Do Gel Mattresses Live up to the Hype?
Gel mattresses are being heavily promoted as the latest and greatest sleep technology, but does performance match the hype? Reviews can offer a true insight into the successes and failures of a mattress, so we scoured the internet for reviews of gel mattresses for information.
The idea being promoted by the leading gel memory foam brands such as Serta iComfort is that the gel-infused mattress will sleep cooler than others by transferring heat away from sleepers and offering a “cooling sensation”. But, as with most marketing claims, consumers are left to sort out how much of this fact and whether or not there is any benefit over other alternatives.
Overview of Gel Mattresses
There are currently a few different iterations of gel mattresses on the market. Each version relies on a similar principle, but combines gel with different materials or support systems.
Gel Mattress Types
- Gel Memory Foam Mattresses – This type of material usually consists of conventional memory foam with liquid gel or gel beads mixed in. This is currently the most popular type of gel mattress.
- Gel Innerspring Mattresses – Gel may be worked into spring beds either by the inclusion of gel memory foam layers or a liquid gel layer. These types of beds are usually cheaper than all-memory foam or latex gel mattresses.
- Gel Latex – Similar to the composition of gel memory foam, but using latex foam instead. Most often the gel is combined with blended latex (a mix of natural and synthetic). Since gel latex is very new and few reviews exist, we will focus on primarily on gel memory foam and spring beds in this article.
Gel Mattress Terms
- Gel Beads – Beads or micro-beads of gel material are mixed into the memory foam before it sets.
- Gel Infused – Usually refers the gel beads mentioned above, but could also refer to liquid gel being blended with the foam.
- Gel Pad- This type of construction features a layer of molded gel on the surface or below comfort layers.
- Gel Cylinders – Some mattresses also use strips or cylinders of solid gel on the surface of the mattress.
- Honeycomb Gel – This type of gel material has a honeycomb structure with a somewhat squishy feel that incorporates gel into a solid material.
To understand what gel mattresses feel like, consider the gel ice packs used for lunches and injuries. The idea behind the material is the same in that the gel takes on the surrounding temperature. If you freeze an icepack, it will transfer coolness to your lunch or skin until it reaches room temperature. With a gel mattress, the room temperature material will feel cool against your warm skin, but it will also eventually reach body-temperature. This is why gel layers should be as close to the sleeper as possible for optimum effect.
Gel Mattress Claims vs. Performance
The top claim from brands of gel mattresses is that the material helps keep sleepers cooler by transferring heat away and offering a cool-to-the-touch feel. Some also claim that gel reduces pressure points and improves comfort. In our comparison, we looked at owner reviews and consumer surveys to identify how well gel beds lived up to these claims, as well as how their performance compared to average memory foam and spring mattresses. The factors we examine below include the type of gel used and where it is within the mattress, as well as how many consumers complained of heat, pain or sagging. We also included the average owner rating per line and price ranges. While much is still unknown about gel mattresses since the type is relatively new to market, here is a compilation of what consumers have to say about these types of beds.
Four Brands of Gel Mattresses Compared
Simmons Beautyrest Recharge
|Mattress Type||Memory Foam||Memory Foam||Innerspring/MF Hybrid||Innerspring/MF Hybrid|
Industry Averages for Memory Foam and Springs
|Price||$1550 avg||$1500 avg|
Gel Memory Foam Beds
Serta iComfort and Sealy Optimum are two of the most popular national brands of gel-based memory foam mattresses. Both lines use gel-bead infused foams on top of poly foam, and some models may contain latex and regular memory foam as well. Both models place the gel layer at the top of the bed, beneath the cover. Compared to memory foam in general, iComfort does show fewer complaints of sleeping hot (4-6%) and equally good scores for comfort, but also has slightly more complaints about sagging (about 9% of reviewers mention this). Optimum reviews indicate fairly similar rates of complaints on heat (8-10%) and slightly below average comfort and durability scores. Both brands have average owner reviews slightly above average for memory foam beds. Average prices are within the median range for memory foam, though Optimum’s retail pricing is slightly higher.
Previously we compared the different memory foam types from Serta iComfort, Tempurpedic and Amerisleep, and and found that Amerisleep’s plant-based memory foam rated higher overall. Another blog, TheBest-Mattress.org, wrote an article on cool memory foam and also found the lowest rates of heat complaints with Amerisleep mattresses, though Serta iComfort came in a close second.
Gel Innerspring/Hybrid Beds
For gel mattresses of the spring variety we compared two other national lines, Serta’s iSeries and Simmons Beautyrest Recharge line. Both lines are primarily spring/memory foam hybrids, with the iSeries using gel bead infused memory foam in upper layers and the Beautyrest Recharge using a ‘gel layer’ in the middle of the mattress. Simmons offers little information about whether their gel is standard gel-infused foam or a solid gel layer. Compared to spring mattresses in general, both models rate slightly better on coolness than innersprings with traditional memory foam. The Beautyrest Recharge is similar if slightly below average however on comfort and durability, where the iSeries is above average. Both lines rate higher than average spring mattress ratings, with iSeries being 0.4 points ahead.
With springs overall, there is some indication that gel may help slightly improve coolness, but overall the spring mattresses rate worse than either traditional or gel memory foam on most factors.
The major concern with gel mattress reviews is how limited the information currently is. Because this mattress type is still fairly new to the market (most brands introduced between 2010-2012), consumers have very little feedback from other buyers at this point, especially on long-term comfort and durability. Some of the information gleaned so far may indicate less durability for gel foams, and some have expressed concerns that gel beds can shed over time and weaken the foam structure.
As of right now, the only pro that is directly associated with gel-infused beds is the potential it has to be less heat retentive than other memory foam beds that are available. Many reviewers report initial coolness with gel mattresses slightly reducing heat complaints, but several other reviewers have also complained that the cooling sensation doesn’t last through the night and sense gel foams can be more expensive then otherwise comparable mattresses this may not make the cost worthwhile for some shoppers. Some product review publications also remain skeptical of gel’s cooling claims.
Gel mattresses are no doubt an innovative approach to bedding, and it is certainly exciting for the industry to embark on a new type of mattress. But because these types of beds are still new, skeptical shoppers may prefer to wait for more reviews before taking the leap. Overall, gel foam and spring beds may show some promise, but consumers would be wise to consider the objective quality of all materials and available reviews compared to alternatives when deciding if gel mattresses are the right decision.
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