Ninety-one percent of Americans say that the comfort level of the pillow is one of the most important factors contributing to a good night of sleep.
Have you ever bought a pillow and then realized three or four nights later that you bought the wrong pillow?
Memory foam pillows are some of the most popular pillows used by consumers, yet its solid materials makes it one of the hardest pillows to sleep on.
Why are memory foam pillows so hard? Memory foam pillows will feel hard at first, when the foam is cold. The viscosity of the foam are designed to adapt to the shape of your head and neck once your body heat softens up the foam. This leads to great support and comfort for all sleeping positions.
While most people believe the quality of the pillow plays a crucial part in the quality of their sleep, most people feel they are not getting enough quality sleep. Could the pillow have a role in that?
Our choice of pillow can make a difference in refreshing, quality sleep, and unbearable neck, shoulder and/or back pain, in the morning.
We’ll take a look at the various types of memory foam pillows, to see if we can determine why they harden, and we will look at how we can make them softer.
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How Are Memory Foam Pillows Designed?
Memory foam pillows were first developed by NASA in the 70s to help lessen the impact of takeoff for astronauts. Charles Yost is credited with the invention while under contract with NASA.
Yost dubbed the viscoelastic foam “temper foam,” and marketed it primarily for medical use. The viscosity of the foam allows your body heat to soften the pillow which supports your head differently from conventional pillows, helping reduce neck and back pain.
Memory foam pillows can be either solid-filled or shredded. Solid fillers give a supportive feel as your head sinks into the pillow, but the fill cannot move. Shredded memory foam pillows also give a supportive feel, but has a fluffier feel, since the fill is not solid.
Adapt to Sleeping Position
When choosing what materials to make memory foam pillows out of, manufacturers had to maintain a balance of rigidity and conformity. The foam must give a little, but not so much that it’s too soft and stop regaining its form.
The foam consists of millions of taught fibers that stretch out when pressure is applied, and then shrinks back to its original size once the pressure is no longer there.
Memory foam pillows are designed to adapt to the shape of your head and neck. In order to stabilize your posture and relieve stress on your muscles, the foam has to be stiff. The pillow will adapt to your sleep position, and when it does, it will need time to reshape itself when that position is changed.
Memory foam pillows are good to use with any sleeping position. While sleeping on the stomach is considered the worst sleeping position, and is not recommended to do, there are a couple of memory foam pillows, the V-shape pillow and the contour pillow (turned upside down), that actually works good with that sleep position.
Sleeping on your stomach, regardless of the type of pillow you use, can cause you to wake up with a stiff neck, among other things. It can negatively affect your shoulders, upper back, jaw, and vital organs.
Memory foam pillows are temperature-dependent, meaning they are stiff when they are cold and soft when they warm up. This is a calming effect that is needed by many for a good night’s sleep.
Engineered with visco-elastic polymers that react to body heat by yielding and softening, memory foam is able to create a surface unique to the sleeper every time they use it, no matter what their sleeping position may be.
Visco-elastic memory products do not behave in the way you’d expect conventional pillows to behave. Memory foam exhibits more rigidity and inflexibility in cooler room temperatures.
As seasons change, the performance of the material may change as well. Thus, the pillow performs in a way that is consistent with its environment. For example, it should be expected that laying your head on a memory foam pillow in the winter, will result in the pillow feeling firmer, and it will take longer for the materials to warm up.
As the material in a memory foam softens with your body heat, it only makes sense that it would keep some of this heat. Thus, memory foam does tend to sleep more warmly than other pillows.
Designed for Quality
If you’re used to more conventional pillows, you will notice that memory foam pillows take a little more time to react to your position changes than most pillows.
After allowing memory foam time to conform to your head shape and sleeping position, you’ll notice a better, quality sleep and more support for your upper body muscles. Where in the beginning you may have felt the memory foam pillow was too hard, it may leave you to wonder if the previous pillows were too soft.
Memory foam was built to last longer than most pillows. Stiffer materials don’t wear as fast as other materials. A harder pillow is able to adapt to your sleeping position, and out last most others.
Good, quality memory foam is more durable and that makes for a good buying choice given the duration of the pillow. It’s a long-lasting pillow you can enjoy long-term. Let’s look at the different types of memory foam and pillows.
Types of Memory Foam
Original Memory Foam
The original memory foam was developed by NASA in 70s to help lessen the impact of takeoff for astronauts. It was initially referred to as “slow spring back foam”, then later called “temper foam”.
Created by feeding gas into a polymer matrix, the foam has an open-cell solid structure that matches pressure against it, yet slowly springs back to its original shape.
The foam originally used by NASA, made their plane cushions safer and more comfortable. It proved to be very useful and has widespread commercial applications today.
Memory foam was subsequently used in medical settings, among other uses. It was later used in safety helmets, pads and plenty of other equipment because it’s original use was to prevent serious injury to humans.
It’s most common uses today are for mattresses, pillows, shoes and blankets.
Gel Memory Foam
In 2006, the third generation of memory foam was introduced. Gel memory foam consists of gel particles fused with visco foam to reduce trapped body heat.
Gel memory foam pillows help to keep the sleeper cooler, as the infusion of beads help with facilitating air flow. It may be more durable than traditional memory foam, as it’s strong and offers great support for the sleeper, and reduces pains from poor posture.
Since the development of gel memory foam, other materials have been added to include aloe vera, green tea extract, and activated charcoal. These materials have been combined with the foam to reduce odors and provide aromatherapy while sleeping.
Types of Memory Foam Pillows
Contour Memory Foam
Contour is a popular choice of pillow for people with neck problems or people who sleep on their back. The pillow is a block of foam with a dipping groove in the middle. The groove makes two ridges on either side. The groove serves as a headrest and allows the ridges to support the neck while sleeping on one’s back.
To get the most out of this or any memory foam pillow, it is important to know how to sleep on it. Place the flat side of the pillow down and orient the pillow with the larger of the two curves toward the foot of your bed.
This will give much support to your head and neck, regardless of your sleep position. Let your head sink into the pillow, even if it seems too hard at first. You will feel the pillow begin to conform to your head and upper body.
If you are interested in a contour memory foam pillow that will help you sleep better and with a more neutrally aligned posture, you should check out the MemorySleep pillow that we created. You can read more about it here.
Shredded Memory Foam
Shredded memory foam pillows (also known as bamboo pillows) are softer than the solid memory foam, as they are filled with tiny pieces of shredded foam.
The tiny pieces create a surface that is breathable and allows air to flow around rather than become trapped. This also makes for a cool, comfortable night of sleep.
The pillows are long and oblong, and are ideal if you change positions often during the night. Shredded memory foam pieces each compress independently. This makes the pillow softer and moldable versus firm and supportive.
Wedge Memory Foam
A wedge memory foam pillow is a wedge or triangle-shaped pillow that comes in different sizes, angles and slants.
Its main purpose is to prop you up and to comfort the neck and back. They are not only good for sleeping on, but can be used for other medical purposes, including difficulty breathing due to respiratory problems, acid re flux, and sinus issues.
Wedge pillows have proven to be one of the best pillows used during pregnancy because it helps to reduce pressure on the back.
Traditional Memory Foam
Traditional memory foam pillows are rectangular pillows that form a single piece of memory foam. There are two types of traditional memory foam pillows:
- Foam covered by one piece of material that is sewn together by one single seam.
- Foam covered by one piece of material that is sewn together by a double-edged seam (called a gusset pillow). Gusset pillows offer slightly more lift, and are commonly used around the world because they offer an extra boost of comfort and support to the neck and shoulders.
Neckroll Memory Foam
Neckroll memory foam are long, cylinder-shaped pillows that help to position and support the neck.
They are multi-functional and are a great addition for comfort when watching TV, reading or relaxing, or riding in a vehicle or a plane.
V-Shaped Memory Foam
V-shaped memory foam pillows are in the shape of a V, and are also good support for the upper body, back and spine.
They are great for any sleeping position, but are even better for people who tend to sleep on their stomach.
3 Ways to Soften Your Memory Foam Pillow
1. Warm It
We’ve talked about how memory foam is temperature-dependent; it becomes softer with temperature because its nature is to adapt to the body and its temperature. Here are some things you can do to soften your pillow before going to bed:
- Wrap an electric blanket around your pillow and turn the blanket on for 10 – 15 minutes (most direct and effective short-term solution);
- Place your pillow in the dryer for about 15 minutes;
- Pour boiling water into a hot water bottle and place the bottle on your memory foam pillow for about 15 minutes;
- Place the pillow close to central heating or an electric radiator for about 10 minutes (do not directly touch the radiator);
- Iron over the pillow while covering it with a towel or a heavy cloth (please be careful of the setting so as not to burn the pillow);
- Raise the room temperature by adjusting your thermostat (as a last resort).
2. Beat It
The memory foam’s fibers will loosen up if subjected to physical stress.
- Take a blunt object like a broom handle or a rug cleaner and whack it across the pillow three or four times (do not over do it – too many whacks can cause pillow to lose it’s shape);
- Let a small child jump on the pillow 3 or 4 times (make sure their socks/feet are clean);
- Squeeze the pillow flat right before bed. When it expands again it will grow around the shape of your head and neck and you would have sped up the process of the pillow adapting to your posture.
3. Stuff It
Place pillow inside a pillowcase and stuff one side of the pillowcase with soft filler. Distribute the material evenly to avoid large clumps. Fill with enough filler to soften the pillow. Once you’ve done this, you can do a combination of some of things above to soften the pillow:
- Turn on a heating pad to medium heat. Lay the pad over the stuffed pillow. Allow the heating pad 15 minutes to soften the pillow;
- Place the stuffed pillow under an electric blanket and turn the blanket on for 10 – 15 minutes;
- Lay the pillow on a hard surface and beat the pillow with a rug beater or a broom handle.
Should you decide to do nothing to soften your pillow, the foam will become less rigid on its own, and will be noticeably softer after a month or two. If all else fails, allow the pillow to run its course; it should make for a better sleep, despite the original hardness.
How Memory Foam Pillows Help You To Sleep Better
Some pillows can be so soft that they offer little support, if any. Then there are those that can be so robust that they force the head into unnatural positions, leading to excruciating neck pain.
With all that we know about memory foam pillows, they should be the ideal companion or comfort during sleep, despite their hardness. They were designed for safety and quality, and made to align every bone in the neck to make sure the head and neck are perfectly in place. The materials mold itself to the shape of your head, ears and neck to offer full support.
Memory foam pillows tend to keep their firmness for many years. Most pillows are not able to do this. They are bouncy, resilient and offer a good amount of firmness that will contour the head, and bounce back to shape when your head is no longer laying on it.
Although, not everyone appreciates this firmness, it does result in a comfortable sleep with great support for the neck, shoulder, and back. The pillows are durable and hold their shape over a longer period of time.