Memory Foam has become such a huge phenomenon in the world of mattress design that it has now got its own separate subcategories – the most famous of which is cooling gel memory foam.

Today we’re going to look at the difference between memory foam and gel mattresses to see how they work, what’s different about them, and which situations they are best suited to.

Let’s get started.

Similarities

  • They are equally as supportive
  • They are equally as comfortable
  • They are all available in various firmness levels

Differences

  • Cooling gel mattresses are usually more expensive than standard memory foam products
  • Memory foam gets much hotter than gel mattresses

Construction Comparison

To understand the difference between memory foam and cooling gel mattresses we need to take a quick science lesson.

Memory foam was invented by NASA who were trying to find a material that would improve the safety of airplane seats. Like most of the things that NASA creates, it was released without restriction or copyright to the world. Mattress manufacturers jumped on it immediately and it changed the industry overnight.

However, because the material was not designed for mattress use, a flaw in the design of the material became quickly apparent – it stores heat, and it gets hot.

The reason memory foam gets hot is because it is made up of lots of little cells which contain air inside of them. Each cell is completely enclosed, and when heat enters the mattress it heats the air inside the cells up.

Because the air cannot escape the cell, hotspots form underneath the sleeper and the sleeping surface becomes too warm to be comfortable.

There are two main ways that this problem can be solved. One is called open cell memory foam, and the other is cooling gel.

Open Cell Memory Foam

We’re not going to be giving out prizes if you manage to guess how open cell memory foam works. As the name suggests, in this kind of memory foam the cells are opened on one side, allowing the air that would normally be trapped to now ventilate throughout the mattress. This allows air to leave the mattress and escape out into the bedroom – taking the heat it stores with it.

It’s a simple concept, but open cell memory foam is very hard to actually create – it remains one of the most expensive and advanced forms of the material on the market. It’s very effective, and almost entirely eliminates the overheating problems of memory foam.

Cooling Gel Memory Foam

Cooling gel mattresses work in a slightly different way. Despite the name, cooling gel doesn’t actually cool anything down – it just spreads the heat out. Cooling gel can come in many different forms, but it’s always a material that is an excellent thermal conductor (which means it likes to transfer heat).

The way this works in practice is quite simple.

Heat enters the mattress but is absorbed by the gel before it has the chance to get into the cells and heat up the air. The gel then spreads the heat out quickly and evenly throughout the rest of the gel in the layer. This reduces the number of hotspots that form underneath the sleeper and makes the mattress feel cooler – despite the same amount of heat actually being present (more or less).

Fun Fact: Cooling gels can sometimes be replaced with fancy materials like graphite, copper, and other metals. The principle is the same, and they’re all excellent thermal conductors.

Open Cell Cooling Gel Memory Foam

Combining open cell technology with cooling gel is something that is uncommon, but it does happen from time to time. It’s the coolest kind of memory foam in existence pound for pound, and while it’s not cheap – the level of performance it provides is undeniable.

Firmness Comparison

All kinds of memory foam (gel based or otherwise) can be found in a wide range of different firmness levels. The most common is medium firm because it’s the most agreeable level of firmness for most people.

That being said, you’ll be able to find soft and firm memory foam and gel mattresses with ease – mainly because the material is so darn popular these days.

Price Comparison

Cooling gel memory foam products are generally more expensive than standard memory foam products. While the cost of adding and infusing cooling gel into memory foam has come down significantly over the years – it’s still an additional step (and material) that needs to be taken into account when costing the final product.

The only exception to this is perhaps open cell memory foam. Open cell products can be more expensive than cooling gel mattresses (depending upon the quality of the gel and the quality of the open cell technology).

Which Bed Sleeps Cooler?

Cooling gel memory foam is much cooler than standard memory foam.

In fact, to be totally honest, almost every material used in mattress design is cooler than standard memory foam.

The tricky part comes when you try to compare open cell memory foam to gel-based memory foam. It’s very difficult to say which is definitively “cooler” than the other because there’s such a huge variation in quality of cooling gels and open cell designs.

It’s a hot debate in the mattress industry, and we’re not going to get drawn into it. If one is cooler than the other, the difference is probably small anyway. Both cooling gel and open cell products are usually exceptionally cool sleeping surfaces.

Which Bed Would Be Best For A Side Sleeper?

There’s no difference between open cell, cooling gel, and traditional memory foams in terms of support and pressure distribution (all other things being equal). It all depends on the quality of the materials used and the properties of the other layers that have been included in the mattress.

That being said, all memory foam is adaptive and has brilliant supportive properties. Regardless of your sleeping position (or memory foam type) a memory foam product is usually going to be perfectly suited to side sleepers.

Should I Buy A Memory Foam Or A Gel Bed?

This honestly depends on the mattress as a whole, cooling gel memory foam usually works with other layers in the mattress to provide vastly different levels of performance. Standard memory foam also has its uses when it is used further down inside the mattress.

The only thing we can definitively say here is that you should avoid buying any product that has a standard memory foam top layer that doesn’t have any cooling technology in it. As this layer is going to be in direct contact with the sleeper it becomes far too hot throughout the night and makes for a very unsatisfactory night’s sleep.

3 Good Memory Foam Mattresses

Let’s take a look at what we think are 3 of the best memory foam mattresses on the market right now. Most of these products use a cooling gel of some kind in them, but they also have other technologies that set them apart from the 3 gel mattresses we’re going to talk about in the next section (which mostly rely on gel alone to provide their cooling capabilities).

Muse Mattress

The Muse mattress is one of the best value for money memory foam products on the market right now. It uses a 4-layer hybrid design that combines different layers of foam in different ways to create a product that benefits from their individual properties.

Washable Cooling Cover

Usually, we wouldn’t bother talking about the cover of a mattress in an article as general as this, but there’s something special about this cover. It’s a super soft cotton mattress cover that’s highly breathable and of an exceptional quality.

The interesting thing, however, is the “diamond breeze” technology that has been included in the cover – it’s unlike anything we’ve ever seen before.

This layer has very small thin strands of metal woven into it which act kind of like a radiator in reverse. When heat touches these metal strands it is distributed throughout the rest of the metal in the cover because metal is an excellent thermal conductor (it kind of works like cooling gel, albeit slightly differently). This results in a much cooler sensation for the sleeper as it removes hotspots by spreading the heat out at the point of contact.

Cooling Gel Memory Foam

This is the only memory foam layer in the product and it uses cooling gel technology to help with the thermal distribution problems we talked about earlier. It’s a thick layer of foam that does an excellent job of keeping things cool. The distribution of cooling gel is even, and it works hand in hand with the diamond breeze technology in the layer above to provide an exceptionally cool sleeping surface.

Comfort Foam

This is a reasonably standard layer of comfort foam that provides some of the support of the mattress. It’s a transition layer mainly, and it softens the gradient between the luxurious memory foam above and the base layer below

High-Density Support Foam

This is a quality base layer made from high-density support foam. It’s reasonably unimpressive (like most base layers) but we do like the edging support that it provides.

The Puffy

The Puffy isn’t technically a memory foam mattress, it’s more of a “memory foam killer”. However, as the material this product is made from is basically the same as (or better than) memory foam – we’ve decided to include it today to give you a little choice.

It’s a 2-layer hybrid product, which is a little on the low side in all honesty (most products have at least 4 layers). But when you learn about the material we’re about to talk to you about, you’ll understand why 2 layers are more than enough…

Comfort Cloud

Puffy spent 4 years developing Comfort Cloud to be one of the best memory foam alternatives on the market. It’s got a similar kind of contouring capability to memory foam, but it’s a little less effective if we’re being honest. The difference in contouring performance is very small, and apart from that Comfort Cloud improves on memory foam in every way.

It has no cell-based structure (like memory foam does) to provide its contouring powers – which means that it doesn’t suffer from the overheating issues of memory foam. Comfort Cloud is actually an excellent natural ventilator and will allow a huge amount of airflow throughout the layer of material.

Comfort cloud also has a much quicker reaction time than traditional memory foam. Memory foam needs a little heat to complete the contouring process as the cell walls need to soften slightly to fully collapse (which is annoying when you get into bed or change position). By eliminating the cells, Puffy has also allowed Comfort Cloud to contour almost immediately.

Puffy has also added a special cooling gel to this layer called Cooling Cloud. Unlike normal cooling gel, Cooling Cloud doesn’t try and make the mattress as cool as possible – instead, it aims for an optimum temperature. The natural thermal regulation properties of Cooling Cloud combined with a traditional cooling gel would potentially make the mattress too cool to be comfortable – which is quite astonishing.

High-Density Support Foam

The bottom layer of this product is nothing more than a base for the awesome Comfort Cloud layer above to rest upon. It’s high quality and gets the job done, but that’s about it.

The Nectar

The Nectar is one of the most well-known mattress brands in the industry. They have developed a huge reputation for quality over the years, and despite newer companies like Puffy coming along trying to take their crown – they are still one of the best in the business.

Tencel Cover

The cover of this mattress is made from Tencel, which is quite an interesting material. It’s a natural fiber that’s made from wood cellulose, and it’s super soft. It’s a very breathable material that allows air to flow freely in and out of the mattress, and it’s got antimicrobial properties for freshness too.

Quilted Gel Memory Foam

This is a layer of high-quality cooling gel-infused memory foam that has been quilted slightly. This gives the product a sense of luxury and loft that some other pure foam products can lack occasionally.

Cooling Gel Memory Foam

This layer is the same as the layer above, except it’s a flat slab of foam (it has no quilting).

Hi Core Memory Foam

This is a special kind of memory foam that’s very complicated to explain in an article like this. Just know that it’s a highly adaptive kind of memory foam that contours a little quicker than the standard stuff. It’s a super supportive layer that gives the Nectar the huge amounts of support that the mattress is famous for.

Breathable Support Foam

This is a reasonably well-ventilated layer of high-density support foam. Nectar tries to talk it up a bit on their website – but it’s pretty standard stuff (despite being high quality).

3 Good Gel Mattresses

Let’s take a look at what we think are 3 of the best gel mattresses on the market.

Zinus 12 Inch Gel-Infused Green Tea Memory Foam Mattress

Zinus is one of the best manufacturers in the budget price bracket, and they’ve managed to include a huge amount of technology here without breaking the bank. Here’s what you’re getting for your money

Cooling Gel Memory Foam

This excellent layer of reasonably thick cooling gel memory foam is of an exceptional quality considering the price point this product is being sold at. The distribution of gel is even, and the thermal regulation properties of the layer are far better than most other products in this price range.

This layer has also been infused with green tea extract that allows the product to stay fresher for longer. It also combats the “memory foam smell” that is a problem with other memory foam mattresses when they are still new.

Comfort Foam

This layer is a decent quality layer of medium firm comfort foam. It’s nothing special, but you’ve got to set your expectations appropriately in this kind of price range. That being said, it provides a little bit of support and is a great transition layer to gradually increase the firmness down to the layers below.

High-Density Comfort Foam

This is a higher density version of the comfort foam we mentioned in the layer above. The interesting thing about this layer is the way it has been shaped. It’s kind of like the underside of an egg carton with lots of peaks and troughs which align with one another to create ventilation channels. This allows huge amounts of airflow and any heat that is trapped in the interior of the mattress can ventilate out into the bedroom easily.

High-Density Support Foam

This is very similar to all the other high-density support foam layers in the other products we have talked about today. However, it is also shaped in a similar “egg carton” style to the layer above and provides further ventilation and cooling capability to the product through the channels the design pattern creates.

Classic Brands Cool Gel Ultimate Gel Memory Foam 14-Inch Mattress

Classic Brands are another excellent mattress manufacturer that operates in the budget price bracket. They’ve again managed to provide a huge amount of quality and cooling capability with their cooling gel layers, and we think that it’s great value for money.

Breathable Cooling Gel Memory Foam

This layer has a solid cooling gel infusion that is helped along with a ventilated design pattern. Classic Brands are a little bit sneaky with how they market this layer, it’s quite ambiguous, and uninformed buyers might think that this layer contains open cell technology thanks to the title of “breathable memory foam”.

However, it’s not open cell, it’s just a layer that has been drilled to have ventilation holes in it. This isn’t a big problem, because the cooling gel does all the hard work anyway. It’s still a super cool sleeping surface.

Standard Memory Foam

The next layer down is a 2-inch-thick slab of normal memory foam – without any cooling technology. This isn’t a problem as it’s not in direct contact with the sleeper, so don’t worry about overheating too much. It’s a little firmer than the foam above and provides quite a bit of support.

Comfort Foam

This is a standard layer of comfort foam that provides the product with an additional layer of support. It’s pretty normal foam of a decent quality, and it’s mainly here to soften the gradient to the support layer below.

High-Density Support Foam

The final layer is 8 inches thick and is made from a standard high-density support foam. It provides a stable base and is reasonably breathable. It does its job well, but again – it’s nothing special.

LUCID 10 Inch Gel Memory Foam Mattress

The final product we are going to be recommending today is this brilliant budget mattress from LUCID. It’s one of the cheapest cooling gel memory foam products on the market, and it’s great value for money considering the price point it is being sold at. It’s only got 2 layers, but it’s a super supportive, very comfortable medium firm product.

Cooling Gel Memory Foam

This is a 2.5-inch-thick layer of ventilated cooling gel memory foam. It’s a closed cell foam but it has had ventilation holes drilled from the top to the bottom of the layer to allow hot air to travel outside the mattress and into your bedroom with the minimum of resistance. This ventilation system combined with the cooling gel creates one of the coolest sleeping surfaces in this price bracket.

High-Density Support Foam

Same material, different mattress. A high-quality high-density support foam that provides the bulk of the support of this product. Nothing to see here.

Conclusion

So there you have it, that’s what we think about memory foam and gel mattresses. We hope you now know a little bit more about the similarities and differences of the materials (and the products that are made from them).

Any of the mattresses we have listed here today are going to provide you with a super supportive and cool night’s sleep, and we feel that they are all worthy of your consideration.

Sweet dreams.

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