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Air Mattresses vs. Memory Foam Mattresses

by Bambi Turner

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Woman on a memory foam mattress

With so many different types of mattresses available, it can be difficult for buyers to decide which one will best suit their needs. Two of the most popular mattress construction technologies are air-filled cores and memory foam. When comparing these two products, consider price, comfort and durability before making a final selection.

Air and Memory Foam Mattresses:

  1. Features: An air mattress looks similar to a traditional mattress and box spring set, but it has an air-filled core rather than metal springs and wood framing. The core may be separated into multiple air pockets or may consist of a single air-filled compartment. The air compartments are made of rubber or reinforced plastic and covered with foam padding. The entire bed is covered with a natural or synthetic fabric. Memory foam was developed by NASA during the 1970s. It is made from synthetic foam that takes the shape of your body as you sleep and returns to its original shape when the bed is empty. It may have a solid foam core or many layers. It is often known as viscoelastic foam.

  2. Benefits: The primary benefit to air mattresses is their high level of adjustability. Buyers can add or remove air easily using simple controls to adjust the firmness of the mattress. Sleeping on an air bed often gives users a feeling of weightlessness, which can be very comfortable. Air mattresses help reduce pressure points by spreading your weight across the length of your body. Memory foam mattresses also help eliminate pressure points by spreading a person's body weight over the entire mattress. Memory foam mattresses tend to be more effective at eliminating pressure points than air mattresses. They not only conform to your body's shape, but also spread your weight across a larger area.

  3. Drawbacks: Air mattresses offer a lower level of support than either spring or foam units, which may cause backaches in users who need a firm sleep surface. They also tend to leak slightly over time and may require refilling and adjustment every few days to maintain the desired level of firmness. A memory foam mattress works with a person's body heat to help mold the bed to the shape of the body. This may cause the bed to trap heat, which some buyers may find uncomfortable.

  4. Considerations: One must also take personal preference into account when comparing these two mattress types. Air-filled units are often the best choice for couples who prefer different levels of firmness. Many can be equipped with two separate air pockets so that each side of the bed can be adjusted to a different firmness. Memory foam tends to offer better support, which can be important for those with back problems or certain sleep conditions. Air mattresses provide a sensation similar to that of spring mattresses; foam has a distinctly different feel and function.

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