Memory Foam Mattresses

Published on December 12th, 2012 | by tmgadmin

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What’s in a Memory Foam Mattress?

Comparison of Traditional and Plant-Based Memory Foam Mattress Options

What's in a memory foam mattress?

When it comes to a comfortable sleeping surface, nothing has proven to be more advanced and non-debated than the memory foam mattress. Up until the middle portion of the century, consumers were stuck with the back breaking, spine poking sleeping surfaces, called spring mattresses. These mattresses consist of a metal coil underneath a moderate comfort cushion. The coils were designed to create lasting durability within the mattress, by essentially holding the sleeper up.

But they soon proved to be the mattresses biggest issue. Everyone has encountered at least one spring mattress at one point or another, which has had a coil either pop out of place and poke them, or bend under the pressure leaving an uncomfortable indentation on the bed. Back pain remains another common issue with coil mattresses as they do not support natural alignment. Memory foam mattresses offer greater comfort and durability due to their material and support systems.

Development of Memory Foam

But, although this was the case, new methods of making mattresses proved commercially unviable. However in the middle portion of the 20th century, NASA began developing polyurethane based memory foam for reasons completely unrelated to sleep, as it was meant to provide stable comfort for astronauts enduring the g-forces of lift off into space.

Later, scientists recognized its potential commercial value and sold the patent to a company that would become the popular Tempurpedic brand. Perhaps the first to adopt the new style of beds were medical facilities, which used the material for bedridden patients suffering from bed sores, realizing that a memory foam mattress dramatically reduced this condition. And alas, the pressureless benefits of the new bed became popular and helped propel it to popularity.

What’s in a Memory Foam Mattress?

Arguably one of the most popular brand names of memory foam mattress are the Tempurpedic mattresses. Traditional memory foam mattresses like Tempurpedic are based off of petroleum products, and have a polyurethane base. A memory foam mattress starts off as polyurethane foam. Polyurethane foam itself is manufactured by combining various components such as halocarbons, hydrocarbons, water and polyurethane mix.

Tempurpedic mattresses, and any other traditional memory foam mattress, is created by mixing a polyol with a dissocyanate and water. The foam then acts almost like bread to create a rising memory foam mattress.

Potential Issues with Traditional Memory Foam

While this type of mattress has served a very comfortable alternative to traditional spring mattresses, it also has it’s drawbacks. Since the bed is based on polyurethane, happens to be highly combustible, smelly and has varied health risks attributed to it.

Since the majority of a person’s time is spent sleeping, or hanging out on their bed watching TV, it’s highly improbable that they would want to subject themselves to a an unhealthy environment, via their mattress. It sounds kind of far-fetched, however, because it is a petroleum based product. It can be a fire hazard when subjected to a spark, or an open flame and for this reason fire-inhibiting chemicals must be used, adding to the toxicity.

All of the chemical additives that go into traditional memory foam, commonly termed VOCs or volatile organic compounds, off-gas. This is what causes the odor some people complain about with new foam beds. The emissions may cause respiratory discomfort and aggravate conditions like asthma, emphysema, and chronic bronchitis. VOCs also seep into the body through the skin, with many being known or suspected carcinogens.

Plant-Based Memory Foam Mattress Options

There have been recent developments by brands like Amerisleep who have decided to take an unorthodox approach to memory foam mattress manufacturing. These new mattresses are natural, and plant based. Typically, they replace all or part of the petro-products with plant oils like soy and use non-toxic additives for the foaming process. Many even come with organic cotton, wool or bamboo covers, which is both good for a healthy lifestyle and the environment. Bamboo is a naturally fast regenerative resource, and can regenerate in about 5 years, and soy remains a highly sustainable and replenishable crop.

A plant based memory foam mattress, unlike Tempurpedic mattresses, is hypoallergenic, inside and out, and doesn’t create the toxic VOC/off-gassing issue so often complained about. Some manufacturers have even reached a step farther by producing open-cell structured mattresses, that allow for more give and less resistance. This kind of structure, seen with Amerisleep’s BioPur memory foam doesn’t prohibit air flow within the cells of the memory foam mattress, and allows for maximum breathability.

It also serves its purpose as a temperature regulator. While Tempurpedic mattresses use temperature sensitive foam that trap heat, plant-based foams use weight responsive technology to provide the pressureless feel. A study by Cargill showed that plant-based foams are 25% more effective at dissipating heat. Open cell structured mattresses further regulate temperature by allowing new air to enter the spaces under the sleeper, to reduce the heat trapped inside caused by continuous body heat.

Overall, memory foam remains one of the most highly rated beds by consumers, and with good reason. From their interesting creation to their pressure-relieving, spine supporting benefits, these beds offer a markedly improved sleeping surface over standard spring beds.  However, it’s important for consumers to realize that, like with most things, the “big name” brand may not always offer the best option. In terms of price and your health, it is worth taking a look at natural alternatives when shopping for a memory foam mattress.

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