Memory Foam vs. Gel Foam Pillows: What’s The Difference & is One Better? – The Bedding Planet

Memory Foam vs. Gel Foam Pillows: What’s The Difference & is One Better?

This post is a part of the complete gel pillow buyers guide

Did you know sleep deprivation will kill you quicker than food deprivation?

The longest documented case of sleep deprivation is eleven days, while people on hunger strikes have been known to go longer.

Sleep is so vital that it is estimated that humans spend a third of their life asleep. Therefore, it makes a lot of sense to invest in the right pillows to make your sleep as comfortable and restful as possible.

Pillows have undergone a massive transformation from the traditional feather pillows to the latest technologies like memory foam and gel pillows.

In this post we will look at both memory foam and gel pillows in detail, compare them and decide which is best. And just as a teaser, a blend of memory foam and gel foam may just bring the best of both worlds, and could be the ultimate solution.

What is a Memory Foam Pillow?

Memory foam is made from a mixture of polyurethane and other additives that increase its density and viscosity. Some may also include flame retardants for additional safety. It is sometimes referred to as viscoelastic foam.

NASA invented it in the 1970s before being appropriated to make pillows and mattresses. Its main feature is that it reacts to temperature (body heat) and pressure, conforming to the head and body shape. The pillow molds itself to your natural posture in minutes providing effective pressure relief and unsurpassed support and comfort.

Memory foam is made in either one-piece or shredded format. As the name depicts, one piece is a single block of memory foam. Shredded can be 100% memory foam or a blend of memory foam and other materials like fiberfill or latex. 

If you are a side sleeper, this is the best pillow for your spine and bones. When you lay on it, you can sink into the pillow, further supporting your shoulders, hips, and critical pressure joints susceptible to injury.

Once you relieve the pressure, the foam will take some time to relax and flatten again. The next time you sleep on it, it will assume your normal sleeping shape, and that is why it is the “memory” foam.

Types of Memory Foam Pillows


From the name, these pillows only feature one solid memory foam block. The one-piece foam pillows can either assume the shape of standard pillows or are designed to assume the shape and position of the head and neck.

Some one-piece memory foam pillows may be built with multiple layers to better respond to pressure. When you lift your head off the pillow, they will rise back to their original form.


Shredded memory foam pillows can be made entirely from memory foam or a combination of pillow materials like fiberfill or latex.

Shredded foam pillows have been the favorite among different types of sleepers, owing to how the fillings can be removed to adjust the pillow’s loft. The pillows can also be customized to take different shapes depending on how you want to sleep.

What is a Gel Foam Pillow?

The main reason for using gel in pillows is as a cooling agent. The gel is semi-liquid and captures heat from the body, leaving you feeling relaxed as you slumber.

Manufacturers have integrated gels in various types of pillows like memory form, latex pillows, and down pillows. The gel can be in the form of gel pods, gel infusions, gel beads, or laminated gel layers.

You can even find pillows that have a laminated gel layer on one side, giving you a choice to use the cool side or the normal side.

So, most often gel foam are combined with other materials such as memory foam, latex or feather/down to create the “perfect” pillow.

Memory Foam vs. Gel Foam Pillows: The Similarities

1. Comfort

Memory and gel foam pillows are built to conform to your head and neck’s shape and resume their normal position once you wake up.

The pillows have unique contouring structures that provide unique comfort since they equally distribute weight on the pillow to prevent pressure from building up in any part of the body.

Both pillows work best for side sleepers who put pressure on one side of the body.

2. Excellent motion isolation

Motion absorption is superior in memory and gel foam pillows considering the viscoelastic properties. This makes them the perfect fit for people who move around a lot when they sleep.

You will not feel any difference when you move your head, neck, or shoulders to the other side of the mattress since they all take the same shape.

3. Pressure point relief

Memory and gel for pillows assume the shape of your body to increase comfort and relieve pressure points.

The viscoelastic properties make the pillows respond well to heat, making them conform to shapes easily. You can therefore be fully relaxed when you sleep.

Memory Foam vs. Gel Foam Pillows: The Differences

1. Temperature

While memory foam pillows provide better support when sleeping, they will let you down with their heating problem.

Memory foam are not entirely breathable due to the closed-cell structure, which retains more heat. Their breathability is only limited to the surface, which puts you in a challenging situation, especially during summer.

Gel pillows are superior in terms of heat management and cooling technology. The pillows have special technology gels which do not trap any heat and perfectly suit hot sleepers.

The gel beads and the gel layers dissipate heat sufficiently, making the pillow surface maintain a cooling effect, especially during the hot months. Different manufacturers, however, have different breathability levels providing better temperature regulation.

2. Off-gassing


Memory foam pillows are notorious for carrying their chemical smell, even post-manufacturing.

These pillows are built with layers of materials that have undergone numerous chemical processes to retain their functionality and improve their performance. This is why most manufacturers recommend that you air out your pillow for 48 hours before you use it on your bed.

Alternatively, gel pillows are safe and do not give any chemical smells when initially taken out of the package. This is because they are made using non-toxic, environmentally friendly materials, making them more comfortable.

The gel contained in these pillows is made from water and environmentally friendly additives that let you sleep peacefully every night.

3. Durability

After buying memory foam pillows, you will notice how fast they lose their firmness within a few months of use.

Even though durability relies on manufacturing quality, density, and the usage environment, these pillows still get depleted faster than gel pillows.

The air pockets in memory foam pillows will lose their structure and firmness when exposed to pressure over long periods.

This quality differs from the durability qualities of gel foam pillows which have water molecule gel beads that are resistant to damage and destruction.

Hence, these types of pillows can maintain their shape and firmness over more extended periods without losing their comfort and temperature control features.

4. Response rate

The response rate of foam pillows sometimes is an advantage to some users and a disadvantage to others.

The slow response rate means that your body sinks deeper into the pillow, while a higher response rate provides sufficient pressure without you sinking deeper into the pillow.

Likewise, gel foam pillows have a higher response rate and can bounce back in shape quickly. Sleepers who move around will enjoy the efficiency of gel pillows allowing peaceful tossing and turning without shifting the pillow’s position.

5. Price

Comfort always comes at a price, and there is a price to pay if you prefer gel pillows over memory foam pillows.

Considering that unique materials are used to produce safe and consumer-friendly pillows, every component accounts for a higher price tag on the final product.

However, the price may also be determined by various factors like thickness, quality, and the pillow’s loft. Hence, memory foam pillows are cheaper than gel-filled foam since they use basic materials to create the different layers that give the pillow its functionality.

6. Firmness

Gel foam is the densest of all-foam pillows due to the extra gel beads that increase their density. The gel gives the pillow some buoyancy properties, which keep you floating above the pillow.

Even though the responsiveness of the pillow makes them firmer, you can choose from soft to ultra-firm.

On the other hand, memory foam pillows have a contouring structure that slightly immerses you into the pillow. This is best if you prefer a “cloud-like” head and neck elevation.

Which is Best, Memory Foam or Gel Foam?

Both memory foam and gel foam pillows share many of the same properties, the biggest difference is the cooling effect.

Standard memory foam pillows will heat up when you are using them, especially when they take the shape of your head and neck when you sleep. This happens when your body’s pressure and heat react with the viscoelastic foam to retain your body heat.

This feature means that your pillow will heat up the entire night and will only cool down when you wake up and no longer have your head placed on the foam. Therefore, memory foam pillows are the best option if you are a sleeper who prefers to stay warm through the night.

The gel foam pillows differ from memory foam pillows due to the “phase-changing” gel in the beads or capsules. These beads give the pillow its cooling properties since they absorb heat to change from solid to liquid.

Once you get out of bed, the pillow cools down to become solid, but you will not feel any significant difference in how the pillow supports your head and neck.

If you prefer to sleep cool without your pillow retaining so much heat, you are better off with the gel pillow.


These substances do not have any adverse effects on people, and they are mainly added for their positive impacts on sleepers.

Ever since these additives were cleared for use in pillows, there have never been any incidents unless you are allergic to natural extracts or other chemicals used in manufacturing.

However, whether chemical or natural, these additives do not affect the pillow’s cooling effect at all.

Memory Foam And Gel Foam Pillows FAQs

1. How do gel beads work in pillows?

The gel in the beads can absorb heat to change the gel capsule from a solid into a liquid state. This process gives the cooling effect when you sleep. The gel beads or gel capsules release the pressure to resume the pillow’s normal position when you wake up.

The gel is made from a phase-change material that changes into liquid after high temperatures heat the solid gel. Even though it absorbs a lot of heat when you sleep, the pillow temperature remains the same, and you will not feel any effect. When you wake up, the gel beads’ temperature drops and assumes their solid states.

The gel works better than water because it liquefies and solidifies at higher temperatures than the latter.

2. Are both memory foam and gel pillows safe to use?

Yes. Both pillows are safe for use and certified by various certification boards to show they meet standards. The foam and gel undergo testing to check for toxic chemicals and other hazardous substances.

These materials also do not contain heavy metals, formaldehyde, or phthalates, making them safe for use with no effect on your health.

3. Do the natural additives in gel pillows affect their cooling effect?

When checking memory foam and gel pillows, you need to check whether any natural additives were used.

Some pillows may incorporate green tea or Aloe Vera extract and activated charcoal to absorb volatile substances that cause the pillow to smell bad.

Some pillows may also have aromatherapy effects which leave you refreshed when you wake up.

Gel Pillows: A Complete Buyers Guide – Parts:

1. Why Use a Gel Pillow? The Benefits & Drawbacks
2. Memory Foam vs. Gel Foam Pillows: What’s The Difference & is One Better?
3. How Long Do Gel Pillows Last? This is The Replacement Time
4. Are Gel Filled Pillows Safe to Use?
5. Best Gel Pillows of 2022 – Complete Review
6. How to Wash And Dry a Gel Pillow: Step by Step Guide

Niklas Lampi

My name is Niklas and I'm the author and content operator at The Bedding Planet. I've always had a big interest in bedding and more specifically sleep. If I find something that makes me sleep better, whether that's a lifestyle change or a better bedding environment, I'm ready to share it with the world!

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