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Memory foam saved my sleep

Considering the amount of time we spend in bed, it’s so important to find the most comfortable mattress you can. Personally, I’d always been wary of memory foam mattresses, until the day that I actually tried one…

When I organised the first Which? test of memory foam mattresses back in 2006, I spent a long time talking to our highly experienced lab experts about the advantages and disadvantages of memory foam.

Their big concern was a suspicion that sleeping on memory foam significantly cuts down on the amount of rolling around people do at night. This could, they believed, have an impact on the nightly process of plumping up the discs between the vertebrae in our spine, a natural part of a good night’s sleep.

I wanted firm, not foam

I couldn’t find much medical evidence to support or disprove this view, but as part of my research I also learned that memory foam is hard and cold when you first get into bed. But once it softens you sink into it much more than a sprung mattress, reducing airflow around your body, which can make you feel much hotter.

Being a perpetually over-hot individual who already woke myself up several times a night turning over in bed, I also didn’t like the idea that it’s even harder to turn over in a memory-foam bed – the foam surrounding you is harder than the foam you’re sleeping on, so it creates some resistance to moving out of the ‘me-shaped’ mould your body heat creates.

So when I chose a mattress for my own bed I went for a good-quality, firm, sprung mattress with a high number of springs that offered good support. It started off OK, but I’ve always suffered from back and neck pain and over time I found it becoming more noticeable every day.

Back pain is just a memory

This all changed when I moved into a rented apartment in Shanghai where memory foam mattresses were all that were provided. The first time I sat on the bed my husband said ‘I know, I know, we can change apartments, but I have to tell you, I think this is the most comfortable bed I’ve ever slept in’.

And so it was; night after night of undisturbed sleep followed, with day after day of waking up refreshed instead of sore and sleepy. I did find it harder to turn over, but soon got used to it, so the only major problem was getting into bed in the freezing cold nights – when it did feel more like a marble slab for the first 10 minutes. Snuggling up close soon solved that though!

When we returned to the UK, a memory foam mattress was top of our list of things to buy. Choosing a new one was not easy; they all seemed to be considerably softer than the one we were used to in Shanghai. But in the end we found one that we like – it’s firm, has a padded cover so you don’t feel the initial cold, and I’ve never noticed feeling too hot on memory foam.

We both think that our bed is fantastically comfortable, and ‘Aaaah, I love my bed’ is as much a part of our bedtime ritual as ‘I love you’. It cost a lot of money but, as soon as I spend a few days away from home and my old backache returns, I know it was some of the best money we’ve ever spent.

So what do you think about sleeping on memory foam mattresses? Too hot, too cold or just right? Has it transformed your sleep or proved an expensive mistake?


Though I prefer to sleep on one side, I do turn periodically. I also move about the bed. I rarely have problems sleeping and I don’t have back problems. I do have a decent quality firm mattress.

The idea of being constrained by a memory foam mattress that adapts to my shape appals me.

Richard says:
29 September 2012

I was converted to memory foam about ten years ago and have not looked back since.

The real problem I had was with the heat. I am a very hot person (body and looks LOL) and when it cam round to summer temperatures I didn’t have a great time on a pure foam memory foam.

A few years ago I was turned on to sprung memory foam mattresses. Basically a sprung mattress with a memory foam layer instead of the usual padding. This has turned out great, as I am getting my good nights sleep without so much heat.

A word of warning, the sprung memory foam mattress isn’t a very good option for people over about 16 stone. I was 18 stone when I got my first one and I buggered the springs in less than a year. With this one I got six months ago it has seen me go down in weight to just under 16 stone and the difference it very noticeable.

Memory foam is definitely much better than a mattress, and once you have had one for a month try sleeping on a normal mattress and you will soon feel the difference.

I would advise people to think twice before buying a memory foam mattress or topper.

On buying a memory foam topper, initially my girlfriend and I thought it was great – very comfortable. However my girlfriend had a pretty bad allergic reaction that we eventually traced back to a new memory foam topper. We got rid of it and we’ve not looked back since.

A bit of internet research shows that this is not an isolated case. The things are covered in fire retardant (read carcinogenic chemicals) which means they continue to smell long after being aired for the requisite time period and which is far more likely to be detrimental to your health than the reduced risk of fire!

Don’t take the risk, spend a little bit more on an equally comfortable natural alternative such as Ikea’s SULTAN TORÖD Mattress topper.

Does all memory foam include carcinogenic chemicals as fire retardants? You have made a generalisation that could worry people unnecessarily.

What are the carcinogenic chemicals you are referring to?

Essentially yes they all contain it. Most people are oblivious to this potential risk factor.
Not aiming to advertise this company’s products, but their site has some good information on it including a list of many of the sort of chemicals found in these products:
I would welcome a which? investigation into this issue.

Thanks, Jon. I agree that some independent investigation would be useful because information provided by a company selling competing products might not be very balanced.

If the alternative is natural or synthetic latex we should remember that latex is a potent allergen for some people. I appreciate that they are unlikely to be in direct contact with the latex, but I would be more than a little worried if I was affected.

I’ll definitely stick with my mattress and hope that no-one reports any problems with that. 🙂


I have had a look at the list of chemicals on the website you mention and see that some of them are highly volatile and would quickly disappear after manufacture.

I suspect that the company is trying to sell its own products by criticising other products on the market. Proper independent analysis is needed to find the truth.

Godtfred Böen says:
15 August 2016

Ikea has changed their range of mattresses in 2016. I have an Ikea Sultan Tafjord which is made of viscoelastic polyeter. This is not being sold by Ikea anymore. The other mattresses they sold before 2016 were made of synthetic latex (not viscoelastic polyeter) . Only one of the mattresses in the former range was made of natural latex: the Sultan Toröd. That’s the one you recommended.
Can you confirm that both the mattresses made by synthetic latex and viscoelastic polyeter could imply health hazards?

“When I organised the first Which? test of memory foam mattresses back in 2006, I spent a long time talking to our highly experienced lab experts…”

Which? didn’t have a lab in 2006 so how did you do that?

We bought a memory foam-topped sprung mattress that was very comfy. However, never having had once before we didn’t realise how much they moulded. We also didn’t realise how soft it actually was, and as a front-sleeper, 10 months & numerous physio appointments later I’m still suffering from back pain. We changed to Ikea in January after spending quite a few trips trying out all their offerings. We also have a topper, which makes it easier to turn & less chance of permanent hollows.

Not perfect, and as a front-sleeper I will struggle, but much improved. We all have different likes & needs when it comes to bed. Moral of the story: don’t let yourself get pressured into buying a mattress without properly trying it (as much as that is possible). It’s possibly the most important purchase you will ever make.

We were about to buy a memory-foam mattress when we asked if it would be O.K. to use it with an electric-blanket.(My wife needs to use one in cold weather.) We were advised that the high temperature would make the plastic too soft and it would not work as it should.
The alternative sprung mattress recommended has proved very comfortable.

Had a memory foam mattress, a good one, but it had to go far to hot for both of us, gone back to a sprung mattress much cooler just as comfy and cheaper, i know many people who have had the same experience. They need to solve the Heating Problem!!!

Two and a half years ago we bought a Relyon mattress containing pocket springs and a 50mm layer of memory foam and this combination does still give a very comfortable night’s sleep. Previously we had a Dunlopilolatex mattress that was comfortable at first but progressively deformed into two pits and a central hump! We also occasionally sleep on an all-memory foam mattress and I find I wake up with an aching shoulder [akin to trying to sleep on the ground] as the foam is too unyielding – so do try out several versions before committing to an extremely expensive purchase. I think top-quality interior sprung mattresses are also extremely good so long as the spring density is not too high [makes it very heavy as well as over-firm] and the mattress is systematically turned through all directions over the course of a year. Combination matresses with an upper foam layer [and some interior sprung mattresses depending on composition] should only be rotated and not turned over – obviously this does not ensure balanced wear across all the springs which do deform over time neutralising some of the properties of the memory foam [the top profile of ours is starting to become uneven but it remains very comfortable].

Only the other day I was thinking it’s about time Which? had another look at mattresses [and produced a serious full-length report] as it is one of the most important purchases people have to make. It would be a far more valuable piece of research than trying to keep up with ther latest bit of tech ephemera. I support Wavechange’s call for a proper scientific examination of the composition of mattresses because chemicals are creeping into everyhting these days. Bedding is a marketing minefield with a lot of hype and promos but not much useful information available to the consumer; a badly-made sofa is one thing but a rotten night’s sleep for years is a real pain in the back.

par ailleurs says:
2 October 2012

I have to say that we bought a memory foam mattress over two years ago and have been absolutely delighted with it. I had a severe back problem which eventually needed a substantial operation to correct it. The new mattress arrived while I was in hospital. Straight away on my return I could sleep better even though I still had a large, healing operation scar on my back.
Our mattress has a sort of ventilation system which keeps some of the temperature build up under control but it is still warmer than before. This doesn’t bother me in the winter and in the summer I just sleep with a sheet to cover me rather than even a light duvet.
The other great bonus is that with the addition of a similar pillow, I sleep brilliantly on my back and no longer snore when doing so. No more elbow in the ribs from your partner has got to be a result all round.

Are foam matress pad helpful for low back pain?

Liz Prosser says:
19 February 2015

Just read all the comments, but still concerned about the chemicals. Perhaps our Which expert can comment on these, please?

Hi Liz, I’ve flagged your comments to our experts this morning. They’re currently out the office until early next week, but I’m certain they’ll post a message then. 🙂

Hi Liz, thanks for your patience while we investigate the chemicals in memory foam mattresses. Our experts are still looking into this for you and we’ll post again when there’s an update. 🙂

Apologies for the delay all – It’s been a rather long process to find the answers to your questions about the chemicals in memory foam mattresses.

It’s true that some flame retardants are potentially dangerous and therefore are strictly regulated (especially in toys and other products for children), and a lot of the chemicals listed on the website Jon links to are harmful, but many of them are also basic elements, such as metals. These can be toxic but in small concentrations are likely harmless – especially as you would probably have to eat the mattress in order to see any deleterious effect.

The bottom line is that as we don’t know which chemicals are used in mattresses and at what level, it’s impossible to tell if they are dangerous or not. We haven’t done any chemical testing on mattresses ourselves, and we’ve checked with our international partner organisations through ICRT and none of them have, either.

Andrew is absolutely right. We often don’t know whether chemicals are harmful or not.

Many chemicals used in the home and garden have been withdrawn since I was a young chemistry student. We can say with confidence that certain chemicals are harmful but it is difficult to be sure what is safe.

We go to great lengths to test cars to ensure that they are as safe as possible but pay far less attention to the chemicals that manufacturers put in their products.

Jon says:
21 April 2015

Seems quite strange that something you’re going to spend a third of your life in very close contact with hasn’t been tested for levels of harmful chemicals.

They clearly give off sufficient amounts of some chemicals to be quite pungent when new, requiring several days (weeks?) of airing – which let’s face it will be done inside the house in most cases.

Wavechange I think there are parallels between your point about road safety versus the much higher numbers that die prematurely because of air pollution. Because the link is so much more indirect/long acting people don’t give it the attention it deserves.

The smell inside new cars also makes me wonder how safe the interior of some cars are…

Delph says:
3 September 2015

I bought a memory foam mattress about 2 years ago and absolutely love it. I find it comfortable, and don’t find it hot and neither does my husband. I do move around a lot and the memory foam doesn’t hinder this – yes it does mould to your body to some extent but it doesn’t then set solid and stop you moving! We both sleep better than on our old sprung mattress.

Regarding chemicals, yes it did pong for a couple of weeks, but we certainly had no health problems. As Wavechange pointed out, these are volatile chemicals (which is why they gas off from a new mattress) so will soon disperse – once the smell has gone the chemicals are no longer in the mattress, or just a tiny residue. You just need to air a new mattress before putting it in your bedroom and sleeping on it. I do think the fuss about chemicals is a bit alarmist – some of the web sites do not take into account that the toxic effects of these chemicals are dose-related, so unless you receive a significant dose of the chemical, you won’t be harmed.