Memory Foam Facts

Initially intended for use by NASA, memory foam represents a space-age innovation that found its way to some shared and not-so-common products. Meant to support and soften the seats of NASA astronauts and other pilots, you may be amazed to learn that memory foam — besides its use in mattress mattresses and pillows — also cushions the feet when used as shoe insoles, helps ease the friction between the skin and prosthetic limbs and shields NASCAR drivers from serious crashes by outfitting cars with fire-retarding shock-absorbing inserts.

History and Background

Aeronautical engineer Charles Yost assisted design and produce a recovery platform for NASA’s moon control modules in 1962. That work led to his participation four decades later to improve seating in airlines. In 1966, Yost developed the first open-cell foam, a gentle polymeric substance with spring-back properties, which NASA’s Ames Research Center later implemented in its own seating designs. From 1992, memory-foam mattresses have been available for sale at the U.S.

Memory Foam Mattresses

People suffer from insomnia from chronic back issues or musculoskeletal problems turn to memory foam mattresses to diminish pain and get a great night’s sleep. Because the memory foam conforms to your own body, it relieves pressure on essential points such as the shoulders, hips and thighs, because it supports all areas of the body equally, even the small of the back when lying on the back. That’s why some doctors recommend memory foam mattresses with multiple layer construction to those who suffer from chronic pain.

Density Measurement

Not all memory foam mattresses are made exactly the same. Some producers use indentation load deflection to figure the foam’s density, a measurement not usually included in advertisements. Higher numbers represent denser foams and much more body support. Top-brand memory foam mattresses, for example, possess an ILD measurement of between 14 and 15, but cheaper products may come in at 9 ILD, much less suitable for supporting the adult body. Mattresses with a number of layers have individual ILDs evaluations for different layers.

Cost Differences

Memory Foam mattresses — depending on the manufacturer — run the gamut from $200 to get a full-sized mattress to as large as nearly $7,500 for an upper-end king-size mattress, in the time of publication in February 2014. The price variances reflect not just the density of this item, but also the way the mattress was assembled. Lower-priced beds lack the foam density and the multiple layers found in pricier alternatives.

Pros and Cons

Because memory foam is a synthetic substance, it keeps body heat, which may create sleeping a memory-foam mattress uncomfortable for many people. But newer memory-foam mattresses have a support gel layer to assist the mattress breathe and release some of the retained heat. Some users complain of chemical off gassing or scents on first use that dissipate with time. Memory-foam mattresses consumers report less sagging because the mattress ages than with mattresses that don’t include memory foam.

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