What's a gel mattress – and is it right for you?

Not sure if you need a gel mattress? We look at what they are and if they can help you sleep more soundly

A blue bedroom with blue wallpaper and accents
(Image credit: Future)

There are few things worse than waking up in sweaty sheets. It's hot, it's gross, and worst of all, it disrupts your sleep. 

It's a particular problem for those sleeping on memory foam beds. Memory form softens as it warms, which can pull you into the bed. That's what makes those beds so comfortable, but memory foam is a thick, dense material which is poor for temperature regulation. You heat up, which heats up your bed, which draws you further in, which heats you up again, and before you know if you're wrapped up in sweaty foam. 

Enter gel mattresses. These mattress include conductive gel components which draw the heat from your body into the mattress. They're as cheap as most other memory foam beds but won't make you overheat. 

That means that many of the best mattresses have gel components. After chatting to an expert, here's everything you need to know. 

What is a gel mattress?

A gel mattress incorporates gel-infused materials into its layers - think a layer of memory foam, a gel layer and on hybrid beds, springs. Sometimes the gel isn't a separate layer, but infused into the body of the memory foam itself. 

The gel can be anything from gel beads, gel-infused foam (like geltex) or even multiple gel layers for more comfort. The gel-infused sections are designed to take body heat away from us so we have a cooler surface to sleep on and we don't wake up in a sweaty mess. The gel is also great for comfort in its own right, allowing us to mould into the mattress and protect our joints.

Joint pain

When we sleep our joints swell, so being in a comfortable position and on a comfortable mattress can keep joints healthy or alleviate any pain you already have. Jill Zwarensteyn, a sleep science coach, says, 'gel mattresses are excellent for those with joint pain, as well as side and back sleepers since they benefit more from pressure-relieving materials.'

Jill Zwarensteyn sleep expert
Jill Zwarensteyn

Jill is a Certified Sleep Science Coach and the Editor for Sleep Advisor. She is enthusiastic about providing helpful and engaging information on all things sleep and wellness. Based in Los Angeles, Jill is an experienced writer and journalist who enjoys spending her free time at the beach, hiking, reading, or exploring.

Temperature regulation

If you find yourself waking up in a hot sweat night after night then you probably have the wrong mattress. One of the best benefits of gel mattresses is that they provide a cooling effect as you sleep, so you don’t have to fuss around with pushing your covers off or positioning multiple fans on you as you sleep.

So, how does it work? The gel-infused materials disperse body heat, preventing it from becoming trapped in the mattress. This active cooling feature ensures a more pleasant sleep experience, as you won't wake up feeling hot and sweaty.

Gel mattresses are a relatively new concept - with most finding that if they’re paired with memory foam they work best for comfort and cooling. 'Most gel foam mattresses are made with memory foam, which is a great material, especially for pressure relief, but it tends to run hot,' explains the sleep expert.

'To help with this, many mattress companies started infusing cooling mechanisms into their memory foam beds, and the most common method is gel. Gel foam beds give you access to memory foam without the extra heat buildup.'

Motion Isolation

Sleep with a partner that moves around a lot? Gel mattresses often come up top when it comes to motion isolation, meaning they can absorb and minimize motion transfer. If you sleep with a partner who tends to move a lot during the night, a gel mattress can reduce disturbances, allowing both of you to enjoy a more peaceful sleep. 

Hypoallergenic Properties

If you’re a hayfever sufferer or have other allergies, then a gel mattress could be your ideal sleeping surface. Most gel mattresses are naturally hypoallergenic, so they’ll ward off dust mites and other common allergens. 

Who are gel mattresses best suited to?

Black and white bedroom with mirror hanging over bedside tables

(Image credit: Future)

Again, if you sleep hot a gel mattress is perfect, but there are other scenarios well-suited to a gel mattress. When you sleep on your side your joints will be more prone to discomfort, but the combination of gel with memory foam or latex means pressure relief is much higher. The gel-infused materials move to accommodate your body, while also distributing your weight evenly and reducing pressure on sensitive areas, like your shoulders, hips, and knees. This could mean less tossing and turning during the night and more focus the next day.

Whether you prefer a bed you can sink into or you need a super firm mattress luckily with a gel mattress you don’t have to have one or the other - as they come in a variety of firmness options. Unlike some other mattresses on the market, they range from soft to extra firm so you can sleep soundly knowing your desired comfort is supported. 

How long does a gel mattress last?

Although they have a long life span, the more delicate material means they could garner more wear and tear over the years, so you can expect the mattresses to last you around 7 to 10 years. 

There are plenty of ways to make sure your gel mattress lasts for longer. However high-tech your mattress, it can become lumpy if it's not flipped or rotated.

Gel mattress FAQs

Are all gel mattresses memory foam?

Yes, all gel mattress have some amount of memory foam. Whether a true memory foam mattress or a hybrid, the memory foam structure is what holds the gel components. 

Do gel mattresses contain fibreglass?

Gel mattresses can contian fibreglass but not as a matter of course. For example, the Nectar Original has a layer of fibreglass to act as a fire retardant. However, other gel mattresses don't contain this layer. 

If you're really worried about your mattress' longevity, adding a mattress protector is a great way to shield it from dirt and also any dust mites that attempt to ruin its quality. The way you sleep and your weight could also be a big factor in how long it lasts - you’ll notice more wear and tear - if you have a favourite position you’re more likely to see this spot get less bouncy over time.

Sarah Finley

Sarah is a freelance journalist - she covers a variety of subjects, including sleep, health and fitness, beauty and travel. As a journalist, she has written thousands of profile pieces - interviewing CEOs, real-life case studies and celebrities. Sarah can normally be found trying out the latest fitness class, on a plane to an exotic destination or getting an early night - and of course, writing about them.