What are gel-foam mattresses and should you buy one if you sweat during sleep?

Nectar Memory Foam Mattress, which contains gel foam, on a yellow background

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If you've been shopping for a new bed recently, you've probably come across a lot of gel-foam mattresses. Gel foam is a popular material featured in both memory foam and hybrid mattresses, and it's even used in mattress toppers, too. But what is a gel-foam mattress and should you buy one if you sweat during sleep?

For our 2024 best mattress guide, we've picked plenty of mattresses that use gel foam. Here, we'll break down what gel foam mattresses are, their pros and cons, and who should and shouldn't buy one. 

Gel foam mattresses are available in a range of designs and price tiers, so you'll likely find one that suits your budget. We've also included three top recommendations from today's mattress sales, should you decide to buy now.

 What is a gel-foam mattress? 

The layers of the Nectar Memory Foam Mattress featuring gel memory foam

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A gel-foam mattress is any mattress that uses foam infused with cooling polymer gel for temperature regulation. The polymer gel absorbs body heat and disperses it throughout the surface of the mattress, and can be infused with cooling, anti-microbial substances such as copper. 

The cooling gel is usually added to memory foam as this type of foam can trap heat, but it can also be added to other types of foam such as latex. Typically, gel foam is used in the top layer of a mattress (under the cover) for a comfortable, cool-to-the-touch sleep surface. Thanks to the temperature control it brings, gel foam is found in most mattresses that use memory foam, from the best cooling mattresses to the best cheap mattresses

Gel foam mattress vs memory foam mattress: What’s the difference? 

Person's hand resting on the gel-foam Ghostbed Luxe mattress

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While plenty of the best memory foam mattresses are also gel-foam mattresses, not all memory foam beds contain gel foam. Pure memory foam mattresses rely on memory foam and other foams for comfort and support, and use other cooling methods such as breathable fabrics or perforated foam. 

For example, the Cocoon by Sealy Chill Memory Foam Mattress is a cooling memory foam bed, but doesn't use gel foam. Instead, it uses a heat-dissipating cover featuring proprietary Phase Change Material, a space-age cooling technology designed to regulate temperature.

 Gel-foam mattresses: Pros 

The most obvious benefit of a gel-foam mattress is the cooling properties it provides to hot sleepers. Polymer gel can absorb the heat from our bodies and wick it away from us, making it a perfect companion for heat-trapping memory foam, which is notorious for sleeping warm. 

In fact, a gel-foam mattress is a much cheaper alternative to advanced cooling beds, which often use cutting-edge cooling technology which raises their prices to premium territory. 

A gel-foam mattress can also provide an anti-microbial sleep as the gel is often infused with copper, which is known for its natural antiviral and antibacterial properties. 

Woman sleeping on her side

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It can also deliver a bouncier, more responsive sleep surface to combination and restless sleepers who need ease of movement when changing sleep positions. As it springs back quicker than traditional memory foam, gel foam is great if you prefer a springy feel to sink-in softness.

Last but not least, a gel-foam mattress delivers the same body-contouring pressure relief and motion isolation as a pure memory foam mattress. It can cradle and soothe pressure points just as well as other memory foam beds, and can even provide extra support thanks to its bounce.

Gel foam mattresses: Cons 

While gel-foam mattresses have plenty of benefits, they do have some drawbacks. First of all, their prices. While they may be cheaper than the luxury cooling mattresses or the best smart beds on the market, they can still cost more than traditional memory foam beds.

Off-gassing (i.e. new mattress smell) is another drawback of gel-foam mattresses. Memory foam itself already emits a strong chemical odor when unboxing a new mattresses, but cooling gels can exacerbate the problem as they are also synthetic.

A couple go mattress shopping together

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Speaking of synthetic materials, a gel-foam mattress is not for those looking for an organic or natural mattress. You won't find gel infusions in the best organic mattresses, as polymer gels are synthetic. In fact, many question whether cooling gel is toxic due to the chemicals used to create it. However, the majority of gel-foam mattresses are CertiPUR-US certified, meaning they meet certain safety and environmental standards.

Also, while they may provide temperature regulation, the gel-foam mattresses don't sleep as cool as cutting-edge cooling mattresses that use designs with advanced features such as smart tech and NASA-developed heat-dissipating materials

Can gel foam mattresses help with night sweats, hot flushes and overheating?  

At Tom's Guide, we've tested plenty of mattresses that boast about their cooling properties, and we've found that common cooling methods — such as the addition of gel into the foam — didn’t stand up against heat waves or hot flashes. 

"Gel foam mattresses are good for many warm to hot sleepers," says certified sleep coach Claire Davies. "However, you may find that only a proper cooling mattress can reduce the intense sweating and molten-hot flashes that come with perimenopause and menopause."

Davies recommends seeking out mattresses with other cooling methods such as Phase Change Material (PCM) which researchers found to lower skin temperature and improve human heat dissipation by up to 25.6% compared to a conventional mattress.

"Other health conditions (and some medications) also cause intense overheating and night sweats, where your bed sheets are soaked with sweat," Davies explains. "In these instances a standard gel foam mattress will not help – you'd need a specialist cooling mattress such as a Tempur-Breeze or the Eight Sleep Pod 3."

Who should buy a gel foam mattress? 

Combination or restless sleepers. Gel foam has more responsiveness and bounce than traditional memory foam, making it much easier to move around on.

✅ Hot sleepers on a budget. Gel-foam mattresses regulate temperature and  are much cheaper than the more advanced cooling mattresses.

Those who need pressure relief. Gel-foam mattresses provide the same amount of body-contouring pressure relief as pure memory foam.

 Who shouldn’t buy a gel foam mattress? 

❌ Those who suffer from extreme overheating. We've found that gel-foam mattresses don't provide enough cooling for those who sleep extremely hot.

Those want a natural, non-toxic sleep. If your mattress contains cooling gel, it's not a clean, organic mattress.

❌ Those want a sink-in soft bed. The quicker ability to bounce back means gel-foam mattresses aren't as sink-in soft as ultra-plush memory foam beds.

The top 3 gel foam mattresses on sale today 

1. Siena Memory Foam Mattress:  $499 $199 at Siena Sleep

1. Siena Memory Foam Mattress: from $499 $199 at Siena Sleep
The Siena Memory Foam Mattress is one of the best mattresses for stomach sleepers, while our testers for our thorough Siena Memory Foam Mattress review found the 2.5" layer of gel-infused foam drew away body heat well. Thanks to an evergreen Siena mattress sale, you can get up to 60% off all sizes, with a queen size down from $799 to $399. 

2. Nectar Memory Foam Mattress:  $699 $349 at Nectar
Our Nectar Memory Foam mattress review found that the Nectar offers good temperature regulation for the low price and all-foam design. The top

2. Nectar Memory Foam Mattress: from $699 $349 at Nectar
Our Nectar Memory Foam mattress review found that the Nectar offers good temperature regulation for the low price and all-foam design. The top 2-inch layer of gel-infused memory foam provides that body-contouring feel, and delivers a good balnce of softness and support. A permanent 40% off Nectar mattress sale means a queen is usually $649, too. 

3. GhostBed Luxe Mattress:$2,595 $1,298 + 2 free pillows at Ghostbed

3. GhostBed Luxe Mattress: from $2,595 $1,298 + 2 free pillows at Ghostbed
Our testers for the GhostBed Luxe mattress review awarded this cooling bed 5/5 for temperature regulation thanks to two layers of gel memory foam. It also features a patented Ghost Ice cooling technology, plus strong edge support and great pressure relief. However, be aware that there is a pungent off-gassing smell when first opened. There's a permanent 50% off deal that brings the price of a queen size GhostBed mattress down to $1, 548 from $3,095. It's a saving we're used to, but you won't see it bettered. 

Frances Daniels
Sleep Staff Writer

Frances Daniels is a Sleep Staff Writer at Tom's Guide and her role includes covering all mattress and sleep news, in addition to mattress reviews and buyer's guides, plus sleep accessories such as pillows and mattress toppers. Frances is a PPA-accredited journalist and is hugely interested in the relationship between good sleep and overall health. When not writing about mattresses and sleep for Tom's Guide, Frances enjoys writing about women's issues, health and wellbeing, the environment, and her native Wales.