Memory Foam
The Truth Is Full of Holes

An exclusive interview with the real stuff

Close-up view of memory foam open cell structure

The Maniac: "Does memory foam really work?"

MF: "Yes. Many people sleep better and longer on a quality memory foam mattress. It distributes your weight evenly beneath you, preventing painful pressure points that wake you up. This allows tense and injured backs and other body parts to truly relax at night. The result is more restful, healing sleep."

Maniac: "You've been called a lot of things, viscoelastic foam, tempurpedic and even NASA foam. Why so many names? Are you in the witness protection program?"

MF: "No. I'm not. And the main thing I've been protecting is good sleep."

Maniac: "So you really did get your start at NASA's Ames Research Center?"

MF: "Yes. In the 1970's researchers were looking for ways to cushion the astronauts from the enormous g-forces generated during takeoffs and landings. Standard pilot seats created extremely painful pressure points. What they came up with was an open celled polyurethane-silicon plastic. It could quickly mold to the astronaut, spreading out the pressure, and then rapidly return to its original position. Actually, as you can see from the photo, I'm mostly air.'

Maniac: "So how did you go from NASA to my mattress?"

MF: "I never did get to space in the '70s or '80's, that was a bit of a disappointment. But I was adopted and refined in the 1980's by Fagerdala World Foams in Sweden. The result was marketed as Tempur-Pedic (or Tempurpedic mattresses).

It was an entirely new type of bed that provided support by cupping and contouring to a sleeper rather than pushing back against them with springs or large chambers. It supported by using body heat to soften a 4 inch honeycomb of millions of microscopic open walled cells. The air in the softened cells flowed out into adjacent cells until the contours of the mattress matched the shape of the sleeper's back or side. The result was a mattress that almost eliminated pressure points by evening out the pressure across the entire back or side area that was now in contact with the mattress.

Lying on it felt like you were gradually sinking into a puffy cloud as your body warmed the foam. It was an immediate success when it was introduced in 1991 in Sweden. The next year it was brought to Canada and the United States and the mania started.

Maniac: "Lately I've been seeing you everywhere. I've found you in hospitals where you've prevented bedsores by relieving pressure points in bedridden patients, office chair cushions, motorcycle seat padding, custom body molds for dressmakers and even slippers. I've also spotted shredded memory foam pillows and pet beds."

MF: "Yes, I'm really getting around...mostly in round custom mattresses.

Maniac: "Very funny. But not so funny is the cheap stuff that we're finding in every superstore. How do we know we're buying quality?"

MF: "Memory foam mattress ratings are complex and not standardized. And people's tastes vary so much that a determination of the best for everyone is almost impossible. To make the situation even more complex, the properties can vary slightly from batch to batch and even within the same brand and product."

Maniac: "So we have to just guess?"

MF: "No. Try them out. See what feels best to you over a period of a couple of weeks if you can. Also, most manufacturers put simple ratings on their mattresses.

  • Temperature sensitive - softens at body temperature not room temperature. You absolutely need this type of foam.
  • Density - in lbs/square foot. 3lb to 6lb is comfortable. Many people prefer the higher density foams for their superior support.
  • ILD rating - Indentation Load Deflection – is a measure of ‘firmness'. Measured in lbs/% compression. Usually ranges from 10 (soft) to 20 (hard). But most people will be comfortable in the 12-14 range. Its measured by how many pounds a 50" disk needs to weigh to make a 1 inch indentation in the foam. IFD (Indentation Force Deflection) is often used in industry literature and means almost the same thing.
  • Tensile strength - How much the foam can be stretched before it breaks. Greater tensile strength is obviously better. It's usually stated in lbs/square inch.
  • Resilience - 'Springy-ness. This figure is usually given in percentages. Memory foam described as ‘HR' is highly resilient and is usually more durable and will take longer to show wear.

Maniac: "Speaking of wear. How long will my mattress last?"

MF: "Your typical inner spring mattress starts to break down within five to eight years. Expect to have a much longer relationship with your memory foam mattress, perhaps 15 to even 20 years. There are many happy memory foam mattress owners who still have their original 1991 Tempur-Pedic.'

Maniac: "Finally, I hate to bring this up...but some people say you stink."

MF: “It's typically the way I'm packaged. Just unpack me and let me air out for a day. That should do it. But there are people who are extremely sensitive to odors and chemicals who can't tolerate me even after I air out. That's why it is extremely important to buy from a reputable retailer with a good return policy.'

Maniac: "Thanks for all the information Memory Foam. It's getting late, I'd better get to sleep."

MF: "See you soon...unless you don't have a memory foam mattress yet. If that's the case. check out some of the popular beds below."

Memory Foam FAQ

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