Pros and Cons of Memory Foam Pillows

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stack of different foam pillows with covers

The value of using memory foam pillows differs from one person to another. According to WebMD, sleep is subjective and often the person's sleep experience doesn't line up with equipment monitoring results; personal sleeping preferences that play an important part in determining just how effective a product is or is not. When it comes to pillow talk, it often boils down to personal preference.

Advantages of Using Memory Foam Pillows

Memory foam molds to fit each person since it's designed to respond to pressure and heat from the body. Once the weight of your body is lifted, the foam returns to its original form and shape. Consider the following benefits and drawbacks before buying.

Retains Contours

Memory foam retains excellent contour to your head, neck and shoulders. Pillow Advisor explains how the pillow molds to your head. This is important since it assists in keeping your spine aligned. Regular pillows tend to tilt your head in an incline.

May Prevent Snoring

Nature's Sleep explains that most pillows force your head to tilt upwards and closes off the air passages. The result is snoring. When your head remains aligned with your neck and spine with a memory foam pillow, these passages will remain open and often remedies snoring.

Relieves Neck, Shoulder and Back Pain

Many people who suffer from chronic neck, shoulder, and back pain find their memory foam pillows offer plenty of pros. FoamPillows.com states the benefits of sleeping on a memory foam pillow can help people who suffer from neck, shoulder, and back pain. The pain can be from something as simple as computer work or as strenuous as physically labor.

Relief From Pressure Points

The pillow provides relief for pressure points that cause pain by distributing the weight and contouring to your head just as a memory foam mattress distributes the weight of your body. According to AmeriSleep, one of the biggest advantages to using memory foam is the relief of pressure points.

Stability Against Motion Transfer

Memory foam absorbs motion and prevents it from transferring. This creates stability by eliminating motion transfer, says AmeriSleep, and keeps your neck and spine aligned.

Material Breathability

Newer pillow styles with air chambers allow greater breathability of material. This is important for promoting air flow that will keep the pillow cool while you sleep.

Spine Alignment

Alignment when sleeping

Nature's Sleep advises memory foam pillows to help keep your spine aligned. The University of Rochester Medical Center advises that muscles and ligaments should be relaxed while you sleep so they can heal. The right pillow that keeps your neck aligned with your chest and lower back prevents muscle strains while you sleep. Memory Foam Doctor explains that spine alignment prevents pressure on the nerves and promoted blood flow.

Therapeutic Memory Foam for Neck Pain

Neck Solutions states therapeutic memory foam pillows support the head at the correct height when sleeping on the side or back. This can relieve whiplash injuries, simple neck strain and even sedentary strain from working on a computer.

Therapeutic Orthopedic Options for Neck Pain

Neck Solutions states ergonomically designed therapeutic orthopedic foam pillows can help more acute and severe medical conditions. These include, cervicogenic headaches (originating from neck), neck arthritis, fibromyalgia, degenerative spinal conditions and disc disease.

Cost Equivalent to Traditional Pillows

It's difficult to make a comparison to other pillows since each is unique in its construction and filler, such as down feathers, cotton batting, or even water; some cheap pillows can be as little as $10 while high-end versions can cost just as much as memory foam pillows - sometimes more!

Most memory foam pillows cost about the same as middle priced to high-end pillows, so whether price is a pro or con will depend on your budget. An average memory foam pillow can cost around $30 or more. The price tag depends on the company, pillow style, and foam density.

Consumer and Independent Reviews

Consumers offer reviews based on their experiences sleeping on a memory foam pillow. Some websites offer the opportunity for independent consumer reviews while others conduct their own testing and reviews. A few of these include:

Who Should Use Memory Foam Pillows?

Anyone who wakes up with a stiff or sore neck, suffers from headaches or general difficulties sleeping comfortably may be a candidate to try a memory foam pillow. If you need a therapeutic or therapeutic orthopedic pillow, a memory foam pillow may provide a relief to neck pain due to injury or disease.

Disadvantages When Using Memory Foam Pillows

Some people don't find memory foam pillows their kind of pillow for various reasons. These can range from heat absorption to chemical sensitivities. Not all pillows are exact and will differ from one manufacturer to another. It's always best to read the label before buying so you have a clear idea about the pillow construction and materials.

Chemical Off-Gassing and VOCs

Chemical off-gassing is the result of the manufacturing process of the chemicals used to create the foam. Most foam pillows are wrapped in plastic at the end of production. Those chemical smells become trapped in the packaging, so when you unwrap the pillow, the pungent odor of chemicals (result of off-gassing) is released. People who are sensitive to smells, may find this a con to the product. The odor typically dissipates within a day or two, but some people with a highly develop olfactory sense may always be able smell the chemicals and unable to tolerate.

The Memory Foam Mattress Guide organization reports that the petroleum-based chemicals used in memory foam cause off-gassing such as formaldehyde and CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) and sometimes fire retardants are used. However, many companies have voluntarily stopped using the harsher and more harmful VOCs (Volatile Organic Compound). The organization states, that "for memory foams produced under current regulations, there are no credible studies showing health risks caused by VOCs or chemicals."

  • There are several chemicals used in the creation of memory foam that are possible carcinogens. Sleep Junkie gives a detailed rundown on each one and the possible side-effects from long-term use.
  • Memory Foam Mattress Organization also reminds consumers that memory foam made in the United States "has been shown to be safe and non-toxic" and some manufacturers have gone one step further to reduce or eliminate VOC off-gassing odors and other "borderline chemical additives".
  • CertiPUR-US (independent organization) was created by the U.S. and European industries to conduct testing of "polyurethane foams for emissions and harmful chemicals". Only the products that meet the low VOC emissions are certified.

Flame Retardants

U.S. bedding laws require all memory foam mattresses and pillows be flame retardant; however the required harsh chemicals are known carcinogens, and the law is currently being changed, although it may take a decade to realize. It's also important to understand that just because something has been treated to be flame retardant doesn't mean that it's not flammable. Labeling regulations require that this vulnerability be stated on most tags and/or packaging. The retardant simply slows the burning.

Foam Density Prevents Material Breathability

Some pillows are so dense that the material has no breathability; this can make you sweat. This is especially true in older pillows that were manufactured before technological advances that build-in air chambers to provide breathability. The breathability factor depends on the manufacturer and quality of the pillow.

Retains Body Heat

Memory foam is designed to be sensitive to temperature changes. This include climate temperature as well as body heat. Not all pillows are created equal. Some have air chambers that allow the air to move through the material so the heat doesn't become trapped. Before purchasing, look for product information about breathability.

Foam Slow to Recover Position Changes

Some complain about memory foam pillows being slow to recover to its natural state. The very nature of this material is the memory which causes it to be slow to recover, but it does return to its original shape. This can be problematic for some people who change sleeping positions and have to wait for their pillow to recover before they can settle back to sleep.

Climate Temperature Affects Firmness

Memory Foam Contour Pillow

Memory foam is sensitive to temperatures. This sensitivity is what gives it the properties to contour to different shapes. Heat from your body softens the material and causes it to yield to weight. If you keep your home unusually warm, the pillow will grow more flexible. By the same token, if you keep your home at a cool temperature, the foam could feel rigid and inflexible under warmed by body heat.

Who Shouldn't Use Memory Foam Pillows?

There are some people who shouldn't use this type of pillow.

  • Care.com reminds that most pediatricians don't recommend a pillow for children until they are two years old and they should be given a child-size pillows. An adult-size memory pillow could be too big for a small child and the pillow could contour too much and the child could suffocate. There are some special toddler-sized memory pillows designed specifically for their age group.
  • Anyone sensitive to chemicals or concerned about the chemicals used in the material. Sleep Products Safety Council recommends airing sleep foam products for a minimum of 24 hours before covering with sheets or pillowcases.
  • If you suffer from allergic reactions to chemicals, you may need to avoid this type of pillow. Visco-elastic foam is a petroleum based polyurethane foam and some people are allergic to this material composition. Sleep Junkie reports that the chemicals found in some memory foam are high in VOCs (Volatile Organic Compound), while others have low VOCs or are VOC free. Some of these VOCs include Polyol (Polyether Glycol) that are used in formulation of polyurethanes, Silicone Surfactants used to control foaming structure and TDI (Toluene diisocyanate) that are used to manufacture flexible polyurethane foams. Alway check labels for specific information about the pillow.

Consumer and Independent Reviews

It helps to read reviews of the product you wish to purchase to discover what previous buyers have to say about their experiences using that particular pillow. These reviews can provide detailed information on the pros and cons of specific memory foam pillows you are considering for purchase.

  • Bedtime Friends reviews the top foam memory pillows and lists cons, such as contour pillow that may prove too firm for someone suffering from jaw issues. A traditional memory foam pillow may be too heavy or off-gassing odor.
  • Sleep Mentor offers "unbiased" reviews on specific pillow brands with a comparison rating of comfort, pain relief, bad order and other ratings. The three top rated pillows rated on odor received a 4 or 5 rating out of 10.

Making the Right Choice

The best way to know what you are purchasing is to read the pillow tags and packaging material. Many companies are voluntarily adding this type of information to memory foam products. When shopping online, be sure to read all the information listed in the specification sections and other online descriptions.

Pros and Cons of Memory Foam Pillows