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Types of Mattresses

Lara Vargas

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When you’re shopping for a new mattress, one of the biggest things you have to worry about is the material. Material affects everything from a mattress’s feel to its responsiveness to its temperature regulation, and getting all that right is one of the keys to a great night’s sleep. That’s a lot of pressure! But don’t worry—we’re here to help.

There are four different types of mattresses, and each one of these can come in a range of firmnesses, prices, feels, and temperatures. In this post, we’ll go over the most common types of mattresses on the market today, their strengths and weaknesses, and which could be right for you.

Innerspring

An innerspring mattress consists of a coil support layer at the bottom and a plush comfort layer on top. Sometimes that comfort layer is just an inch or two of cushioning materials, but sometimes innersprings can include a pillow top or Euro top for added comfort.

A pillow or Euro top can provide additional padding on what is otherwise one of the least plush mattresses, but it won’t make a coil mattress as cushioning as a foam or hybrid mattress.

The steel coil support system of an innerspring bed gives it a fun bounce that you won’t get from any other kind of bed. Hot sleepers in particular will appreciate the air circulation offered by the spring support system.

And if you tend to switch apartments frequently, innersprings are much less heavy and cumbersome to move than most foam and hybrid mattresses.

If you love bounce and responsiveness, an innerspring can’t be beaten, but it does have a few downsides. For one thing, the spring support in an innerspring is not all that flexible, no matter what kind of coil system it is. That means innerspring mattresses will not conform to your shape as well as other mattresses, and this can leave you feeling unsupported.

Motion transfer is also an issue with traditional coil mattresses because the spring system tends to amplify motion rather than isolating it. Perhaps the biggest issue is that the coils in the innerspring support layer break down relatively quickly, leading to sagging and making the innerspring the least durable of all the mattress types.

Types of Innerspring Support

There are many types of innerspring mattresses, but the three basic kinds of coil support systems are hourglass, continuous, and pocketed.

Hourglass Coils

The two subtypes of hourglass coil, Bonnell and offset, are both thicker on the top and bottom and thinner in the middle (like an hourglass), making them better at conforming to the sleeper’s body shape than other coil types.

Continuous Coil

Continuous coils are shaped like an S and are bound together with a long wire to form an interlinked coil network, providing more durable and stable support than the hourglass coil systems.

Pocketed Coils

As their name suggests, pocketed coils are each wrapped in their own fabric or foam pocket to help isolate motion and shore up support. Pocketed coil mattresses are typically the most stable and comfortable type of coil system.

Memory Foam

If you want a bed with tons of contouring ability, look no further than a memory foam mattress. This type of polyurethane foam is unbeatable when it comes to pressure relief and support, compressing under your body weight and conforming to your curves in a way other foams and cushioning materials just can’t.

Its shapeshifting ability makes memory foam possibly the most supportive material out there, as it simultaneously keeps your body lifted while cradling your pressure points.

On the flip side, memory foam has a couple of problems. It can be very heavy and cumbersome, so if you move around a lot, you might want to rethink a memory foam mattress. Memory foam is also one of the least responsive mattress types, taking a long time to regain its shape after you move. Most sleepers don’t mind this, but some find it annoying.

Temperature Regulation in Memory Foam

One of the biggest complaints about traditional memory foams is they tend to inhibit the free flow of air, making them retain heat. However, in recent years, there have been lots of sleep technology developments to make memory foam better at temperature regulation. Open-cell technology and gel memory foam are two of the most popular.

Open Cell Memory Foam

Nowadays, most memory foams are open-cell, so you probably won’t have to worry too much about checking to make sure your mattress has this feature. To make open-cell memory foam, manufacturers simply inject air into the raw foam to make it more breathable. The increased airflow helps circulate heat away from the body to maintain a cooler sleeping temperature.

Gel Memory Foam

Gel memory foam is exactly what its name suggests: memory foam infused with gel. Some gel foam mattresses have tiny, cooling microbeads. Cooling gel can also be mixed into the liquid memory foam or added on top of a memory foam comfort layer.

Regardless of how it’s added to the memory foam, the cooling gel helps absorb and wick away body heat, drastically improving memory foam’s ability to regulate temperature and making gel mattresses an ideal solution for hot sleepers who still want the contoured support of memory foam.

Latex Foam

If you want a bouncier, more responsive foam, a latex mattress may be a good alternative to memory foam. Latex is also great for people who want a foam made of natural materials rather than synthetic.

While there is a version of synthetic latex made of processed petroleum products, this latex doesn’t offer nearly the level of support and comfort of the real deal, and it usually comes in cheaper, lower quality mattresses. That’s why we recommend sticking with natural latex.

Natural latex beds have tons of advantages. It regains its shape much quicker than memory foam; it doesn’t need any additional gel or air pockets because it’s naturally cooling; and organic latex is one of the most eco-friendly, non-toxic mattress materials you can get.

Latex and memory foam mattresses both provide contouring and pressure relief. However, natural latex is also stiffer than memory foam, so if you’re looking for a foam that conforms to your shape, latex may not be for you.

Latex Types

Natural latex comes in two basic types based solely on how the raw sap from the rubber tree is processed. While there are some subtle differences between Talalay and Dunlop latex, most people don’t notice these differences in a big way.

Talalay Latex

Of the two latex types, the Talalay process is the more complex, involving vacuum sealing, flash freezing, and vulcanization. This makes for a slightly bouncier, less dense foam. It also makes Talalay the less energy-efficient and more expensive of the two choices.

Dunlop Latex

Since Dunlop latex is a little easier to make, it’s also a little cheaper and a bit more energy efficient. The Dunlop process only involves whipping the latex into a foam and vulcanizing it—a process that makes for a denser and less bouncy, but more budget and eco-friendly, foam.

Hybrid

If you love the bounce of an innerspring and the cushioned support of foam, a hybrid might be the best choice for you. A hybrid mattress consists of a pocketed coil support layer topped with at least 2 inches of foam for a comfort layer, though the top layer can be up to 4 inches thick.

In fact, many hybrid mattresses come with several layers of foam. Some hybrids may have a dense, extra-firm base layer underneath their pocketed coil layer to help increase motion isolation.

Many hybrids come with a transition layer of durable foam between the coil support layer and the plusher foam comfort layer. A few hybrids might even come with a pillow top for added cushioning on top of the comfort layer.

Hybrids have lots of advantages. They have some of the bounce and air circulation of an innerspring. Depending on whether they’re topped with latex foam or memory foam, they can have a lot of springy support or contouring power in their comfort layer. And they also tend to be decent at isolating motion.

However, if hybrids have lots of the advantages of both foam and coil mattresses, they’ve got many of their drawbacks too. Hybrid mattresses tend to run on the heavier side, making them as difficult to move as memory and latex foam.

Since they also have a coil base layer, they’re prone to aging and sagging faster than pure foam beds. And hybrids are usually the most expensive mattress type.

Mattress Cost

A big factor in the mattress shopping process is cost. Just like every other big-ticket item you purchase, some mattress types cost more than others. Hybrids tend to be the most expensive because it costs a lot to manufacture and assemble the combination of coil support and foam comfort layers.

Memory foam and latex foam mattresses tend to sit somewhere in the middle when it comes to price, though they both have a wide price range depending on material quality and additional sleep technologies. Innersprings are an older mattress technology and thus usually the most budget-friendly, though extra bells and whistles can up their price.

FAQs

Does the type of mattress affect its firmness?

All mattress types, whether innerspring, foam, or hybrid, come in a range of firmness levels from soft to firm. Depending on your sleep position and body type, you’ll need to know your firmness needs as well as your material preferences, as you’ll have to pick your firmness separately from your material.

How do I know which mattress is right for me?

Different mattresses have very different feels, so you need to be aware of your personal preferences and specific needs before you shop. Spring mattresses are bouncy and cool, but they won’t conform to your shape and thus won’t be very supportive.

Memory foam is good at shapeshifting, making for great support and pressure point relief, but it doesn’t have a lot of responsiveness. Latex foam is more responsive than memory foam, but it can’t contour as well.

Hybrids can be topped with lots of different types of foam, so their feel will be based on whether their top layer is memory foam, latex foam, or something else. Keeping all this in mind while you’re mattress hunting can help you make the right choice.

What’s the difference between a trial period and a warranty?

A trial period is basically a guarantee that you’ll get your money back if you aren’t satisfied with the product during a certain number of days. So for instance, if a mattress comes with a trial period of 100 days, you can sleep on it for that amount of time and send it back for any reason. Just make sure the policy says “money back guarantee.”

A warranty is coverage against manufacturer mistakes. Warranties can range in length, but the average is 10 years. A warranty covers only certain damages, like premature aging, product defects, and other issues that are the manufacturer’s fault rather than the owner’s. Warranties do not cover consumer-caused damage.

Which mattress type is the most durable?

The lifespan of your mattress can vary depending on the type of materials used for construction. If you’re looking for a mattress that won’t need to be replaced for a long time, memory foam is probably your best bet. It’s resistant to dirt and allergens, and it doesn’t have any metal coils or other moving parts to break down.

The only thing you’ll need to watch out for is mold growth. Since memory foam doesn’t circulate air as well as some other mattress types, it’s more susceptible to mold and mildew. You can counter this issue by keeping your mattress on a platform bed or foundation, which will ensure air flows under the mattress to keep it dry and fresh.

Is an air mattress worth looking into?

Air mattresses can be great for lots of things, from providing a temporary place to sleep while you furnish your home to offering a better bed than the ground while you camp.

However, air beds aren’t a permanent solution because they don’t provide enough support, and this can lead to your spine falling out of its natural alignment while you sleep. Air beds also won’t last very long—another reason why they’re really better as a temporary option.

Bottom Line

Material is one of the most important aspects of a mattress. If you get the wrong material for your needs and preferences, your mattress could wind up keeping you up all night rather than lulling you to sleep, or it could cause you to wake up in pain every morning rather than feeling refreshed. That’s why, alongside firmness, mattress type is the main thing you should focus on when shopping for the best mattress.

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