I’ve often wondered why memory foam mattress was referred to as “memory” foam – is it because the foam remembers our shape or its’ own? How does it always remember the shape of my body/feet/head when I use it, then return to its original state when not in use?
Obviously memory foam doesn’t really have a “memory”, but there are some unique properties that were combined in its development that reacts to our body heat that make it seem as if it remembers our shape. In fact, the memory foam itself is made of polyurethane, combined with a mixture of other chemicals, that react to the heat emitted from a body (or head if used in a pillow) and softens in those areas that have direct contact, causing it to mold around us.
When the heat is removed, the foam slowly returns to its natural state. This memory, that allows it to return to its “remembered” shape, is not so much memory as it is the density and viscosity of the material used to create the foam.
So, what is memory foam really? It is a high density, heat sensitive foam referred to as viscoelastic, given this term due to the viscous, elasticity of its properties. This is sort of a scientific term that really just describes the primary reasons why memory foam reacts to our bodies in the way that it does. The warmth of our bodies softens the dense foam where it makes contact, just like oil will thin when our car engine heats up, and the elasticity in the foam allows it to go back to its original shape when that heat is removed.
The original memory foam was developed by one of NASA’s research centers to increase the safety of seats in military air-crafts, the idea was then later released for public development and consumption. Initially, very few manufacturers were interested in developing the foam due to the difficult nature of creating its unique viscoelasticity, but after one company was able to successfully manufacture mattresses and pads using the foam, the use of memory foam took on some very interesting shapes!
The medical industry developed the use of the foam in their wheelchairs and x-ray tables as well as in the mattresses used on beds for convalescing patients. The original memory foam has been revised and redeveloped many times since the 1980’s to better accommodate its customers as well as the demands of competition by adding factors that will cool the foam, allow the foam to maintain its viscoelasticity longer, and even adding scents and plant matter to create aroma-therapeutic mattresses. Today, you see memory foam in pillows, neck-pillows, exercise equipment, mattresses, shoes, helmet linings, ear plugs, and even toilet seats!