Are High-Density Foam Mattresses Better?

When it comes to buying a bed, people often wonder, “Are high-density foam mattresses better?” For some they are the absolute best choice, for others not-so-much. Here are some parameters to help you identify what’s best for you.

By Sheryl Grassie

Foam mattresses make up a substantial sector of the mattress market. Memory foam, high-density foam, and latex foam; there are plenty of choices when it comes to purchasing a mattress. So, how do you know what is right for you? Are high-density foam mattresses better than low or medium density? Is density the same as firmness? How do you know what is the perfect fit? There are specific criteria to consider if you want to be an educated buyer; we are here to help you through the process.

Kinds Of Foam Mattresses

There are three basic categories of foam mattresses: polyfoam, memory foam, and latex foam. Tthere are additional subcategories and different characteristics for each as well. To generalize, all three can make great beds, they are comfortable, have great support for the right person, and lack a classic innerspring structure. They are constructed with different materials, all come in different densities, and have slightly different pros and cons. Here is an overview:

  • Polyfoam: Is made from polyurethane and has been popular since the 1950’s. It is most often used as a top comfort layer on innerspring mattresses but can be a mattress by itself.
  • Memory Foam: Is also made from polyurethane, but with added chemicals in the finishing process to give it the spring back feature that generated the name “memory foam.” Memory foam has a very distinct spongy feel that is different from other foams.
  • Latex Foam: Is a heat processed product made from liquid latex that is extracted from the rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis), or alternately it can be manufactured from petroleum products in a lab. There are both natural and synthetic latex mattresses.

What Is Foam Density?

All foam mattresses, irrespective of the specific foam, have a density rating. What the rating tells you is the amount of foam per square foot of the mattress. What it does not tell you is the firmness of the mattress, but denser is not necessarily firmer. Density is generally rated on a continuum from low to high based on the amount of material.

Foam Densities Polyfoam Memory Foam Latex Foam
Low-Density Under 1.5 lbs. per ft. Under 4.0 lbs. per ft. Under 4.2 lbs. per ft.
Medium-Density 1.5 – 1.8 lbs. per ft. 4.0 – 5.0 lbs. per ft. 4.3 – 5.3 lbs. per ft.
High-Density Over 1.8 lbs. per ft. 5.0 – 6.0 lbs. per ft. Over 5.3 lbs. per ft.

In addition to density, there is an Indentation Load Deflection (ILD) rating. To determine the rating, pressure is applied to the mattress to determine firmness, based on how quickly it returns to its original shape when the pressure is lifted determines the rating. The mattress may get a score somewhere between 14 which is fairly soft, to 44 which would be very firm. The ILD score and the density rating together constitute how comfortable the mattress is.

Are High-Density Foam Mattresses Better? How Do I Pick the Right Density?

  • Sleep Position: Your sleep position is a primary determinant of the mattress density you may wish to purchase. Back sleepers can do well with all densities, side sleepers do best with a medium density that supports pressure points, and stomach sleepers need something denser. Determine the type of sleeper you are to start the process of looking at foam mattresses.
  • Weight: What you weight also points to the level of density that will work best.  If you are 125 lbs. or under you can do fine with low density. If you are in the range of 125-200 lbs. medium density works well, and if you are over 200 lbs., then yes, a high-density foam mattress is best.
  • Back Pain: Another consideration before you purchase a mattress is back pain. Do you have it? If the answer is yes, then both low and medium density won’t be enough. You will want to go for high density.
  • Temperature: Is temperature a concern when you sleep? Are you hot or cold? Particularly with people who run hot at night, memory foam can be an issue. If you don’t like sleeping hot, that might steer you to one of the other two types of foam mattresses. In terms of density, lower density has greater air flow and is not as hot as high density.
  • Support: Mattresses are designed to support you while you sleep. Considering your sleep position and weight will help you get the mattress that gives you the most support. All densities can give adequate support, but higher density will generally offer more.
  • Off Gassing: Refers to the vapors, and sometimes toxic vapors, which are emitted from the mattress, especially early on. Polyurethane and memory foam both can have high levels of toxic off gassing that may be problematic for some people. If you have breathing issues or chemical sensitivities, then look to natural latex and buy an organic mattress. All densities of synthetic foam mattresses can have off gassing.
  • Durability: How long will a mattress last? Does density play into durability? Yes, the denser the mattress the longer it lasts. In a basic polyfoam mattress with low density it may only last 5 years, the same mattress in high density more like 9 years. Natural latex has a longer lifespan with up to 20 years for high density.
  • Budget: When purchasing a large ticket item like a mattress, cost is a consideration. Less dense foam beds are less expensive. It is important to factor the longevity of the mattress into the cost. A cheap mattress, if you have to replace it in a year due to lack of support, is not a cheap mattress.
  • Motion Isolation: A great feature of foam beds is that you and your partner can sleep undisturbed by the others’ movement. When impact to one side of the bed (your partner rolling over) does not create motion on the other side of the bed, we refer to this as low motion transfer. All levels of foam density have low motion transfer.
  • Viscosity: Not a common word unless you are in the memory foam world, viscosity refers to the feeling of sinking into the mattress, the one where it holds you in place with an almost tacky or clingy feeling. It is commonly referred to as the “quicksand effect,” and some people enjoy the feeling, while others do not. Seniors with movement difficulties can find it claustrophobic, and it is not always the best choice for older sleepers.  Viscosity is definitely a feature of memory foam and also of high density. Lower density and latex foams do not have this same property characteristic.

Summary

For some people they definitely are. You need to look at a number of variables to make that determination. If you have a higher body weight, have back pain, want a long-lasting mattress, and are willing to spend the money, a high-density foam mattress may be just perfect. Everyone can find the right density based on who they are and how they like to sleep.


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