Latex Mattress Toppers vs Polyurethane & Memory Foam

My experiences sleeping on polyurethane, memory foam and latex mattress toppers is what this article is all about. I reveal the secret reason memory foam causes back pain, that no one else has ever mentioned.

As usual, I have done all of the research, so you don’t have to.

Science & Personal Experience Reveals The Best Mattress Topper

Three non-profit trade associations sponsored a test of 29 men and 30 women concerning their sleep quality and comfort.  None of them had seen a doctor for any type of sleep problems. [2]

First, they slept on their own current bed for 28 days, and recorded their sleep quality and comfort each morning.

Then they were given new medium-firm bedding systems, and they recorded their sleep comfort and quality for another 28 days.

The end results showed increasingly significant improvement of sleep comfort over the 28-day test period.  What that means, is that the body was slowly adjusting to the new bedding system.  Note: that doesn’t happen with memory foam, because it completely conforms to your body.

In other words, a new mattress topper may initially feel too firm, but after a few days it will be more comfortable.

That was exactly what happened to me when I bought my very firm latex mattress topper.  The first night I was thinking that it was going to be too firm.  By the third night I was very comfortable.

Medical Students With Sore Backs

In a hospital in India, medical students were having lower back pain from sleeping on foam mattresses instead of the common cotton mattresses they used at home. [3]

On and off, I have spent two months or more in India, so I have experienced the 4-inch-thick cotton mattresses.  Typically, the cotton mattresses are placed on a hard surface. They were kind of lumpy and slightly un-comfortable for me.

I am guessing now, but I suspect the hospital student foam mattresses were probably made of expanded polyethylene foam.  That type of foam mattress is readily available in India.  They are sold with plastic covers. So, they would be easy to clean.

In which case the foam is very stiff and will not properly support the body, because it doesn’t conform to the body.  So, I’m not surprised that the students were having problems.

This was not a case of the body having to adjust to the new mattress, because the students would have been using them long term.  Also, when the students returned home to visit, their backaches went away.

My Advice on Buying the Perfect Mattress Topper

What you want is a firm mattress that that “gives” a little.  Just enough “give” that it conforms to the spine as you lay on your back.  Too much “give” and your spine will be out of alignment, which causes back pain.

The amount will vary a bit according to your weight, and the firmness of the mattress topper.  Therein lies the rub. 

If the mattress topper is too soft or too firm you will be uncomfortable.  What feels good to you, could be very different from what your partner likes.

Throw in a medical problem or two and what feels good will also change.  Note: bad backs need firmer toppers, not softer.

So, here is my advice.  Buy a mattress or mattress topper that is firm, or maybe medium-firm.  Then, if it is too firm, you can adjust how it feels by changing the mattress cover you put over it (if any).

Therefore, it is better to get a topper that is too firm than one that is too soft.  That’s because you can’t make the topper feel firmer with a mattress cover.

Generally, the thicker the mattress cover is, the softer it will make the mattress topper feel.

How to Determine the Best Mattress Cover Thickness for Comfort

Put a blanket underneath your fitted bottom sheet.  If that thickness feels good to you, try to find a mattress pad that has the same thickness and density.

If the first blanket doesn’t work, try a different one.  Switching from a thin fleece blanket to a thick fleece, or comforter, will make a huge difference.

The Secret to Buying the Perfect Memory Foam or Polyurethane Mattress Topper.

Polyurethane and memory foam toppers are HOT.  Even the gel infused memory foam topper was too hot for me.  The best way to NOT wake up drenched in sweat, is to get a thick mattress cover that breathes.

Physically separating you from the foam will keep you much cooler.  However, that means you must buy a very firm mattress topper.  Otherwise your bed will be too soft for Goldilocks.

How thick is thick enough to stay cool?  I honestly don’t know.  It will depend upon the mattress cover and if you are a “hot sleeper” or not.

You can only make your best choice and adjust from there, if need be.

So, I would buy a very thin waterproof mattress protector that goes directly on top of the mattress topper.  That way if you do sweat or spill some liquids, the topper will stay clean.

Then buy a mattress pad cover to soften the feel of the mattress topper and to keep you cool.  It should breathe so that heat and water vapor can escape.

Is Memory Foam or Polyurethane Foam Really Cheaper Than Latex Foam?

Maybe.  That depends upon how long you need it, and if it will last that long.

As I write this, a “firm” queen size, 3-inch-thick polyurethane mattress topper is $10 more than a “medium firm” topper. 

That’s because, they have to put in more foam material per cubic inch to make it “firmer”. More foam material per cubic inch equals a higher price.

A “firm” memory foam topper is $14 less than the “firm” polyurethane topper just mentioned.

The same size “firm” latex mattress toppers are $185 more than the “firm” polyurethane topper.  But that’s not the whole story.

Latex mattress toppers are naturally cooler to sleep on.  Therefore, you don’t need a thick mattress pad to prevent sweating.  So, there is no chance of over softening the feel, just to reduce the heat caused by polyurethane and memory foam toppers.

However, if you need to soften the feel of a too firm latex topper, you may not be saving on the cost of the mattress pad cover.  I personally have a waterproof Tencel fiber mattress protector and two fitted sheets – no mattress pad.

The waterproof Tencel mattress protector has an extremely thin polyurethane coating that provides the waterproofing.  The polyurethane can make it feel a bit sweaty, but the two sheets eliminate that problem.

Note: Putting two fitted sheets on a polyurethane or memory foam topper won’t prevent you from waking up in a pool of sweat.

Latex Mattress Toppers Are Comfortable for Decades

Latex mattress toppers might last 30 years or more.  I recently saw one with a 5-year warranty.

I saw a video where they were replacing a 40-year-old latex topper, because the cloth cover was worn out.  The rubber still looked usable.

In comparison, the polyurethane topper (I’m guessing) might last 10 years, if you don’t throw it out because it’s too hot. 

The memory foam toppers are a lot more delicate and (I’m guessing) they will last 6 years.   Psst… don’t get them wet…they deteriorate very quickly.

Whereas, you could throw the latex topper on the driveway and hose it off with a garden hose.

I remember a video of a woman that tore a big rip in a memory foam topper while putting it on the bed.  To be fair, I think that was a 2-inch-thick topper and she was much too rough handling it.  She should have had help.

How to Lose Your Back by Saving Money

If you have back problems, and even if you don’t, keep reading.

Gel infused memory foam sounds like a good idea, but it has some drawbacks.  Some people find it to be too hot.  In which case you should try using a thicker mattress pad cover as I suggested earlier.

More importantly, memory foam toppers are designed to “give” as they are heated by your body temperature.  Many people find that they “give” too much and cause backaches.

Additionally, they are difficult to “roll over” on, because you are sunk into the mattress topper.  On the other hand, it’s that same quality that stops your body movement from disturbing your partner.

Because of their inherent ability to “give” under body weight and body heat, they can’t be made more firm to prevent backaches.

The Big Memory Foam Secret That Causes Backaches

People don’t sleep well when their back hurts. 

Memory foam conforms to your body shape completely.  That isn’t as ideal as it sounds.  What you want is for your spine to be properly aligned.

If your spine is out of alignment for any reason, memory foam will insure it stays that way, or get worse, while you try to sleep.

Whereas, latex toppers require your body to adjust a bit to the topper.  Which helps to promote proper spine alignment.

If your backbone is out of alignment, but doesn’t hurt while out of bed, it could easily hurt when in bed.

That’s because a soft mattress pad that “gives” too much can accentuate the misalignment, and cause pain.  Especially if you are overweight.

When you are standing, a potbelly is trying to pull your spine out of alignment.  It might, or it might not. 

However, when sleeping on your back, that extra weight is going to push you deeper into the memory foam.  The end result is that your spine is out of alignment, and it hurts.

In the upcoming section on bed sores, I mention that the upper back and butt are pressing harder against the mattress topper than the lower back.

The lower back is where the weight of your pot belly is now pressing deeper into the topper. That isn’t normal. That is going to cause back pain, because your spine is being pushed out of alignment.

A memory foam isn’t going to be able to resist that extra belly weight.

The solution, in my non-doctor opinion, are the latex mattress toppers.

Resilient Latex Mattress Toppers Stop Back Pain

Latex mattress toppers immediately regain their shape as you roll over or move your body.  This means that they “give” according to the weight placed on it, not by your body heat like memory foam does.

So, unlike memory foam you don’t sink into the topper.  Instead the latex topper gently compresses just enough to conform to the body, according to its firmness rating.

As I said earlier, adjusting the firmness to your exact preferences can take some time and effort.  However, a “firm” or maybe a “medium firm” latex topper won’t “give” too much and cause backaches.

It is possible for the topper to be too firm and be uncomfortable, but if you follow my previous adjustment advice, you can get exactly what is best for you.

Many people buy mattress toppers, because their new mattress is too firm.  In that case, get a 2-inch-thick “soft” or “medium” firmness latex topper.  Or follow my earlier advice on how to buy the perfect mattress topper.

Prevent Bed Sores and Sleep Well Tonight

Bed sores are also known as pressure sores.  They usually occur on the hips, butt, shoulders, or upper back.  That’s because those body parts are pressing against the mattress topper the most.

In a hospital the nurses will reposition you every two hours to prevent bed sores.

However, you want to sleep for 7 or 8 hours without waking up to roll over and get comfortable again.

A study was done to compare a high-density polyurethane mattress topper with a latex mattress topper.  The idea was to see which one should be used in a hospital to prevent bed sores. [1]

Pressure sensing equipment was placed under the mattress toppers to record body pressure on the toppers.

The latex topper was much better at distributing body weight and preventing pressure points that would cause bed sores.

If I haven’t made this clear yet, it’s the pressure point areas that wake you up, because you are uncomfortable.  Which is why most people don’t get bed sores.  They are waking up and changing positions.  Which means you aren’t getting a good night’s sleep.

Summary of Latex Mattress Toppers vs Polyurethane & Memory Foam Toppers

Polyurethane mattress toppers are very hot. 

  • The softer they are the more you sink into them, which traps more heat and sweat. 
  • Softer toppers, and especially thick and soft toppers, cause more back pains. Which is why memory foam was created to solve those problems.
  •   Not recommended.

Gel infused memory foam mattress toppers are much cooler than polyurethane toppers. 

  • Many people (including me) think they are still too hot.
  • Memory foam is not very durable and deteriorates very quickly when it gets wet.
  • Also, body heat in addition to body weight, makes memory foam conform to your body.  Unfortunately, that can make back problems worse.
Blue gel infused memory foam mattress topper from Linenspa.
Blue Gel Infused Memory Foam Mattress Topper

Latex mattress toppers are what I recommend. 

  • They are more expensive, but they are worth it.
  • Very cool.  No sweating. They don’t actual have a cooling effect – they just don’t create heat.
  • A firm topper is the best choice for anyone with back troubles.
  • Also, you can soften the feel of a firm mattress topper, but you can’t firm up a soft one.
  • Latex toppers will last for decades, are durable, easy to clean, and the best value for your money and your health. 
  • I own one, and I love it.

References

[1] Effects of Mattress Material on Body Pressure Profiles in Different Sleeping Postures.

[2] Subjective rating of perceived back pain, stiffness and sleep quality following introduction of medium-firm bedding systems.

[3] The foam mattress-back syndrome.

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