Memory foam mattresses provide sleepers with a world of body-contouring comfort, but many sleepers find traditional memory foam materials to be too hot. Unfortunately, memory foam possesses poor air circulation and tends to retain body heat within the sleeping environment. However, there are two distinct bedding materials that provide sleepers with just about all of the benefits of memory foam without causing a sweaty sleep: gel memory foam and latex.
What is Gel Memory Foam?
Gel memory foam differs from traditional memory foam because it contains gel beads, also known as cooling gel, that is infused into the mattress layers. The resulting mattress contours perfectly to a sleeper’s body, and creates a cradling or hugging feeling. Most gel memory foam layers are naturally hypoallergenic, and the gel memory foam itself is available in mattresses, pads, and toppers.
The biggest difference between gel memory foam mattresses and other memory foam beds is temperature control. Standard memory foam can contain copper, graphite, or air channels to improve breathability. While standard memory foam may contain aerated holes, it possesses poor air circulation and tends to retain body heat within the sleeping environment. Therefore, gel bed are considered to be one of the best cooling mattresses.
Gel Memory Foam Strengths
Unlike traditional memory foam mattresses, gel memory foam mattresses possess superior cooling capability due to the gel beads and pocketed coils inside the material. Gel memory foam typically has a bit more firmness than standard memory foam, and it’s great for limiting motion within the bed, making it easier for couples who toss and turn in their sleep.
The unique composition of gel memory foam delivers greater comfort and alleviates tension on pressure points throughout a sleeper’s body. Better still, gel memory foam is widely available in a broad range of thickness and firmness, and the allergy-friendly material is also resistant to dust mites and bed bugs.
Gel Memory Foam Drawbacks
Because it supports a cooler sleeping environment, gel memory foam is more expensive than traditional memory foam, and some sleepers dislike the sinking and cradling feeling that is commonly associated with the material. Gel memory foam is also less eco-friendly than latex, which can be comprised of completely natural and biodegradable materials.
Is Gel Memory Foam Right for You?
Mattresses made of gel memory foam are ideal for people who love the feeling of memory foam but hate sleeping in hot or sweaty bedding. More specifically, the mattress’s cooling gel ensures a very breathable sleeping environment with less heat retention. Gel memory foam also delivers perfect comfort for sleepers who need deep compression and supportive contouring. Like latex, gel memory foam is also great for sleepers with asthma or perennial allergies.
What is Latex?
Latex mattresses are widely available in natural, synthetic, and blended varieties. As the name suggests, natural latex mattresses are comprised entirely of biodegradable and hypoallergenic materials made from rubber tree sap, and they contain few, if any, potentially harmful chemicals. Natural latex also possesses a distinct elasticity that stretches and simultaneously moves back to the mattress’s original shape, which ultimately provides better pressure relief and healthier support for the sleeper’s posture.
Synthetic latex isn’t made from natural materials and it’s not as elastic as natural latex, but it’s generally cheaper than the natural and blended varieties.
Unlike natural latex foam, synthetic foam is commonly comprised of styrene-butadiene rubber (SBR) for a feel that is very similar to natural latex, so the two can be hard to distinguish from each other by touch alone. Other materials commonly used in synthetic foam and blended varieties include man-made fillers, as well as clay, calcium oxide, and titanium dioxide. These materials dilute the purity of the latex foam and often provide a weaker, less durable product.
If selecting an eco-friendly mattress is important to you, be sure to select a latex mattress with GOLS certification. The Global Organic Latex Standard ensures that the latex products contain a minimum of 95% natural materials that are farmed using sustainable, environmentally-friendly methods.
Latex foam is typically produced using either the Dunlop or Talalay manufacturing process, and as a general rule of thumb, latex material has more bounce and lift than memory foam. Like gel memory foam, latex foam bedding is available in mattresses, mattress pads, and mattress toppers.
One of the greatest characteristics of latex foam is its enhanced longevity. On average, latex lasts longer than most innerspring and memory foam mattresses, and it has better durability than both traditional and gel memory foam. Unlike other household latex products that you might be familiar with such as latex gloves or clothing, latex foam bedding is surprisingly cool. This is because most latex bedding has air pockets incorporated into the foam, which allows better air circulation and prevents body heat entrapment.
Like gel memory foam, latex foam is also hypoallergenic and resistant to both bed bugs and dust mites. Latex has a faster response time than gel memory foam, meaning there’s almost no sinking feeling when you move around in the bed. Latex is also available in a wide range of density settings to accommodate just about any personal preference.
Like gel memory foam mattresses, latex is more expensive than traditional mattresses. Latex foam provides less motion isolation than gel memory foam, so latex bedding may not be ideal for those dealing with sensitive injuries. Additionally, latex is not as contouring as gel memory foam and it provides more of a generalized compression which can be an issue for sleepers expecting a firm surface that cradles their body during the night.
Is Latex Right for You?
Latex mattresses are perfect for sleepers who dislike the enveloping feel of memory foam. It’s also the ideal material for sleepers who want a mattress that moves with them during sleep with a faster response time. Like gel memory foam, latex bedding is also safe for sleepers suffering from asthma or yearlong allergies.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do gel memory foam and latex provide spinal support?
Gel memory foam delivers excellent support for back pain relief and alleviates tension on your pressure points. Latex mattresses also help with spinal support due to their quick response time and reduced sink. Both gel memory foam and latex are solid options if you or your partner suffer from chronic back pain.
How often should I clean or rotate my gel memory foam or latex mattress?
Some gel memory foam and latex mattress owners like to rotate their bed every six months, but it’s not a requirement. Look for mattresses that are designed to resist daily wear and tear without the need for additional maintenance.
Gel memory foam and latex mattresses should be cleaned every six months or so to preserve the integrity and comfort of the mattress. You can clean your gel memory foam or latex mattress with a vacuum and/or by spot-checking the mattress with an even mix of liquid laundry detergent and water.
What’s the difference between Dunlop latex and Talalay latex?
Dunlop and Talalay are two different manufacturing processes for latex mattresses. In the Dunlop process, latex is poured into a mold, filling it completely. The latex will settle, and the resulting latex foam will feel thick along the bottom and softer towards the top.
In the Talalay process, latex is only partially poured into a mold, and the remaining space is filled with air. The resulting latex will expand and possess a more consistent feel throughout the mattress.
Which option is better for side sleepers?
In general, memory foam beds are recommended for side sleepers due to the hugging sensation and deep pressure relief that they provide—and gel memory foam is no exception. Some side sleepers may be disappointed by the generalized contour provided by a latex mattress, so be sure to offset this by selecting a softer surface if you want to buy a latex mattress.
No matter the mattress type, mattresses for side sleepers are often soft to medium to cradle and protect the pressure points.
Which option is better for stomach sleepers?
The best mattresses for stomach sleepers are often firm tp prevent the hips and torso from sinking too deeply into the mattress. That being said, a latex mattress is likely the better option between the two because there is less sink in latex foam and a more generalized compression. Keep in mind that gel memory foam mattresses come in a wide variety of firmness options, so you might be able to find one that works for you as a stomach sleeper.
What can I expect when I unbox my gel memory foam or latex mattress?
There is an odor that owners can expect to smell when they first unbox their new gel memory foam or Talalay latex mattress. This effect is called off-gassing, which occurs as a result of volatile organic compounds, otherwise known as VOCs, breaking down and releasing a smell. This smell is generally harmless and should dissipate within a few days. Be sure to unpackage your new mattress in a box in a well-ventilated room to air the space out even faster.
No matter which option you choose—gel memory foam or latex—both materials deliver enhanced mattress support and superior body contouring compared to innerspring mattresses. Both latex and gel memory foam materials are hypoallergenic and resistant to nighttime irritants, and both require a little maintenance, such as cleaning and rotating, to last their intended lifespan.
The material’s feel and your own personal preference will play a key role in your purchasing decision. While gel memory foam provides more firmness and pressure point support, latex lasts longer, has a faster response time, and possesses less of the sinking sensation that annoys certain sleepers. Whichever option you choose, you can rest easy knowing that you made a better investment in a comfortable and supportive night of sleep.
Chris was a psychiatrist and neurologist with board certification in sleep medicine Clinical Associate Professor at the University of California. For over 10 years, he served and helped patients at Stanford Health Care-Stanford Hospital with their sleeping disorders.
After suffered from sleep disorders for years, Chris has been passionate about sleep health ever since. He wants to help others sleep better and wanted to make the world of sleep easy to understand for everyday people.