Ida Spruill loves the quality of sleep she gets with her memory foam pillow and mattress topper.
She purchased the pillow, then the topper, online about six years ago. Spruill says her sleep improved markedly with each purchase. Now, she can’t imagine sleeping without memory foam products.
“It’s almost like the memory foam engulfs your body,” says Spruill, a Medical University of South Carolina assistant professor of nursing.
Memory foam mattresses, made popular by Tempur-Pedic, also are made by Sealy, Sleep Number and other manufacturers.
“I can tell such a difference when I sleep on a bed without memory foam. I want to get the mattress. Right now, cost-wise, they are a little pricey. If I get the mattress, it’s all over with.”
Memory foam was developed by NASA and used in seats to absorb shock in airplanes and on space flights.
Early on, it was used in medical settings to relieve pressure on burn victims. Later, it was used as cushioning in Dallas Cowboys helmets. Today, many, like Spruill, are drawn to memory foam for sleeping.
Memory foam is a polyurethane with additional chemicals. Some manufacturers are replacing a portion of the chemicals in their memory foams with natural, plant-based substances such as those from bamboo and castor.
Shipments of noninnerspring mattresses, which include memory foam, as well as latex and air mattresses, rose 24 percent in 2011 over 2010, according to the International Sleep Products Association. A Consumer Reports survey released in July said subscribers who bought memory foam and inflatable air beds were more likely to say they were sleeping better than those who purchased innerspring mattresses. Tempur-Pedic was among the highest, and Sleep Number was rated first and third, respectively, among brands.
At Relax the Back in Mount Pleasant, sales of memory foam mattresses alone rose 8 percent over the past five years.
Who are buying these high-end mattresses? Market research shows it’s stressed-out baby boomers with back and knee problems and those among the estimated 60 percent of Americans who are sleep-deprived.
“What memory foam will do is let you lie down in a proper resting posture, with an S curve in the spine and a little bit of a bend in the knees,” says Todd Lowery, owner of Relax the Back in Mount Pleasant, which sells Tempur-Pedic and its house brand.
Foam density determines comfort, support and durability.
High-density memory foam softens when it comes in contact with body heat and weight, Lowery said. It supports sound sleep because it redistributes body weight to relieve discomfort at pressure points and helps to reduce tossing and turning.
The high-density mattresses contour better to the body, but some consumers complain they feel too warm, Lowery says. Yet some dense ones are cooler than others.
The majority of high-density memory foam mattresses in full and queen sizes cost $2,500 to $3,500.
Low-density memory foam, on the other hand, responds to body weight and will mold more quickly, but offers much less support, he says.
The low-density mattresses found in full and queen sizes can cost as low as $300 to $400.
In addition, some people unaccustomed to mattresses with good support dislike the high-density memory foam mattresses, Lowery says.
Petroleum-based memory foam mattresses do have an odor, Lowery says. Those without added plant material substituting for petroleum-based chemicals will smell more, he says. But the odor should dissipate within a day or two. Relax the Back’s store brand of memory foam mattress is 40 percent soy-based to reduce emissions from chemicals, he says.
Lowery says memory foam toppers can make mattresses feel softer and provide some pressure release, but don’t offer support. Additionally, toppers have no ventilation and will feel warmer than a standard mattress.
Two features of memory foam mattresses are that they are naturally hypoallergenic and dust mites can’t live in them, Lowery says.
There have been studies in which users are hooked up to various technologies to measure the quality of their sleep on memory foam, says Dr. Dale Friar, a Mount Pleasant chiropractor.
“What the individuals say often does not line up with the measured outcomes,” Friar said.
When it comes to his patients, about 50 percent get better sleep and 50 percent do not.
“I don’t think I have seen a great deal of change in patients who sleep on memory foam one way or the other,” Friar says. “People who sleep on a surface that is fairly firm tend to sleep better and feel better. The more support, the better for your overall posture and the better for you.”
Friar says he would like to see long-term sleep studies by independent organizations that address the effects of memory foam on the quality of sleep.
Latex foam mattresses have all the benefits of memory foam and they sleep cooler, says Brandon Maxey, a partner in Charleston-based Sleeping Organic.com.
Some chemically sensitive consumers, women going through menopause and others view it as an alternative to memory foam, he says.
The company’s standard mattress has three 3-inch layers of latex, soft, medium and firm, Maxey says.
But consumers can choose a degree of firmness, and once the mattress arrives at their home, they can rotate the layers of foam to change it. The layers also can be cut down the middle to provide different degrees of firmness for partners.
“The mattresses are 100 percent natural latex,” which is antimicrobial and dust mite-free, Maxey says, and there is no chemical smell.
Reach Wevonneda Minis at 937-5705.