The mattress industry is pretty straightforward –– either a bed is comfortable or not. Still, there’s room for confusion. When we throw around a lot of terms like hyper-elastic polymer and responsiveness, things can get a little bit complicated. 

Thankfully, we’re dedicated to making things simple for you. Mattresses may be nuanced, but they’re not tricky. We figured we’d take a second and define a few things. This time we’ll focus on all things memory foam, specifically gel foam and memory foam. Even though they are both types of foam, they have some key differences you won’t want to get mixed up. Here’s what you need to know when buying your next mattress

What is Memory Foam? 

Memory foam is one of the most popular materials used in mattresses, and for a good reason. It’s been around since the 90s and has continuously evolved ever since it hit the market. But like, what is memory foam? Good question! The main component in memory foam is polyurethane, a plastic polymer used to make pretty much everything– sofas, mattresses, and even spray foams. Add a few extra compounds and additives to polyurethane, and you get memory foam –– a “viscoelastic” polyurethane foam

Memory foam is known for its ability to conform to your body and provide pressure relief. There are several different types of memory foam –– traditional, eco-friendly, and gel-infused memory foam. Millions of people sleep on memory foam beds because of how comfortable and durable they are. The variety of memory foam beds are nothing short of impressive.

What is Gel Foam?

Gel foam is an alternative to traditional memory foam that’s specifically designed to keep you cool. When memory foam first became popular, it tended to trap heat on your body while you slept. Memory foam has come a long way since then; however, gel foam beds are still going to sleep cooler. 

Gel foam beds are made by either adding a gel layer in the bed’s construction or adding gel beads into the memory foam. If you’re a particularly hot sleeper, you might want to opt for a gel foam bed. The type of gel foam in each mattress will depend on the brand –– some use “phase-changing materials”  or a thermal gel inside. Gel foam is cooling to start; however, some beds will be better at cooling than others. Beyond just mattresses, there are gel-infused mattress toppers and mattress pads. 

How Are They Similar?

When it comes down to it, memory foam and gel foam have a lot of similarities. After all, gel foam is basically just memory foam with gel added in. The core function and benefits of both foams are the same: 

  • Gel foam and traditional memory foam both cradle your body and provide superior pressure relief. This makes memory foam and gel foam excellent options for people who have back pain or pressure points in the hips, shoulders, or neck. 
  • They both come in varying firmness levels, which makes them better or worse for the different sleeper types.
  • Motion transfer is really good for both types of foam. How well a bed isolates motion is a particularly important point to consider for couples that toss and turn. 

How Are They Different?

For the most part, gel foam and memory foam are pretty similar. However, two key differences separate traditional memory foam from gel foam. 

  • We mentioned it before, but the main difference between the two is the temperature. Gel foam feels cooler than traditional memory foam. 
  • Gel memory foam also tends to be more responsive, meaning switching positions during the night will be easier. You’ll have less of the chance of having a “stuck-in-the-mud” feeling. 
  • Memory foam tends to be more durable than gel foam. 

Is Gel Foam or Memory Foam Better?

So you’ve read this far, and you’re wondering, when are they going to tell me which one is better? Sadly, only you can answer that question. Both memory foam and gel foam are great options. Especially if you’re looking for comfort and pressure relief, determining which one is better for you will come down to your needs and preferences. 

If you’re a hot sleeper, you probably will be better suited for a gel foam mattress. We also have to mention the price point difference between the two. Gel foam is typically significantly more expensive than plain memory foam. So if you don’t really value the cooling design or responsiveness of gel memory foam, traditional memory foam might be a better option for you. 

Too Long, Didn’t Read?

At the end of the day, memory foam and gel foam are pretty similar. They both are comfortable and pressure relieving. The key differences, however, are what will help you determine what is better for you. Check out the table below to see the winner in each category. 

Temperature Gel foam
ResponsivenessGel foam
Durability Memory foam
FirmnessGel foam
CostMemory foam
Pressure reliefTie
Motion isolation Tie