Ever since Stone Age humans started spreading layers of insect-repelling ash into bedding piles of medicinal plants and foliage 200,000 years ago, people have been trying to find bedding to serve the needs of every type of sleeper. Today there are several types of mattresses to choose from, each crafted to suit specific sleeping positions, body types and other individual differences.
The number of available options can make mattress shopping a monumentally overwhelming task. To simplify things, we've created a guide to the five most common types of mattresses on the market today -- memory foam, innerspring, hybrid, latex and adjustable air -- and who can benefit the most from each one.
Memory foam is a temperature-sensitive mattress material that lets sleepers "sink in" a bit upon lying down, with the sensation of soft foam filling in around the contours and curves of your body. It works by heat activation when a warm body presses into it, softening the foam. It's called memory foam because it "remembers" a form that was recently pressed into it by retaining its impression for a few seconds.
Memory foam was originally created by NASA contractor Charles Yost in the 1970s as a softer and more supportive seating option for airline pilots and passengers. Since then, it's also been used in wheelchairs, NASCAR vehicles, shoe insoles and many other applications. Its first appearance as a mattress material wasn't until the 1990s, however, when it was introduced by a Swedish foam company that later helped found the TempurPedic company in the United States. From there on, the memory foam mattress has grown exponentially in popularity, even becoming a favorite among today's direct-to-consumer bed-in-a-box companies.
Who should buy a memory foam mattress?
Memory foam is known for its superior pressure relief since it can help support common painful pressure points like the shoulders and hips.
It also offers better motion isolation, meaning it reduces motion transfer more, than other mattress types, since motion generated on one side of the mattress is essentially absorbed so that it won't carry over to the other side.
Softer memory foam is ideal for side sleepers, while stomach and back sleepers benefit from the firmer varieties. Folks with a body weight of 130 pounds or less often prefer memory foam, especially the softest types. Sleepers who weigh more may wish to opt for a firmer mattress, such as those with coils, since they offer more support.
4 types of memory foam
1. Traditional memory foam is known for pressure relief among those with back and joint pain, and its overall coziness for sleepers who enjoy being gently hugged by foam. Some drawbacks are heat retention and possible difficulty in movement for those who like to change sleep positions throughout the night.
2. Open cell foam is made like traditional memory foam, but has an open pocket structure of "cells" inside that promote airflow and help wick away heat. It responds to the heat of your body to help you sleep cooler at night, and decreases any off-gassing produced as well.
3. Gel-infused or cooling foam can also be used to counteract the heat retention of traditional memory foam. It may involve incorporating an entirely separate gel layer, or pumping in gel microbeads that absorb and disperse heat from your body. Other cooling materials can also be used, like graphite, copper, bamboo and phase-change material.
4. Poly foam is a light and airy material that is affordable, easy to make and commonly used in couch cushions. It's also cooler to sleep on than some other types of foam. It's sometimes used as reinforcement underneath or between layers of other foam. The downsides are that it sometimes isn't all that durable and may provide more motion transfer.
Popular memory foam brands
A few of the most popular memory foam mattresses include:
- Nectar: Nectar offers premium memory foam mattresses with generous 365-day sleep trials.
- Layla: These mattresses come with 120-night sleep trials and a lifetime warranty. The company's latest innovation is a flippable memory foam mattress with a choice of firmness on each side.
- Amerisleep: This brand makes memory foam mattresses to suit any type of sleeper, with its most popular model being the AS3, which works for most body types and sleep position preferences.
- Casper Original: The Casper Original mattress provides zoned support underneath gentle, contouring foams for a cozy and restful night's sleep.
The overall most popular and affordable mattresses on the market are innerspring mattresses. Known for their supportiveness and advanced airflow, these mattresses are crafted with an inner coil system, hence the term "innerspring." The coils are normally made of tempered steel, which is steel that has undergone a heat treatment to increase its toughness. The highest-quality innerspring mattresses can have up to 1,000 coils or more.
There are a few different types of innerspring coils, including:
- A single continuous inner coil.
- Numerous separate coils, which are typically pocketed individually in fabric. These move independently of one another, offering greater motion isolation and comfort.
- Bonnell coils, which are hourglass-shaped. They're durable and firm, but a bit loud when pressure is placed upon them. This type of coil is among the most affordable.
- Offset coils, which are hourglass-shaped with squared sides and are remarkably supportive and helpful with contouring. These are quieter coils, as well as more comfortable, but also more expensive.
A layer of padding, foam, infused gel or other cushioning is usually found above the coil system as reinforcement and to help keep the coils from sticking out of the mattress.
Some newer innerspring mattresses have enough layering above the springs to earn them the "hybrid" label (more on that below). They're usually much denser and bouncier than beds in the foam category, and they also provide much more support.
Who should buy an innerspring mattress?
Back and stomach sleepers are likely to appreciate the support of the innerspring, while side sleepers may not warm up to them as easily. Their excellent airflow also makes them well-liked by people who "sleep hot." Lastly, people who weigh over 230 pounds may appreciate the supportive durability of coils, as coils tend to have a firmer, bouncier feel.
Being prone to noisiness over time, innerspring mattresses aren't great for people who seek silence in a mattress (though that isn't necessarily the case with newer models). Since they have poorer motion isolation, innersprings are also not great for couples if either partner moves around a lot during sleep.
Popular innerspring mattress brands
A few popular innerspring mattress brands include:
- Saatva: This mattress is available with customizable heights and firmness levels, and it comes in eight sizes. It's not a bed in a box, but comes with free in-room delivery and setup and removal of your old mattress.
- Avocado Organic: The Avocado Green mattress is 100% certified organic with over 1,400 pocketed coils arranged in five targeted zones for optimal support.
- WinkBeds: These mattresses are made to order and handmade in the USA, and you get a 120-night sleep trial.
- GhostBed Flex: The GhostBed Flex offers excellent support via layers of individually wrapped and reinforced coils as well as a high-density base layer. GhostBed offers a 101-night sleep trial and a 25-year warranty.
Hybrid mattresses take elements from innerspring and foam mattresses and combine them with a few other materials in an extraordinary layered creation. Consisting of both memory foam and coils, these beds are able to offer both excellent motion isolation and superb contouring.
Since they alleviate pressure like memory foam mattresses while providing robust support with their coil systems, hybrids are often considered to be the "best of both worlds." While technically a type of innerspring with layers of memory foam, the latest hybrid mattress models usually have a core of individually wrapped pocketed coils rather than any of the other coil systems.
The exact construction varies significantly by model, so shoppers should seek out the features most important to them: sleeping position, weight, temperature and any issues with back or joint pain. Our list of the best hybrid mattresses has options for a variety of buyers.
Depending upon the quality and brand, some hybrids may have their own set of disadvantages. Even with a coil system and enhanced breathability, some may still "sleep hot," while others may sag prematurely or have poor edge support. Some may be a bit on the pricey side, too.
Who should buy a hybrid mattress?
Since hybrids come in several firmness levels, they appeal to a range of individuals. Shoppers should primarily keep in mind their body size and preferred sleeping position when deciding on one. Sleepers who weigh 130 pounds or less, as well as side sleepers, would do well with a softer variety, while those who prefer to sleep on their backs or stomachs, or anyone weighing over 230 pounds, would benefit from a model with a firmer coil system.
Popular hybrid mattress brands
Some of the most popular hybrid mattress brands and models include:
- Purple Hybrid: The Purple Hybrid uses noise-reducing stainless-steel coils to provide support for the mattress's proprietary hyper-elastic polymer grid.
- DreamCloud: These beds have resilient support cores of individually pocketed coils for top-level buoyancy as well as excellent edge reinforcement. You'll get a full year's sleep trial with the purchase of a DreamCloud.
- Helix Midnight Luxe: Helix Sleep's Midnight Luxe model features over 1,000 wrapped coils to provide proper spinal alignment and support under layers of cradling foams and gels.
- Allswell: This hybrid mattress from Amerisleep, a Walmart brand, is impressively high-quality for a low price.
Adjustable air mattresses allow you to customize the firmness level in different areas of your bed as needed. The firmness of the mattress is adjusted through the use of air chambers in the central support core. The air chambers either inflate or deflate when a pump (remote control, manual or app-powered) is activated according to your setting. As the number goes up, your mattress will become firmer.
In addition to increased comfort, this type of customization can promote healthy spinal alignment, alleviate snoring and help with pain reduction. Adjustable air mattresses are highly durable when adequately cared for.
Most of these mattresses have between one and four air chambers, but they may contain more than that. Normally, you'll find padding or foam on the top layer of adjustable air mattresses, although more complex models may also have coils or other additional elements.
For the negatives, adjustable air mattresses can be loud and on the expensive side. They might also end up breaking down more often than other beds due to the mechanical nature of their composition -- and the repairs could be costly as well.
Since they're adjustable, these mattresses can work for almost anyone, regardless of body type, preferred sleep position or other factors. Those with aches and pains often find that the adjustability helps alleviate discomfort. They're also great for couples if the bed allows customization on both sides, and combination sleepers can benefit from changing the settings as needed. It's likely these beds will be costlier than most other mattress choices, so those interested in a budget-friendly mattress will want to look elsewhere.
Popular adjustable air mattress brands
Some popular adjustable air mattress brands and models include:
- Sleep Number: Sleep Number mattresses utilize something called Responsive Air technology to automatically adjust each side to the firmness of your liking.
- Saatva Solaire: The Saatva Solaire allows air chambers to fill or empty according to the sleepers' comfort and the use of a handy remote control.
- Ghost SmartBed 3D Matrix: This bed has a layer of adjustable air chambers that connects to your mobile device or tablet for ease of use any time you want to customize.
Latex mattresses are known for their longevity, frequently outliving other beds by several years. Latex is a material made from the sap of rubber trees. When in its all-natural form, latex is popular for its sustainability, dust mite resistance, and hypoallergenic and antimicrobial properties. Synthetic latex is also common, as it mimics many of the qualities found in natural latex. All forms of latex are resilient, breathable and supportive with impressive airflow. However, synthetic latex is not naturally hypoallergenic and may have noticeable off-gassing.
To make the natural latex used in mattresses, one of two processes may be employed: the Dunlop or Talalay method. The Dunlop is the simpler option of the two, and makes a firmer, denser latex with more bounce, with the final consistency being similar to that of a freshly baked pound cake. The Talalay process creates latex that's softer with the texture of angel food cake, and is considered a bit more luxurious than Dunlop -- with the price tag to match.
The downside of latex is how heavy it can be, so plan on needing more than one person to help out if you want to move it around between rooms in your home. It can also be expensive.
Who should buy a latex bed?
Latex beds are great for combination sleepers, anyone who sleeps hot, or folks who like to change their sleeping position often. They offer the comfort of foam without the contouring that causes some sleepers to feel trapped in one place or position.
The all-natural varieties of latex mattresses are naturally hypoallergenic and dust mite resistant, making them ideal for asthma and allergy sufferers. They're also very low on off-gassing, bringing zero to barely detectable levels of chemical smells into your home.
More specifically, Dunlop latex is good for those with back pain since it's firmer. Talalay latex is ideal for people who can't get comfy on too-firm mattresses, including side sleepers and those in need of extra pressure relief.
Popular latex mattress brands
Some of the most popular latex mattress brands and models include:
- PlushBeds: PlushBeds makes several high-quality latex beds, including the Botanical Bliss organic latex mattress, which is CNET's pick for the best latex mattress.
- GhostBed: A more affordable latex mattress option that features synthetic latex foam, which is more breathable than other foams.
- Spindle: The Spindle organic latex mattress is made with 100% organic latex, wool and cotton.
- Brentwood Home: Brentwood Home's Cedar Luxe Natural Luxury mattress has carefully organized and patented zones of latex. These beds are great for back and stomach sleepers.
Still need more help finding a bed? Check out our guides to choosing the right size mattress, choosing your mattress firmness level and figuring out your budget, plus our list of the best mattress brands of the year. You can also look forward to making the perfect bed with our tips on the best sheets and pillows.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.
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