Should You Buy A Memory Foam Or Orthopaedic Mattress?

Do you get enough sleep? If you are like most Britons, the answer is probably “No”! In fact, National Bed Federation’s Sleep Council reports that the average adult in the UK only gets about six-and-a-half hours of sleep nightly and that this problem is mostly down to uncomfortable mattresses.

Dr. Chris Idzikowski representing Edinburgh Sleep Centre supports this theory by saying that simply replacing your old bed with a new one could result in an extra three-quarters of an hour sleep every night.

The reason for this is that as your mattress supports your weight, night-after-night for years, it loses its resiliency. In the course of a decade, it may become 70% less springy and supportive. That’s why the Sleep Council recommends a new mattress every seven years.

What kind of mattress should you choose? These days there are so many choices in mattress material. If you have back pain issues (or if you want to prevent them) you may have had your eye on orthopaedic or memory foam mattresses. Which is better? What’s the difference? In this article, we will answer those questions and more. We will also provide some smart tips on successful mattress shopping. Read on to learn more.

What is memory foam?

Memory foam is a polymer made using a blend of polyurethane and various chemicals. Polyurethane is a by-product of petroleum refining. This material was developed in the 1970s by NASA for the purpose of cushioning astronauts and protecting them from G-force injuries. Since then, it has become very popular as a material for pillows, mattress toppers and mattresses.

The appeal of memory foam is that it is usually quite affordable and it can conform perfectly to the contours of a sleeper’s body providing complete support. When the sleeper arises, the foam returns to its original shape gradually.

There are varying degrees of quality when it comes to memory foam, and the overall quality of the product has improved greatly with the passage of time. Low quality or older memory foam may deteriorate fairly quickly. This can result in two problems:

  1. Loss of support structure.
  2. Off-gassing of smelly and potentially dangerous fumes.

If you decide to go with this product, it is best to buy it brand new and investigate the quality and reputation of the products you are considering purchasing. You may wish to look for earth and health-friendly options in memory foam mattresses and bedding.

Memory foam can be earth-friendly

Although the original formulation of this product relied entirely on petroleum products, there are plant based (botanical) alternatives. Be sure to research any product you plan to purchase and opt for safer, natural alternatives whenever you can.

Most mattresses labeled as being “memory foam” actually only have a layer of this substance on the top; however, this is not necessarily a bad thing. High quality foam mattresses are usually made of several layers of foam of varying densities. This construction provides more balanced weight distribution qualities.

Try it out first!

Before purchasing a memory foam mattress or bed topper, you should take it for a test spin. Some people report that even though the material feels luxurious at the outset, it can become very hot when in use for a lengthy time period. Additionally, some sleepers report feeling “trapped” and having trouble disengaging themselves from the perfectly conformed grasp of the mattress.

To deal with the problems of heat and feelings of confinement, you might want to layer a cotton mattress topper on the surface of the memory foam mattress or use a heat resistant bamboo fabric mattress cover. Alternately, look for memory foam mattresses with cooling gel pads built in.

Memory foam pros:

  • Wide Selection
  • Affordability
  • Contouring
  • Comfort

Memory foam cons:

In addition to these pros and cons, keep in mind that memory foam mattresses can be very inexpensive and easy to purchase with “bed-in-a-box” capability. Additionally, these mattresses are usually a little easier to move and turn than a standard mattress.

One word of caution: If you plan to use a memory foam mattress for a sleeper who may be incontinent, be sure to use a waterproof cover. Memory foam is horribly heavy when wet.

What are the qualities of an orthopaedic mattress?

Orthopaedic mattresses may be made of a wide variety of materials. When a mattress is labeled as being orthopaedic, this means that the mattress is designed for the purpose of supporting your joints, bones and body. This type of mattress is often recommended for people dealing with back injuries, joint problems and/or problems with spinal alignment.

A mattress is “certified orthopaedic” because of its design. It may be made of any material and may or may not have an innerspring. If it does have springs, they may be in a wide variety of configurations, such as open springs, pocket springs or rows of springs secured to one another with wire.

The free Sleep Council Bed-Buyer’s Guide provides guidance on spring structure. Order it at or

Each of these configurations behaves differently in use, so it’s important to double-check, research and ask questions about any orthopaedic bed you are considering purchasing. These beds are usually a bit pricey, and there really is a big difference in the way the different spring structures feel in the course of a long night’s sleep.

A well made orthopaedic mattress is a good investment

The advantage of purchasing an orthopaedic mattress with spring construction is that it should be durable and long-lived. Although many people think that an orthopaedic mattress is automatically a very hard mattress, this is not always the case. A good orthopaedic mattress may be offered in a variety of levels of firmness and with lots of choices in toppers to add even greater comfort.

Sometimes it’s a good idea to combine an orthopaedic spring mattress with a memory foam topper for the best of both worlds. Other choices in mattress toppers for perfect comfort include:

  • Spun polyester batting
  • Cotton batting
  • Goose down
  • Bamboo fiber

You might wish to change your bed topper seasonally for the greatest degree of comfort in terms of cooling or warmth.

Pros of an orthopaedic mattress:

  • Springy (not clingy)
  • Good air circulation
  • Good investment
  • Pain relief
  • Long-lived

Cons of an orthopaedic mattress:

  • Heavy and difficult to move
  • May feel hard
  • Can be costly

An orthopaedic spring mattress is more of an item of furniture than a memory foam mattress. Oddly, for people who could not move or turn a memory foam mattress or a standard mattress on their own, an orthopaedic spring mattress with a collection of washable toppers may be the better choice. The toppers can be easily changed at will, and help can be called in seasonally to turn the mattress.

Read also: Best sleeping position after knee arthroscopy

Here are 8 smart tips to help you make a good choice when you go bed buying:

1. Don’t go alone. Take your bedmate along so that you can make a choice that makes everybody happy. Keep in mind that it is possible to purchase a pair of single bed mattresses of different firmness and then join them together with a zippered casing. You can also add a mattress topper for greater comfort.

2. Go when you are fresh. If you hunt for a mattress when you are tired, you won’t be able to make a good choice. They’ll all feel good.

3. Take your time. According to The Sleep Council, the vast majority of people just take a couple of minutes to choose a mattress, then they expect to be comfortable on it every night for seven years. This is a recipe for dissatisfaction. Don’t rush. Devote at least ten minutes of “down-time” to each mattress you are considering. Take notes because trying out mattresses is like testing perfume: it’s very easy to become confused.

4. Wear comfy clothes. Some people even mattress-shop in their PJs. If this is a bit much for you, wear a lounge set or a sweat suit. This will help you have a better idea of how the bed with feel when you actually sleep in it.

5. Make sure the bed you choose is a minimum of four inches longer than the height of the tallest sleeper. Six inches is even better! Remember that the pillow takes up some space at the top of the bed, so unless you measure, you may end up with some uncomfortably dangling feet.

6. Don’t worry about the mattress label. Decide whether you think the bed is soft, medium or hard by lying on it and giving it a try.

7. Check support level. When you lie down and relax on a bed, try to slip your hand between your back and the top of the mattress. If you can, then you know the bed is too hard and will not provide enough support. Keep looking.

8. Only purchase from shops offering 100% satisfaction guaranteed and easy exchanges. If you make an investment in a bed, bring it home and then find that you simply cannot sleep on it, you don’t want to be left with a major out-of-pocket expense and no recourse.

Is a hard bed better than a soft bed?

It’s really all up to you and your needs and preferences. According to the BackCare HelpLine, the idea that a hard bed is good for back pain is passé. Rather than insisting on a hard bed or a soft bed, consider important factors such as your age, height, weight and personal preference when choosing a bed. In the final analysis, if you are uncomfortable in the bed, it was not a good choice.

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