Most of us give little thought to choosing a pillow. We grab an affordable two pack at the supermarket, bung it in our trolley and go on our merry way. We’re oblivious to the fact that the right pillow, well cared for, is extremely important to our sleep. We barely consider whether that cheap and cheerful pillow could be one of the reasons we’re waking up with neck pain or finding it hard to drift off to the land of nod.
There’s no magical one-size-fits-all pillow out there, but memory foam pillows can come pretty close.
More and more people are swearing by memory foam, with foam mattresses flying off the shelves and onto beds all over the UK. Pillows made of the same squishy stuff aren’t far behind in popularity, with the best memory foam pillows UK wide offering excellent neck support and temperature-perfect comfort.
As is always the case with these things, there’s a lot to consider before you take the plunge and switch from your supermarket special to a new, unknown sleeping partner. And, as ever, we’ve done the legwork for you, getting the lowdown on memory foam pillows to help you decide if they’re right for you.
All about memory foam pillows
Completely different to the kind of pillows you’re probably used to - stuffed with microfibre, feathers or down - memory foam pillows are made up of a single dense material, viscoelastic polyurethane or, as its often known, low resilience polyurethane (LRPu).
It doesn’t sound like a terribly cosy sort of material but offering support and pressure relief, LRPu can make for a more comfortable sleeping surface when used in mattresses or pillows.
The history of memory foam
Believe it or not, that material that makes up your mattress and pillow was originally designed for space travel. Created in 1966, memory foam was developed by NASA’s Ames Research Centre for improved safety in aeronautic travel.
First called ‘slow spring back foam’ or ‘temper foam’, memory foam – as it eventually became known – was made available for public use in the 1980s. Up until then, it had mainly been used in space craft and in sports, including as a lining for American footballers’ helmets. It has been increasingly used in medical settings too, having been found to alleviate pressure and reduce the likelihood of immobile patients developing pressure sores.
Though it took a long time to catch on in the domestic world, we now use memory foam for all sorts of things and most notably in beds.
What is memory foam?
We know that memory foam is made of polyurethane but what makes it so good for pillows and mattresses? Well, memory foam’s main selling point is its clever ability to react to your body heat, softening as it warms, helping it to conform to your body. This is what gives memory foam its cradling effect. This means it’s great for pressure relief, as it moulds to your body shape – including your pressure points and when you sleep with limbs akimbo! While your hips, bottom, knees and shoulders can sink further into the foam, this helps your back to lay flat against the surface of the mattress.
Modern foams are generally made with a higher density polyurethane than those original space rocket seat pads and this helps them to recover more quickly than older foams. What does that mean? Simply put, your pillow will shape supportively to your head but quickly bounces back to its original state as you move. Which means no need for pesky pillow fluffing.
Since its sudden rise in popularity, memory foam has taken all sorts of new forms, with many brands adding new ingredients, in an attempt to combat memory foam’s tendency to retain heat or in order to reduce odours. Special ingredients we’ve spotted out there include aloe vera and activated charcoal. By far the most popular, and the one idea that we really think is worth it, is gel, which can produce a wonderful cooling effect.
How does memory foam work?
How science-y are you feeling? Not very? We’ll keep it short and sweet.
Memory foam is made by adding chemicals to polyurethane, helping to increase its density and viscosity. Temperature sensitive, the foam’s viscosity decreases in response to a rise in temperature and it’s that that makes your pillow feel softer and more pliable as you get comfortable.
The foam’s structure is maintained through something called the network effect. This effect is what helps gives the foam its memory and means that it’ll continue springing back to shape, no matter how heavy your bonce.
From cooling gel to contour: types of memory foam pillow
Memory foam pillows have come a long way in recent years and we are harnessing the possibilities they offer. In addition to a standard memory foam pillow, there are now a huge amount of different designs out there, each offering different uses and potential benefits.
Contour memory foam pillow
The wave-like shape of an ergonomic or contour memory foam pillow is designed to provide support for the spine at the neck. Where many pillows can push the vertebrae of the neck out of alignment, a contour pillow, with its raise-and-dip design helps to promote good spinal alignment.
A good choice for back sleepers, contoured pillows may provide comfort for those who often wake with stiffness in their neck.
Cooling gel pillow
Memory foam has a reputation for retaining heat, which can be uncomfortable for some people. The addition of moisture wicking fabrics and cooling gels can help to combat this issue though.
Pillows like the iGel Front and Back Sleeper Medium Pillow and the iGel Side Sleeper Deep Pillow are made with phase change crystals. These pillows combine moisture wicking properties with iGel™ Advance temperature regulation, responding to your body temperature for a not-too-warm, not-too-cool effect.
Shredded memory foam pillow
Softer and, in some cases, cooler than standard whole-piece memory foam, these pillows are stuffed with small pieces of memory foam.
Shredded memory foam may be a good option for people who like their pillow to be foldable and mouldable, however they won’t offer quite the same level of support as a standard memory foam pillow.
Memory foam neck pillow
Long and sausage-shaped or curved into a ‘c’, a memory foam neck pillow provides – just as its name suggests – neck support.
Though some might choose to use these pillows at home, neck pillows are more commonly used for travel. They can save you from pain and discomfort if you have a tendency to drop off on the move, supporting your head while you sleep in a car or in the air.
V-shaped memory foam pillow
Versatile V-shaped pillows are often used for body support for the elderly or during pregnancy. They also double up as a breastfeeding support and can provide a bit of extra comfort if you often sit up in bed to read, watch TV or work.
Supporting your body at night, a correctly positioned V-shaped pillow may help to alleviate acid reflux or can be placed between the knees to help take pressure off the lower back. A V-shaped pillow can also provide good support for the neck and head.
Wedge-shaped memory foam pillow
Often suggested for people recovering from injury, allowing them to prop up the offending area to relieve pressure, wedge pillows can also be used to help position your body while you sleep. You might also use a wedge to keep a snorer firmly positioned on their side while sleeping.
How could a memory foam pillow help me?
Not only does memory foam last well and provide reliable comfort night after night after night, when used in a pillow, it can also offer plenty of possible benefits. And while memory foam pillows might not be right for everyone, if any of the following sounds like you, they’re certainly worth a try…
Do you suffer from neck pain in the morning?
Many of us complain of neck problems. Sometimes the issue is caused by the way we sit, often it’s down to our incessant mobile phone scrolling. And sometimes we’ll wake with a pain in the neck because our pillow isn’t supportive enough.
Evenly distributing your head’s considerable weight (it makes up around 7% of your total body weight), a memory foam pillow provides gentle contouring that could ensure proper alignment of your spine.
If neck discomfort is of particular concern, a contour pillow could help provide the support you’re seeking.
Does your partner complain about your snoring?
Are you often woken by a sharp elbow to the side? Disturbed yourself with a particularly loud snort on occasion? If you’re keeping your partner awake with your snoring the right pillow could help.
Most pillows will cause a back sleepers head to tip backwards, resulting in the airway obstruction that leads to snoring . Memory foam’s ability to help align the spine could help to reduce this effect.
Do allergies ruin your day?
Naturally preventing bacteria growth and less welcoming to dust mites than other materials, memory foam could be a good option for those who suffer from allergies.
Of course, all beds will harbour dust and mites to some degree and so a regular careful vacuum of your pillow is recommended (always check the manufacturer’s care label).
Do you find it hard to get comfy at night?
Do you toss and turn, huff and puff and flip and fluff your pillow repeatedly at night? If so, it could be time for a change.
Unlike feather, down, microfibre and hollowfibre, memory foam pillows are excellent at retaining their shape. They won’t sink or shift once you’re in place and will easily adjust to provide the same cradling comfort when you roll from one side to another.
Memory foam isn’t just ideal if you’re a night time fidget either. Great at absorbing movement, memory foam can take the shocks of your partner’s movements too.
You’re concerned about cost
At first glance, memory foam pillows may appear to be at the higher end of your budget. But using the old pence per use approach to shopping, you might just get more bang for your buck by choosing memory foam.
Experts recommend replacing your pillows every one to two years, but many pillow fillings struggle to drag themselves over that finish line. In fact, some polyester pillows will require replacing after just six months. Memory foam, on the other hand, will usually last for two to three years with proper care.
TEMPUR®and memory foam pillows: what’s the difference?
The TEMPUR® name is pretty synonymous with the memory foam revolution. The first and biggest name in foam mattresses and pillows, the formula used to create TEMPUR® material is a closely guarded secret that no other company has managed to get its hands on.
Lucky then for us that we sell a wide range of TEMPUR® products, including their ultra-comfortable pillows. But what makes TEMPUR® so special?
The only brand recognised by NASA
TEMPUR® products have the real deal seal of approval from NASA scientists – the people that originally came up with memory foam.
And that’s not all. TEMPUR® products are also certified by the Space Foundation, an organisation that recognises products that use space technology to improve the daily life of us mere earthbound mortals. That’s a pretty sky-high standard to reach and no other memory foam producer has got there.
Fewer than ten people have the TEMPUR® formula
We mentioned that TEMPUR® material is made up of a secret formula known only to those who produce it. According to those ultra-secretive bods at the TEMPUR® head office (which we can only assume is inside a volcano or under the sea), fewer than ten people hold that classified recipe.
So what do we know? The viscoelastic material that’s used in TEMPUR® pillows and mattresses is made up of billions of highly sensitive open cells that live somewhere between a liquid and solid state. That’s what makes it so pleasingly squashy yet supportive.
Is TEMPUR® Material and memory foam the same thing
We’ll tell you what they’ve told us: all TEMPUR® Material is memory foam but not all memory foam is TEMPUR® Material.
That means that although TEMPUR® Material can be classed as memory foam (and it is indeed a viscoelastic polyurethane based on the formulation created way back in ’66), no other brand can claim to match exactly the kind of foam comfort you’ll experience from a TEMPUR® pillow.
Buying the best memory foam pillows for you
Here at Bensons, we’re pretty well versed in all things pillow-related . Well, we’d have to be, right? Sleeping and beds are our bread and butter, our morning cup of tea, our late night pre-sleep snack.
So who better to talk to if you’re totally stumped when it comes to choosing the right bedding for your bedroom?
Whether it’s a whole new bed and furniture suite, the mattress that’s destined to make everything better or the best memory foam pillow you’ve ever rested your head on, our dedicated sleep experts are on hand and ready to help guide you through the selection process. We’re committed to finding you your bed, your way ® and to do so employ not just our in-depth training and knowledge but cutting edge technology too, in the shape of our sleeppro® system.
A wide range of possible pillows
From plump feather pillows to cooling, contouring foam and latex, we offer a wide range of pillow options, making it simple to find the right one for you. And when it comes to good advice on caring for your pillows and generally making your bedroom a better place to be? We’re bursting with advice there too .
Making bedroom shopping simple
Shopping is almost as personal as sleeping. We all do it our own way. Online shopper or in-person browser, we’ve got you covered. No matter whether you visit us in store or shop on our easy to use website, you’ll be offered the same benefits, including a free five year guarantee on beds, mattresses and furniture .
We can even answer your questions and take your order over the phone. Just give us a ring on 0808 144 6160.