Mattresses are a tricky field to navigate and deciding on one can become overwhelming. One thing you often see are the words ‘orthopedic’ and ‘memory foam’. Many think they’re the same as they both tackle pain relief, but this isn't the case. When deciding which mattress will best alleviate your specific aches, it’s the battle of the orthopedic mattress vs. the memory foam mattress.
Everything You Need To Know About Memory Foam Mattresses
Memory Foam Origins
Fun fact: memory foam was made by NASA!
That’s right, memory foam made it to space before it made its way to you. It was created in the 1960s and was initially used to cushion astronauts from the impact made upon entering and exiting the atmosphere.
The technical name for memory foam is visco-elastic foam. Visco, from the term viscosity, describes the material’s ability to change shape in response to pressure while elastic refers to its ability to return to its original form. From this alone, memory foam is defined by the way it easily changes shape and returns to its original form.
Its main component is polyurethane, a low-resistance polymer also found in insulation, liquid paint, elastic fibers, and car parts. Since this is a synthetic product, each company has their own memory foam formula, depending on safety regulations and available resources. This makes some memory foam better than others.
For a simple and quick understanding of this material, you could also watch this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6NoTd0wi3jo
Memory Foam Advantages and Disadvantages
In mattresses, memory foam is known for molding to your body by the power of your own heat. This means that you are comfortably hugged by the mattress, without adding any strain to your pressure points.
It's also ideal for those who prefer softer surfaces since it reacts to your heat and softens accordingly. However, this feature can be a disadvantage since it tends to retain heat. This means that even though it softens up the longer you use it and becomes more comfortable to lay in, it gets warm.
Since your body sinks into the mattress, this also minimizes your own movement. Additionally, memory foam mattresses offer motion transfer resistance and silence. This means that, if you have a partner, their restless night won't affect you too badly.
This keeps a record of your body heat and makes it hard for air to circulate. This might be a source of discomfort, especially if your body or your room tends to run hot at night. That said, there are mattress innovations that combat this issue.
Due to its synthetic nature, memory foam can also be hypoallergenic or, at least, dust mite resistant. It provides no room for dust mites to house themselves which is a bonus since this is a common allergy.
Additionally, the synthetic and chemical makeup could be an irritant. Memory foam is also prone to off-gassing, which is basically chemical fumes being released, especially in response to your body heat. At first, it’s a noticeable “new” smell but, even when the smell is gone, the off-gassing continues unnoticed. If the memory foam mattress is not certified, the off-gassing could be harmful to your health and cause headaches, nausea, and respiratory illnesses.
It can also be quite an expensive mattress, with the prices not always an amazing indicator of quality. Some memory foam mattresses are less elastic while some run much hotter than others because of the inconsistency in quality from each developer.
Memory Foam Types
Traditional Memory Foam
Traditional memory foam is exactly as we described it to be. It's the most basic form of memory from and is very popular. As mentioned, it could cause discomfort because of the way it retains heat. It's great for relieving pressure points but not so amazing if you run hot at night.
Open-cell Memory Foam
Open-cell memory foam is a traditional memory foam in a different form. Traditionally, a memory foam mattress is made by spraying the material on a conveyor belt layer-by-layer to create a thick mattress. Open-cell memory foam uses a different technique that makes room for more air holes for circulation. This is one way to combat heat retention and it also allows for looser movement and a quicker response to your body pressure.
Gel Memory Foam
Gel memory foam is another way to stay cool. It takes traditional memory foam and infuses gel beads to provide a more cooling surface. These gel beads help control and regulate your body temperature at night. This tends to be more durable and firm due to the gel.
TIP: Check out Reflex Foam and Latex Rubber Foam! If you want the comfort of memory foam but are not too excited about the price, reflex foam is a good and affordable alternative. If you're more concerned about the effect this could have on the environment and on your health, natural latex mattresses are a safer alternative.
Everything You Need To Know About Orthopaedic Mattresses
Orthopaedic Mattress Origins
As opposed to memory foam mattresses, orthopedic mattresses do not pertain to a particular material. Orthopedic mattresses can be made of standard springs, pocket springs, memory foam, reflex foam, latex foam, and other natural mattress fillings and hybrids.
In general, orthopedic mattresses are designed to support the body. Rather than feeling discomfort from its firmness, these are tried and tested to provide both comfort and support for a painless sleep experience. It carries the weight of the entire body and automatically aligns the spine for less pressure on your joints and on your back.
Most people say that the inspiration from orthopedic mattresses came from the belief that sleeping on warm wood floors can help when your back is in pain, the solution is to sleep on warm wood floors. From this perspective, orthopedic mattresses mimic the same firmness of warm hardwood flooring but not without the same level of toughness on your body.
The firmness of this mattress is cozy and is actually quite plush rather than being uncomfortable like flooring. This is because, typically, orthopedic mattresses are made with a very firm core with a more pillow-like top for you to lay on. This kind of build is the reason it’s able to private the support the body needs without compromising on surface-level pleasure. This is because mixing materials is an easier way to achieve the extra firm filling that an orthopedic mattress needs.
Orthopedic Mattress Advantages and Disadvantages
As the name states, orthopedic mattresses are an investment for your orthopedic problems. These are conditions such as arthritis and bursitis with back pain, joint pains, hip pains, and other aches that stem from your bones. This is actually a more medical approach to managing these sleeping pains.
When using an orthopedic mattress, the first thing you'll notice is its firmness. This is a purposeful decision because it does the complete opposite of letting your body sink— it keeps your body supported. This is because when your mattress is too soft, your body can sink and dip in ways that stress your muscles further.
Using this kind of mattress helps relax your muscles and curves your body, particularly your spine, in a more natural way. Since the mattress does all the work for you by basically positioning your body for you, your muscles will be able to rest. Simply said, an orthopedic mattress is meant to alleviate your pain, whether it's from muscle aches caused by your daytime activities or if it's from arthritis. This mattress is backed up by medical support.
However, orthopedic mattresses tend to be pricey. These are specially made with very firm materials that make quality orthopedic mattresses come at a price. That said, good ones do have a high chance of helping you rest and relax easier.
Another drawback is that it’s a kind of mattress rather than a mattress material. This means that things can be labeled as such even without any proof. The best thing to do when purchasing one is to physically try it out or, if you’ve gone shopping online, to look for reviews.
One of the pitfalls with orthopedic mattresses is that it's not for everyone. Sometimes, these can be too firm. Even if you feel like you suffer from intense back pain, if this isn’t what your sleep doctor recommends, it might not be the one for you.
Lastly, these are also very heavy, which makes it difficult to flip or rotate your mattress as needed to wear it out evenly.
Similarities and Differences
Now that you’ve gotten to know both orthopedic mattresses and memory foam mattresses, it's easier to see where they differ and where they are similar, it's a step towards solving the orthopedic mattress vs. memory foam quandary.
Both are made for comfort and designed to reinforce the way your body naturally curves, rather than to add more tension to it. They're both meant for pressure relief and can be found on the firmer side of the spectrum, however, memory foam mattresses can also have a soft or medium firmness. Additionally, premium materials often require premium prices, but not all expensive mattresses are quality.
For the most basic difference, orthopedic mattresses can be a memory foam mattress but not all memory foam mattresses are orthopedic. This is, we believe, the most important takeaway. Just because one mattress claims to be orthopedic because of its memory foam material, it doesn't mean that it provides the same firmness and support that a true orthopedic mattress can.
Memory foam is also built to conform to the body's natural shape, while orthopedic mattresses are built to support it instead. There's a huge distinction with this and, even if memory foam mattresses start out very firm and orthopedic, there’s a huge risk of the memory foam softening much quicker from the heat retention. This means that memory foam is at risk of losing its firmness before that of an orthopedic mattress.
Another thing is the heat factor also means that memory foam sleepers are known to sleep hot and it could interrupt your own dreaming. No matter how cold Europe can get, no one likes waking up sweating! On the other hand, orthopedic mattresses are meant to support the body but it doesn’t guarantee that motion transfer and noise will be minimized when sleeping partners move around.
Unlike the memory foam mattress, which can help relieve joint pain but isn’t medically proven to help sleep apnea or chronic sleep conditions, orthopedic mattresses can be prescribed by sleep doctors to help relieve extreme pain and orthopedic conditions.
Orthopedic mattress vs. the memory foam – making a decision!
Both mattresses have very strong advantages and very important disadvantages. A financial commitment to either one could potentially be a risk. Choosing the wrong one could lead to sleepless nights and waking up in extreme discomfort.
Since we spend a huge chunk of our lives sleeping, it’s crucial to have a good mattress to match your needs. To help you with that, here is a chart of the different characteristics of each mattress type that can, hopefully, guide you to a more informed decision on the orthopedic mattress vs. the memory foam debate.
|Memory Foam Mattress||Orthopedic Mattress|
|I want to relieve pain from my pressure points.||✓||✓|
|I suffer hip/ back/ neck pain.||✓||✓|
|I am diagnosed with arthritis and other similar joint conditions.||✓|
|I find it hard to breathe when I sleep.||✓|
|I like to move around in my sleep.||✓|
|I sleep beside a fitful/ noisy partner.||✓|
|I want to regularly rotate/ flip my mattresses.||✓|
|I prefer a soft to medium firmness in a mattress.||✓|
|I tend to sleep hot.||✓|
|I prefer plush mattresses.||✓|
|I want to improve my posture.||✓|
|I am sensitive to fumes and would like to avoid it as much as possible.||✓|
|Environmental impact is a huge factor for me.||✓|
|I want something to mold itself to my body.||✓|
|I have allergies that could be aggravated in my sleep.||✓|
|I want a very durable mattress.||✓|
|Body support is my main concern in a mattress.||✓|
|Comfort is my main concern in a mattress.||✓|
|I don't have time to do tons of research.||✓|
|I don't like the feeling of a clingy mattress.||✓|
So when it comes to making a decision on orthopedic mattress vs. memory foam mattress, research and actual testing is important. If buying online is the only option, reading reviews is the best way to go about that. Most mattress companies offer a free trial where you can return it if you’re unhappy and receive a full refund. These mattresses are safer to purchase online but, the best thing is to really consult, research, and test out.