When it comes to mattress materials, memory foam is popular with people looking to relieve aches and pains while sleeping. It is designed to conform to the contours of your body and provide a “body hug” feeling that many people find comforting. Some people find memory foam quite claustrophobic, so these beds are definitely not for everyone.

Our best mattress guide features several memory foam models from top brands like Sealy’s Nectar Sleep and Cocoon. For 2022, we’ve crowned the Nectar best memory foam mattress overall because it’s comfortable, breathable, and great value.

So if you’re considering getting one of these beds and want to know what a memory foam mattress is, how it’s made, and what it’s like to sleep on, read on to find out our expert point of view.

What is a memory foam mattress?

A memory foam mattress is made up of several layers of different types of foam. The purpose of this type of bed is to hug your curves while you sleep, relieving pressure points (such as on your back, shoulders, and hips) and reducing overall pain. They do this by using your body heat to soften the material and shape it to your body for better support and comfort.

Almost every bed manufacturer has a memory foam model in their lineup, and these beds are generally less expensive than hybrids (read our article on what is a hybrid mattress to learn the difference between memory foam form and hybrid mattresses).

The Emma mattress presented on a light wood bed frame

The Emma is one of the most comfortable all-foam beds we’ve tried (Image credit: future)

So if you’re on a smaller budget, you’re probably considering an all-foam option rather than a more expensive hybrid. However, there are exceptions to this, depending on the current mattress sale offers.

What are memory foam mattresses made of?

A memory foam mattress is primarily made of memory foam. This material (also called visco-elastic foam) is polyurethane and was developed by NASA in the 1960s for its astronauts.

Depending on the model you choose, these beds are either made up of just memory foam, or have memory foam plus gel-infused foams – popular in the best cooling mattresses for hot sleepers – and coils or springs. The latter would then make it a hybrid foam design.

Basic all-foam beds typically have three layers, while higher-end models have five or more layers. On average, here is what you will find in a memory foam mattress:

Cover – as foam beds retain heat, the covers are usually made with breathable and heat-wicking materials. Some are more effective than others.

Comfort layer – This is the top section, usually constructed from one or more layers of foam to provide contour and padding. Softer beds have more layers of comfort than firmer beds.

The Nectar memory foam mattress placed on a wooden bed frame next to wooden side tables

The Nectar is an excellent affordable range memory foam bed (Image credit: Nectar Sleep)

transition layer – You’ll find this layer sandwiched between the top and bottom, and one of its main jobs is to release heat and keep the bed cooler.

core / base – It is the base of the mattress, made of firm foam, and it is also the highest part. While hybrids use coils or springs to add support and sturdiness, here it’s done with very firm foam.

How much do memory foam mattresses cost?

In the UK and US, memory foam mattresses normally cost a lot less than hybrids, unless you’re buying a top model. However, all-foam beds are more expensive than traditional spring models, but you can still buy them from around $170/£250.

Advances in materials and packaging technologies have also resulted in lower prices, and many of these mattresses come with free gifts, such as bedding sets, to increase their value for money.

In the US, one of our top picks, the Nectar, starts at just $399. A queen size costs $799 and it comes with $499 of free bedding. For hot sleepers, we recommend the Cocoon by Sealy Chill Cooling Bed, which is the same price as the Nectar but comes with just $199 in freebies. To learn more about these models, read our review of Nectar mattresses and our review of Cocoon by Sealy Chill mattresses.

In the UK, memory foam is among the cheapest types of mattresses, apart from spring models. Emma Sleep makes a great memory foam bed with a lower starting price of just £247 (read our Emma Mattress review to find out why we love it). There are still more affordable models like Silentnight.

Our best cheap mattress guide features some great memory foam beds, with Zinus, Linenspa, and Brooklyn Bedding offering the lowest prices. Luxury memory foam beds can cost thousands, especially handcrafted beds. You’ll find them among GhostBed, Saatva, Brook + Wilde, and Tempur-Pedic.

What are the advantages of all-foam mattresses?

Memory foam mattresses offer many benefits for your sleeping comfort, as long as you enjoy this type of bed. Benefits include:

Instant comfort and support – Because memory foam conforms to the contours of your body when you lie on it, you will feel a certain level of sinkage. Some people describe it as a feeling of weightlessness during sleep. Your spine should still be aligned, but if you’re a stomach or back sleeper and you notice your lower back dipping, you need a firmer bed.

A woman in a brown t-shirt massages her painful lower back in bed

(Image credit: Getty)

Pressure relief – Memory foam distributes your body weight evenly across the entire surface to reduce pressure on your key impact points. That’s why people with joint pain love memory foam.

Motion Isolation – They isolate the transfer of motion from you to your partner and vice versa. They do this at a higher level than hybrids, making them a great choice if you’re sharing with a restless sleeper. However, people with limited mobility may find it more difficult to get up from an all-foam bed, as many lack sturdy edge support. You may also feel a bit stuck.

Anti-mite design – The visco-elastic structure of memory foam is naturally impenetrable to dust mites. This alone makes it a good choice for allergy sufferers.

How thick is a memory foam mattress?

The thickness of a memory foam mattress can vary from 6″ to 16″. 10″ is the average height of this mattress in a box. Luxury and custom beds can often be much larger. One of the tallest hybrid foam mattresses we’ve tested is the DreamCloud, which comes in at 14 inches tall (read our DreamCloud mattress review for more specs).

Generally, heavier bodies and side sleepers will benefit from a larger memory foam mattress. That’s why our best mattress for side sleepers of 2022 is a hybrid memory foam model, the Helix Midnight (see our Helix Midnight review for more).

Here are some popular all-foam bed thicknesses:

  • Nectar – 12”
  • Original Emma – 9.8″
  • Sealy Chill Cocoon – 10″
  • Tempur-Pedic Original Tempur – 8.2″ to 11.8″
  • Saatva Modern Moss – 11″
  • Zinus Green Tea Memory Foam – 6″ to 12″
  • Casper Original – 11″
  • Tuft & Original Needle – 20”

The image shows the different layers of a memory foam mattress

(Image credit: Siena Sleep)

How long do they last?

Depending on the quality, a memory foam mattress can last six to ten years. That’s all the difference and it depends on the quality of the materials used to make it. Cheaper models obviously won’t last as long, while higher-end all-foam beds are made with more durable materials that can withstand several years or more of heavy use. You can dig deeper into this in our feature that meets the life of a mattress.

Most mattress warranties are 10 years, but some, like DreamCloud, Nectar Sleep, Saatva, WinkBed, and organic mattress brand Awara, have lifetime warranties. That means you’re usually entitled to at least one free full replacement, or at least free repairs to fix issues like sag.

To help yours last longer, follow these steps:

Who should buy a memory foam mattress?

In our experience, most sleepers will appreciate an all-foam bed. This is because they are very form-fitting (they hug the body) and are generally softer. If the following resonates with you, you will enjoy sleeping on memory foam:

  • You love the feeling of being hugged by your mattress
  • You like softer to medium-firm beds
  • You share with a fidgety sleeper and want high motion isolation
  • You sleep cold and want a bed that sleeps a little warmer
  • You’re a side sleeper looking for hip and knee cushioning
  • You want deep, consistent pressure relief
  • You have several aches and pains while sleeping

Man and dog napping on sofa

(Image credit: Getty/Westend61)

Who shouldn’t buy a memory foam mattress?

As we mentioned at the beginning of our article, memory foam will not be suitable for everyone. Particularly if the following resonates with you:

  • You don’t like to sink into a mattress and prefer to sleep on it
  • You like medium-firm to firm beds
  • You have a heavier than average body that needs more support
  • You sleep on your stomach or back and are of average or heavier weight
  • You overheat at night and need a more breathable mattress
  • You enjoy a more bouncy and responsive bed
  • You need strong edge support to get up easier

A memory foam mattress can make a big difference to any pain you experience while you sleep, especially if you suffer from hip or back pain. However, they are not a magic bullet, you may need to invest in one of the best mattress toppers to add extra comfort on top.

We also recommend looking for a plush Euro foam or pillow top bed for maximum cushioning. And if you’re a hot sleeper, look for cooling materials like graphite. For this year’s top recommendations, check out our best memory foam mattress guide.