What is a Gel Mattress? Innerworkings, Benefits & Cons

Published
by Max S
What Is A Gel Mattress

Are you looking for a new mattress and come across the term “gel mattress”? But what is a gel mattress? Will it help you get a good night’s sleep instead of your current mattress? How does it compare to traditional memory foam and other mattress types?

With all the varieties of mattresses on the market, it’s easy to fall for the wrong mattress type. Mattresses are pretty expensive, ranging from roughly £200 to £3000 depending on the type, quality, and brand. So, ensuring that you’ve researched the features and drawbacks of specific mattress types is the first step to a successful purchase.  

bar chart showing different mattress type prices
Copyright 2022 by NimbleFins.

Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of gel mattresses, their benefits, and even their drawbacks to weigh your options.

What Is A Gel Mattress? And How Does It Work?

Gel foam is one of the types of memory foam used in various mattresses, pillows, and mattress toppers. Gel-infused memory foam is a new generation of memory foam that was developed to solve the heat retention problem of the original memory foam formula.

The traditional or original memory foam, the one initially invented by NASA, softens and contours the body by absorbing your body’s heat. Doing this tends to trap body heat and bounces it back to the sleeper. This is where the gel-infused mattress comes to the rescue. A gel mattress is the improved version of the traditional memory foam mattress, especially for hot sleepers.

how does pcm materials work for mattresses
The process of heating and cooling cycle of a PCM material. Image Source: ScienceDirect.

But how does it work? The gel used in these mattresses is called Phase Changing Materials (PCM) gels. Similar to the ones used in the cooling packs in your refrigerator.

Related Read: How To Keep Cool On A Memory Foam Mattress?

In a mattress, PCM gels absorb body heat and cool you down. Heat is stored in the gel and doesn’t reflect back to the sleeper compared to traditional memory foam.

PCM works both ways, though, so it can release heat back to you if your body temperature drops throughout the night.

What are the Benefits of Using a Gel Mattress?

Temperature Control

The gel-infused mattress works like a charm absorbing and dissipating body heat. So, expect to sleep comfortably on a gel mattress without getting all hot and sweaty at night!

This property may also come in handy during warmer weather or countries as it can help regulate your body temperature.

Comfort and Pressure Relief

According to recent studies, people sleep better on a medium-firm, self-adjusting mattress since this is ideal for spinal alignment. A memory foam mattress is an example of a self-adjusting mattress because its shape contours your body’s curves.

Since a gel mattress is an improved version of a memory foam mattress, they both have body contouring and pressure relief properties for maximum comfort. As gel-infused memory foam works like traditional memory foam by responding to your body heat and weight, it helps align the body’s neck, spine, and hips.

In addition, a gel-infused memory foam mattress is firmer than a traditional memory foam mattress, so it is more firm. Heavy sleepers of more than 100 kg will be provided with comfort and support without feeling like they are sinking into the mattress.

Motion Isolation

NASA initially developed memory foam to reduce motion transfer and shock absorption. So generally, gel-infused memory foam works just the same with motion isolation.

Motion isolation is a measure of how much movement from a specific part of a mattress is felt elsewhere on the mattress. For example, if you bounce on the side of the mattress it doesn’t disrupt your partner on the other side of the mattress. That mattress has excellent motion isolation.

This property is perfect for couples sharing a bed, especially if one is constantly tossing and turning at night and one is a light sleeper.

Hypoallergenic

The composition of gel-infused memory foam makes it hard for dust, dust mites, or any allergens to settle – hence the hypoallergenic properties. The density of the memory foam itself is already compact, and since it is infused with gel, the pores are almost filled up. This makes it harder for the dust to get in and dust mites to survive.

What are the Drawbacks of Using a Gel Mattress?

Quite expensive

A gel mattress generally costs more than a traditional memory foam mattress. This is because of the extra gel material and its cooling technology. For example, a single-sized mattress with pure memory foam is around £239. In contrast, a single-sized mattress with gel-infused memory foam is £269.

This won’t be an issue if you’re a hot sleeper, as spending extra on the cooling perks helps you get a better night’s sleep.

Heavier than a usual mattress

Gel-infused foam mattresses are pretty heavy because of the density of materials in the mattress. A double-sized gel mattress weighs around 25 kg (55 lbs). This may be an issue during the initial delivery of the mattress, especially if you’re not sure yet where to place the bed. Also, depending on the manufacturer’s recommendation, flipping the gel mattress once in a while would be difficult considering its weight.

Initial odour

Because both gel and memory foam is made from synthetic materials, new mattresses have an initial odour or “off-gassing”. This smell usually goes away after one to three days. Just ensure enough room ventilation by opening your windows/doors when the mattress is initially opened.

Is it Important to Keep Cool During Sleep?

One of the most critical factors affecting our sleep is room temperature. Research conducted on sleep and heat found that heat exposure increases a person’s wakefulness. This means our sleep will be disrupted whenever the temperature is not regulated.

Sleep disruption has both short-term and long-term consequences for our health. Not only is it annoying, but sometimes it’s impossible to go back to sleep when our sleep is disrupted, leading to sleep deprivation.

Possible short-term issues you may experience are

  • increased stress
  • emotional disorders
  • cognitive and memory deficiencies
  • decreased work performance

On the other hand, long-term consequences may include

  • hypertension
  • cardiovascular disease
  • weight-related issues
  • metabolic issues
  • Type 2 diabetes mellitus

Sleep deprivation may not appear to be a severe problem at first. Still, it can have a substantial impact on your general health.

Which is a Better Mattress: Gel or Memory Foam?

Since a gel mattress is version 2.0 of a memory foam mattress, you would expect them to have a lot in common. One of these is their ability to mould the body for maximum pressure relief.

However, one of the main differences is that memory foam tends to retain heat and reflect the body’s heat. And on the other hand, gel mattresses help to dissipate heat.

If you’re the type to sweat out at night or live in a warmer place, you won’t mind spending a little extra for the cooling benefit. And if you need the warmth that memory foam gives, then gel-infused mattresses or gel mattress toppers may not be for you.

Gel-infused mattresses have a higher response rate than traditional memory foam. This is because of the gels that filled the spaces of the mattress, which in effect made it denser and firmer than traditional memory foam. Traditional memory foam would have a response rate or lag time of 5 to 10 seconds before returning to its original shape. A gel-infused mattress comes back to form in less than 5 seconds.

Alternatives for Gel Mattresses

While a gel mattress can be pretty expensive, there are other ways for you to enjoy the cooling benefits of a gel mattress.

Gel technology is being used both as an infusion to memory foam mattresses and as a stand-alone layer that you can use on your existing mattresses. Gel also works well with most mattress types, including

  • Foam mattress
  • Spring mattress
  • Hybrid mattress
  • Memory foam mattress

Because the gel works best in dissipating the body heat, you can use a gel mattress topper for the same effect. These come at a lower price point than buying a gel mattress.

  • Gel-infused pads are a thin layer that you can use over any mattress to enjoy the cooling technology of the gel.
  • Gel-infused toppers are thicker than gel-infused pads, so they can offer more comfort. They will be more expensive than the pads but less costly than a gel mattress.

Both mattress gel-infused pads and gel-infused toppers can be used on any mattress. Both are especially helpful if you have ventilation issues in old foam or memory foam mattresses.

Is a Gel Mattress an Excellent Choice?

Gel-infused mattresses are excellent choices for sleepers who benefit from:

  • more significant pressure relief around common pressure points
  • more hypoallergenic properties
  • enhanced motion isolation
  • better cooling properties

It would be more expensive than a traditional memory foam mattress or spring mattress, but it will be worth the money.

Of course, we recommended testing out a mattress first before making the big yes decision. After all, some mattress brands like Emma or Simba offer a free trial period to make sure you’re buying the best for you.

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Chiba, Shintaro & Yagi, Tomoko & Ozone, Motohiro & Matsumura, Mari & Sekiguchi, Hirofumi & Ganeko, Masashi & Uchida, Sunao & Nishino, Seiji. (2018). High rebound mattress toppers facilitate core body temperature drop and enhance deep sleep in the initial phase of nocturnal sleep. PLOS ONE. 13. e0197521. 10.1371/journal.pone.0197521. https://www.researchgate.net/figure/A-Changes-in-core-body-temperature-during-sleep-with-HR-and-LR-in-old-adult-males_fig1_326022593

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Radwan A, Fess P, James D, Murphy J, Myers J, Rooney M, Taylor J, Torii A. Effect of different mattress designs on promoting sleep quality, pain reduction, and spinal alignment in adults with or without back pain; systematic review of controlled trials. Sleep Health. 2015 Dec;1(4):257-267. doi: 10.1016/j.sleh.2015.08.001. Epub 2015 Oct 19. PMID: 29073401. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29073401/

Okamoto-Mizuno, K., & Mizuno, K. (2012). Effects of thermal environment on sleep and circadian rhythm. Journal of physiological anthropology31(1), 14. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3427038/#:~:text=In%20real-life%20situations%20where,affects%20sleep%20stages%20and%20thermoregulation.

Medic, G., Wille, M., & Hemels, M. E. (2017). Short- and long-term health consequences of sleep disruption. Nature and science of sleep9, 151–161. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5449130/

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AUTHOR

Max S

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.