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What Is Memory Foam, and How Does It Work?

From the Puffy Editorial Team | 9 min read.
What Is Memory Foam, and How Does It Work?

One of the most popular raw materials used in the manufacturing of mattresses, memory foam, also known as “slow spring back foam” was first developed by NASA in the 1970s. Known for its soft, body-contouring abilities, memory foam can be a great choice for sleepers who struggle with chronic body-ache.

So what is memory foam, really, and how has it become so common in the world of mattresses? This guide will cover everything you need to know about the advantages, types, and suitability of memory foam for sleep:

Table of Contents

What Is Memory Foam Made Of?

Memory foam is a synthetic material that is made of a polymer called polyurethane. To answer the question what is memory foam made of, it’s important to understand exactly what polymers are. Polymers are substances that are made of large molecules that are bonded together, and polyurethane happens to be one of the most common forms of polymers produced by humans today.

That’s because the versatility of polyurethane makes them useful for a wide range of applications, including furniture such as sofas and of course, mattresses, but also in liquid paints, elastic fibers, and insulation materials.

To create memory foam, you need to first add various compounds and additives into polyurethane, altering the structure depending on what you want to use it in. It’s also called ‘viscoelastic’ foam, or low-resistance polyurethane foam (LRPu). This means that its viscosity (how thick it is and how it feels to the touch) as well as its elasticity (how stretchy it is) alters from that of standard polyurethane.

How Does Memory Foam Actually Work?

How Does Memory Foam Actually Work? | Puffy

When you lay on top of a memory foam mattress, you’ll note that it feels a lot like placing your hand on top of a very dense sponge. Since they’re made to mold around your body, memory foam mattresses are exceptionally good at distributing pressure.

Memory foam also varies in responsiveness depending on the speed with which pressure is placed on top of it. What this means is that if you share your bed with a partner, you’re unlikely to feel them tossing and turning, because quick movements are absorbed very slowly by the material.

Memory foam does return to its original shape eventually, around five to ten seconds after any pressure is removed. The time this takes is known as ‘hysteresis’ and is useful for sleepers who need their pressure points relieved during their sleep. This is one of the key differences you’ll find when comparing memory foam vs spring - while memory foam takes a little longer to get back into shape, spring mattresses retain their original shape quickly and easily.

Finally, it’s important to note that memory foam can alter in unique temperature conditions. This means that in hotter temperatures, memory foam can become more pliable, and feel less stiff than in colder weather. It’s possible you might notice your mattress is softer after a night spent sleeping on it, and this is often because of your body heat through the night.

Check out Puffy mattress reviews from real customers and see how we compare with other brands.

What Are The Different Types Of Memory Foam?

What Are The Different Types Of Memory Foam? | Puffy

Memory foam has come a long way from the ’70s. With advancements in both sleep science and production processes, mattress experts have found new and innovative ways to hone in on memory foam benefits for a wide range of sleepers. It can be divided chiefly into three main categories:

  • Traditional Memory Foam: Original foam contains a closed-cell structure, which can result in stuffy sleep if you’re a hot sleeper. The feel of traditional memory foam is often compared to that of a pillow, and it has all the body-contouring properties that make it a great choice for sleepers with chronic pain.
  • Open-Cell Memory Foam: One way to think of open-cell foam is by comparing it to the cross-section of a sponge - there are many tiny passageways that ensure air is circulated properly, making sure your mattress remains well-ventilated. This type of foam is usually less dense than its traditional counterpart, so they’re often used on softer-feeling mattresses.
  • Gel-Infused Memory Foam: An innovative solution to the problem of temperature, gel-infused memory foam involves pumping microbeads into the polyurethane, thereby enabling pockets that are similar to the ones in open-cell foam. These microbeads actively work to absorb and release heat from your body, keeping you cool through the night.

The mattress industry is fast-evolving and constantly improving upon itself. From copper-infused foam that is made to dissipate heat, to eco-friendly foams that incorporate plant-based materials, there’s no shortage of options out there in the market.

This makes it all the more important to assess the quality of your mattress provider properly and ensure you’re getting as much as you can when you invest in a mattress.

What Are The Benefits Of Memory Foam?

Memory foam benefits make them a comfortable, versatile choice for a wide range of sleepers, which is why they’ve grown to be so popular. Here are a couple of examples of how they can positively impact your sleep routine:

  • Relieves your body’s pressure points: Memory foam benefits sleepers who struggle with chronic pain, thanks to the naturally contouring and low-impact feel properties of the material.
  • Naturally hypoallergenic: Have a tendency to sniffle while you sleep? The naturally dense structure of memory foam prevents too much accumulation of irritants such as dust, mites and dander, keeping you allergy-free.
  • Perfect for couples who need minimal motion transfer: Motion absorption properties of foam mattresses make them an ideal choice for couples who share a bed and are light sleepers. You can expect not to feel your partner toss, turn, or get up for a bathroom break in the middle of the night.
  • Encourages proper spinal alignment: For side sleepers and those who sleep on their back, memory foam benefits spinal alignment. On firmer, spring-based mattresses, contorting into different positions can often result in inadvertent strain, which foam mattresses avoid.

Are There Any Disadvantages To Memory Foam?

Are There Any Disadvantages To Memory Foam? | Puffy

Choosing a mattress that’s best for your sleep can be extremely subjective, but that does not mean it’s impossible to assess its pros and cons objectively. Here are a few commonly cited drawbacks of foam mattresses:

  • Excess heat retention: Though traditional memory foam might struggle with heat retention, modern mattresses have come a long way in making sure their beds keep as cool as possible. Despite this, it’s important to note some of the best mattresses for hot sleepers can still be made out of foam - through layers of gel-infused cooling foam or extra breathable mattress covers, there are many ways to deal with heat retention.
  • Cost: You might notice a big difference between shopping for memory-foam based mattresses in-store and online. That’s because big-box stores can drive up costs when it comes to investing in a new mattress. Thanks to the advent of only mattress shopping, there are now plenty of affordable options online today that come with a host of benefits, and none of the extra strain on your wallet.
  • Prone to water damage: Foam mattresses are not waterproof, and any liquid can potentially degrade or damage the foam. This can make cleaning your mattress a challenge. To prevent this, the full Puffy Mattress range comes equipped with water-proof, stain-proof covers, that keep your bed accident-proof and easy to maintain. If you’re investing in a memory foam mattress, be sure to buy a mattress protector if yours does not come with one already.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the purpose of memory foam?

Memory foam has many applications - from furniture such as couches and mattresses to insulation materials.

The body-contouring properties of memory foam make them a particularly comfortable option for mattresses.

Are memory foam mattresses good for your health?

Memory foam mattresses can be good for your health, depending on what you require from your sleep.

If you struggle with chronic pain, high-density foam is an ideal choice to help offset the pressure and ensure proper spinal alignment through your sleep.

Why is it called memory foam?

Memory foam always regains its shape, hence the name. It is also known as viscoelastic foam or slow spring back foam.

Which is the best memory foam mattress?

There are a ton of options available for sleepers looking for the best memory foam mattress. The original Puffy Mattress, a five-layer, all-foam bed, has been voted Best Mattress 2023.

If you prefer a mixed feel, our best-selling model, the Puffy Lux Hybrid, contains both memory foam and spring coils for an ideal and versatile mattress. If you prefer plush sleep that stays supportive, the Puffy Royal Mattress is the best choice for you.


Now that we’ve demystified memory foam, you should be able to go mattress shopping feeling a lot more comfortable knowing what you’re doing. Investing in a mattress is really an investment into your well-being since a good night’s sleep does so much more than leave you feeling well-rested: it also helps with mood regulation, heart health, and even athletic performance.

Choosing a mattress that protects your purchase with a solid warranty, is made with certified, high-quality materials, and a return policy that gives you the flexibility to change your mind. A comfortable night’s sleep is just a sleep upgrade away.

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