Are Memory Foam Mattresses Bad?

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Some things are simply out of our control. The weather, for example, there’s not much you can do about the wind or the rain. Luckily, we have control over plenty of things in our lives, and how much we commit to our health is one of those things.

Diet, exercise and sleep. For the most part, these three systems largely determine our health and are things we can (mostly) control. We can choose what we eat and how often we exercise. Sleep, however, can sometimes evade people. Millions of people suffer from sleepless nights, leading to all sorts of short and long term health problems.

It’s incredibly important to get quality sleep. And investing in a quality mattress is an easy step that will have huge benefits. But with so many kinds of mattresses on the market, how do you know which mattress is right for you?

One of the great debates in the mattress world is whether or not foam mattresses are good for a person’s health. Sleep is a very subjective thing to measure — one person’s “good sleep” can look different from another person’s. But we can look at the quality of a mattress objectively.

Memory foam mattresses have an interesting history. Memory foam was actually first invented by NASA in the mid 1960s and sent into space as spaceship seat cushions. After that, memory foam was used in many different applications, from padding inside helmets to making prosthetic limbs more comfortable to wear.

When mattresses finally became cost effective to make, consumers were impressed with the qualities of this unique material. Over time, however, some aspects of memory foam have been called into question.

Memory foam is made of polyurethane; other chemicals are added to increase its viscosity and density. Memory foam is often called “viscoelastic” polyurethane foam, or low-resilience polyurethane foam (LRPu).

The reason why memory foam makes a comfortable mattress is because higher-density foam softens in reaction to body heat. This allows it to quickly mold to a warm body, and then return to its original shape after use.

The drawbacks to memory foam are mostly due to the chemicals that go into making them. Chemicals are also released from the mattresses after they have been manufactured. One effect of memory foam is something called “off-gassing”, which happens “volatile organic compounds” (VOCs) break down. In mattresses, VOCs exists mostly in the foam and adhesives and can include chemicals like chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), formaldehyde, benzene, methylene chloride, toluene, trichloroethane, naphthalene, perfluorocarbons.

While studies have not confirmed a link to serious health problems and memory foam mattresses, there are plenty of reports of people feeling the effects. Headaches, nausea, skin irritation, and respiratory difficulties are a few of the symptoms people experience from memory foam mattresses.

Since World War Two, 80,000 new chemicals have been invented and placed in household items, though the the impact of only a few have been studied. It depends on how comfortable you feel with that knowledge that might determine some of your lifestyle choices. While they might not be as accessible or marketed as well, there are always chemical free options available. In the mattress world, naturally occurring latex mattresses are an alternative that many consumers are turning to.

When it comes to mattresses, it’s important to consider what effect they have on your health. This is a product that you use more than most other products in your life — eight hours every single day. As a consumer trying to navigate the world, it’s important to make informed decisions that keep you healthy and happy.