adjust to room temperature when you get out of bed. These gels are similar to gel packs on freezers.

So if it gets cold in your room in the winter, your gel mattress can also get cold. If this is the case, you can use thick blankets alive your mattress for a more comfortable sleeper surface in the winter.

Is gel memory foam toxic?

Isocyanates are found in polyurethane products, which are gel memory foam and memory foam. Exposure to this chemical can cause irritation of the eyes, nose, throat, and skin.

It might sound scary that this chemical is present in most household items, and even more when talking about our mattresses. But certificating bodies are here to test for chemical emissions and content.
They can certify mattresses that pass the standards. These like some certifications you should look out for: GREENGUARD Gold, OEKO-TEX, CertiPUR-US, eco-INSTITUT.

You can check out natural latex mattresses if you want a natural way to go with mattresses. It has some of the benefits of a memory foam mattress and a gel memory foam mattress.

Can bed bugs go in memory foam?

Bed bugs can live in any kind of mattress if given the right environment. Although bed bugs cannot burrow into the memory foam without an opening, they can live on the underside of the bed.

Bed bugs love warm and dark places, so the underside of your memory foam mattress is an excellent place to start.

Make sure to always check your bed for signs of bed bugs.

How long do gel memory foam mattresses last?

According to a survey of 25,000 mattress users, the average lifespan of a memory foam mattress is around 7 years. But a mattress’s lifespan is greatly affected by how many synthetic materials are used.

And since a gel memory foam mattress would contain additional gel materials, we expect its lifespan to be much shorter than a memory foam mattress.

This can also be seen in how long a warranty period of a gel memory foam mattress is. The warranty period usually means that the manufacturer intended the mattress to last that long. For example,

Studio by Silentnight Original Mattress offers a 3-year warranty
Happy Beds Ocean Gel provides a 5-year warranty

Which means they can guarantee that their mattress can last 3 to 5 years

Sources

Photo of author

AUTHOR

Max Stevens

Chief Editor here at The Sleep Checklist. Suffered from a seemingly infinite knot in my thoracic area (between the spine and shoulder blade) due to my lifelong side sleeping habits. With my girlfriend, we look to provide the most relevant and best mattress advice.