Gel memory foam mattresses are a modern twist on a classic memory foam mattress. Sleepy shoppers may be on the hunt for a gel memory foam mattress due to its deep compression support, pressure relief, or cooling properties. This review will aim to explain the benefits of a gel foam mattress, the difference between gel foam vs. memory foam, and highlight what types of sleepers benefit from these types of mattresses.
Continue reading to get the full selection guide on gel memory foam mattresses or if you’d prefer to just see our preferred recommendations click here to jump down to the bottom of the page.
Gel Memory Foam
A gel memory foam mattress starts out like many other competitive foam mattresses- with a thick layer of support polyfoam. This establishes the solid foundation for all of the other top foam and comfort layers.
The actual gel can be manufactured in two ways. The first method incorporates the gel as tiny beads, which are evenly dispersed into the foam during fabrication. These gel beads create an open-cell structure that encourages air movement while you sleep. The gel can also be added to the foam in a liquid state during manufacturing. Both ways integrate the gel in the early stages of fabrication to make sure that the gel is cohesively spread throughout the mattress.
In general, liquid integrated gel is better, as you get more gel material dispersed throughout the mattress. In some cases you may also see gel pads affixed to the top of traditional memory foam.
Gel memory foam mattresses were first introduced to the bedding market around 2011 after years of unhappy sleepers struggling with their memory foam mattresses. Gel memory foam was introduced to combat one of memory foam’s greatest downfalls- heat retention. One of the reasons why people love memory foam mattresses is because of their deep compression and pressure relief. For achy sleepers or those who struggle with pain at night, the added support is a huge relief. But the heat retention can leave a body feeling hot, sweaty, and overall just uncomfortable.
Gel Memory Foam Benefits
As you can imagine, one of the biggest benefits of gel memory foam is the cooling that was lacking in traditional memory foam. This is due, in part, because of the composition in the gel, but also because of the gel structure that increases air circulation. More air in the mattress helps to dissipate heat from your body instead of allowing it to collect inside the mattress. With the slower response time of a memory foam mattress, it is even more critical that heat not be retained in the mattress.
Another advantage of a gel memory foam mattress (and classic memory foam as well) is pressure relief. The memory foam allows your body to sink into the mattress, relieving painful pressure points that might be keeping you up at night. Back, hip, and neck pain are just a few aches and annoyances that may be relieved by switching to memory foam.
Choosing a Gel Memory Foam Mattress
Many companies try to use “gel” as a buzz word to hype the quality and performance of their mattress. After all, how cool can a mattress be if it doesn’t have gel memory foam? Be wary of these types of tricks and traps.
A quality gel memory foam mattress will sleep cooler than a quality or low quality traditional memory foam. However, sparse gel beads, lower quality memory foam, cheap fire socks, poor layer design, and / or non-breathable mattress covers all factor in to the level of cooling that mattress is capable of. Just because it uses gel doesn’t mean it sleeps cool. On the inverse, just because it’s traditional memory foam doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to sleep warm.
Your specific cooling needs in combination with the other factors listed above will determine whether or not the mattress has the level of cooling best suited for you.
Use the following check list when shopping for a gel memory foam mattress:
- Is the mattress made from a gel swirl or gel beads? or is it made from liquid gel that penetrates the entirety of the foam or does it have a gel pad affixed to the top layers? – Liquid gel that penetrates the entire foam layer or solid gel pads offer better cooling than gel swirl / gel beds.
- Does the mattress use a thin cover or thick / quilted / padded cover? – Thin covers are generally able to breathe better and have better air flow
- What is the density (PCF = pounds per cubic foot) of the foam? – If it’s less than 3.0 PCF it’s probably not what you want, there are a few exceptions for transitional layers, but most visco elastic gel memory foam should be at least 3.0 PCF. Higher densities create better mattress longevity.
- Where was the foam poured and who is the mattress manufacturer? – this information isn’t always readily available, but when you can find it it can help. In general, I would recommend going with companies that pour and build in the US.
Gel Memory Foam vs. Other Types of Foam
Comparing gel memory foam to traditional memory foam is a bit of a no-brainer, in a side-by-side comparison with other variables held static, any reasonable quality gel memory foam is going to outperform a non-gel memory foam in terms of cooling.
However, there are other types of foam that perform as well as and better than gel memory foam in many cases.
- Latex Mattresses – sleeps as cool as and cooler, in many cases, than even the best gel memory foam. This is because latex is not heat activated. It’s has faster response and more bounce as well. Latex has a very different feel than memory foam. For those sleepers who want the classic memory foam hug latex probably isn’t the best fit, however, if you prefer a more balanced hug with exceptional cooling latex can offer better performance than gel memory foam. Ex. Brooklyn Bedding
- Hybrid Mattresses – these types of mattresses usually combine foam layers with coil layers. The coil layers are able to create better breathing than an all memory foam mattress, even all gel memory foam. Hybrid designs that utilize gel, latex, or other cooling foam can offer great cooling benefits. Ex. Nest Bedding Alexander Hybrid
- Coil Mattresses – they go by many names including coil, pocketed coil, coil on coil, innerspring, and spring, but they are very similar from a cooling perspective. Just like with a hybrid design, the coils allow for more air flow. Some coil mattresses will incorporate foam in the top layers, similar to a hybrid design, or they may utilize pillow tops that are stuffed with foam (sometimes gel foam). The combination of improved airflow from the coils + cooler foams in the top layers can result in great cooling. Ex. Saatva
- Custom Foams – other custom foams like Avena offer many of the same benefits as latex. Ex. Leesa
- Advanced Memory Foam – some advanced memory foams use special pouring techniques, this creates an extremely high level of air flow and breathability in the mattress. The most high end memory foams can achieve a level of cooling similar to quality gel memory foam with no gel at all. The cooling is achieved through impressive air circulation, helped by a well designed mattress, mattress cover, and fire sock. Ex. Amerisleep
If you’re looking for deep compression, pressure relief, spinal alignment, and support of the core muscles… but without the heat retention of traditional memory foam, a gel memory foam mattress may be the right choice for you. It is gaining in popularity as a cooler memory foam mattress with better air circulation. For a high-quality gel memory foam mattress, Sleepopolis recommends:
|2.0" gel memory foam + 2.5" memory foam + 2.0" poly foam + 5.5" support foam, traditional quilted cover, high density foam layers||$999||Read Review|
|1.5" of latex + 2" of gel memory foam, thin cover||$700||Read Review|
|2.0" gel memory foam (beads) + 2.0" memory foam + 2.0" Energex + 4.0" support foam, thin cover||$900||Read Review|
|2" Avena foam (latex alternative) + 2" memory foam, thin cover||$815||Read Review|
|2.0" advanced aerated memory foam + 4.0" advanced poly foam + 7.0" support foam, thin cover, high density foams||$1,799||Read Review|
|2.0" gel polymer + 3.5" poly foam + 4.0" support foam, thin cover||$999||Read Review|