Certified Sleep Coach
Lauren is a Certified Sleep Science Coach with extensive experience researching and testing a wide variety of sleep products.
Memory foam is one of the most popular materials used in modern mattresses. It offers a soft yet supportive feel that many people fall in love with. However, traditional memory foam has a reputation for sleeping warm, as it tends to trap body heat. Because memory foam allows for deep contouring, surface airflow is also limited, which further compounds the heat buildup. To reduce this issue, manufacturers often use cooling gel memory foam. But what is gel memory foam, and does it actually work?
Gel memory foam is a relatively new product that first became popular in the early 2010s. It is simply memory foam that has small gel particles or beads either infused into it or, less commonly, applied as a layer on top.
Most gel memory foams use either thermal gel, which is cool to the touch, or phase-changing gel, which transitions from a solid to a liquid when the temperature of the mattress rises. Both of these gels are designed to draw heat away from the sleeper, resulting in a more comfortable surface temperature.
These same cooling beads can also be infused into other types of foam, including latex and polyfoam. You will see it most often in memory foam, however, simply because memory foam often struggles to maintain a cool temperature.
Gel memory foam is comfortable, offering good conforming and pressure relief. But does it actually sleep cooler than normal memory foam?
In our testing, the answer to that question greatly depended on the specific company and model. Our analysis of a variety of best-selling models that used gel memory foam found temperature neutrality ratings ranging from “fair” to “very good”.
Our data found the best temperature neutrality ratings in hybrid and innerspring models (both of which use metal coils in their support cores). This makes sense, as coils improve airflow. It was unclear whether or not the gel memory foam made a difference in these models.
For all-foam models that used gel memory foam, our testing indicated ratings of “fair” or “good” in the temperature neutrality category. This is comparable to most standard memory foam models, so again, it’s unclear whether or not gel memory foam actually made a difference.
With that being said, some customers have reported that their gel memory foam mattresses do a good job of staying cool. Different people will have varying experiences on each type of mattress.
Fortunately, most mattress manufacturers offer risk-free sleep trials, which allow you to test out the mattress in your own home. If the mattress doesn’t work for you, you can typically return it for a full refund. The length of these sleep trials vary, but most manufacturers provide at least 90 days.
There are many gel memory foam mattresses that are great products, with excellent customer reviews and good performance ratings. However, in most cases, it’s not specifically the inclusion of gel memory foam that makes these mattresses a good choice.
In other words, gel memory foam is likely not a feature that you need to specifically seek out. It appears to offer minimal, if any, cooling benefit over traditional memory foam. So, whether or not a model uses gel should not be a major factor to consider when choosing your next mattress.
If you are concerned with a mattress sleeping too warm, it’s best to choose a hybrid model, or even a high-end innerspring mattress. These mattress designs will almost always sleep cooler than foam beds, since the metal coils allow for increased airflow, which helps to dissipate heat. If you are someone who sleeps hot, a hybrid mattress (with or without gel memory foam) will likely be the best option for you.