Memory foam vs. hybrid mattresses: Which one is right for you?

Each has unique features and benefits, but the decision comes down to your personal needs. Let me walk you through it.

Lindsay Boyers CNET Contributor
Lindsay Boyers is a certified nutritionist and published book author who writes articles and product reviews for CNET's health and wellness section. Her work also appears on mindbodygreen, Healthline, Verywell Health and The Spruce. When she's not actively searching for the best products at the best prices, she's most likely creating new recipes, reading in her hammock or trying to force her cats to love her.
Lindsay Boyers
6 min read
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If you've spent any amount of time looking for a new mattress, you've probably noticed that memory foam and hybrid are two terms that come up often. But if you're not familiar with mattress lingo, these descriptors can leave you with more questions than answers. They both sound comfy, but which one is right for you?

The answer depends on several factors, like your sleeping style, your nighttime body temperature and whether you sleep alone or with someone or something (large dog, anyone?) else. If you're overwhelmed by all the choices, I've streamlined things for you by breaking down the benefits and drawbacks of each type of mattress and how you can decide.

Read more: The best air mattress for 2020: SoundAsleep, REI and more compared

What is a memory foam mattress?

Memory foam mattresses are made of polyurethane, which was initially created for NASA, but has since evolved into one of the most common materials used in furniture. Traditional memory foam, which is the kind you see in commercials where someone presses their hand into a mattress and leaves a slowly disappearing imprint behind, has a dense structure without a lot of room for air. There's also open cell memory foam and gel-infused memory foam, which have more advanced cooling technologies.

True memory foam mattresses contain only foam -- no springs or other internal structures -- although there may be several layers of different types of foam. No matter what type of foam is used, memory foam mattresses are known for their "slow sink" -- or the way they slowly compress under your weight when you lie down on them.

Benefits of memory foam mattresses

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They're moldable and contour your body

Memory foam mattresses use your body heat to form to your actual shape, hugging you in all the right places. The heat helps soften the fibers in the memory foam so that it becomes pliable and you sink into it.

They're great for pain relief

Because memory foam contours to your exact shape, it helps relieve pressure on your shoulders, back and hips and keeps your spine properly aligned. This pressure relief can help reduce pain, especially for side sleepers, who usually need more give in their mattresses to feel comfortable.

There's almost no motion transfer

Have you ever seen those commercials where someone puts a glass of red wine on their mattress and starts jumping around it and, miraculously, nothing spills? Those commercials are meant to show you how well memory foam mattresses absorb movement, preventing motion transfer. This is ideal if you're sleeping with a partner -- or a really large dog -- who tosses and turns a lot, since you won't feel those movements on your side of the mattress. However, I don't recommend testing the wine trick at home.

They can be hypoallergenic

Memory foams have a dense structure that's hard for allergens, like dust, mites, and mold, to penetrate. Because of this, it's allergens don't build up in the mattresses like they do with other materials.

They're more budget-friendly

Some memory foam mattresses can get pretty expensive, but as a general rule, they're usually less costly than hybrid mattresses or higher-end spring mattresses. If you're looking for comfort on a tighter budget, it may be the best choice for you.

They're practically silent

Since there are no coils or any other metal structures inside a memory foam mattress, they don't really make any noise at all. Other mattresses might not necessarily be loud when you first get them, but the springs can break down over time and start to squeak. This doesn't happen with memory foam.

Read more: Best mattresses for side sleepers in 2020 

Drawbacks of memory foam

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They can get really hot

Because memory foam mattresses absorb your body heat, they can get really hot. This can make things really cozy if you tend to get cold when you're sleeping, but it can get sweaty really fast if you're a hot sleeper.

They don't have great responsiveness

Because of its slow sink, memory foam takes some time to adjust when you move around on it. It will eventually contour your body no matter what position you're in, but the response isn't automatic like with hybrid mattresses or innerspring mattresses. 

They don't have as much longevity

Since memory foam mattresses don't have coils or any other structural support system, they can sag over time, especially if you tend to always lie down in the same spot. After a few years, you may notice that your mattress has an indent that won't go away. The good news is that many mattress companies offer warranties on this and if the sag reaches a certain depth, they'll replace the mattress for you.

They're hard to get out of

Because you sink into memory foam and the material wraps around you, it can be difficult to get in and out of bed, especially if you have mobility issues. This can also make nighttime activities with your partner more difficult, since there's no bounce.

They lack edge-to-edge support

Memory foam doesn't have the best edge-to-edge support. When you put weight on the edge of the bed, it dips and sinks pretty easily. If you like to sleep on the side of your bed, you might feel like it's caving in and you're going to roll off of it.

What is a hybrid mattress?

Hybrid mattresses are a combination of two different mattress structures. The main goal of hybrid mattresses is to bring a little bit of the old school into the modern day by stacking innerspring coils with a comfort layer that's made of memory foam, latex and/or polyfoam. If you're not a huge fan of the sinking feeling that comes with memory foam mattresses, hybrid mattresses are a good compromise.

They still provide the softness that comes with memory foam, but the coils offer additional support and the bounciness that you get with a traditional mattress.

Benefits of hybrid mattresses

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They're breathable

The coils increase air flow and prevent the mattress from holding on to excess heat. Many hybrid mattresses are also equipped with cooling technology that can help keep the temperature down while you sleep. If you tend to get hot and sweaty at night, hybrid mattresses can keep things cooler.

They're supportive and durable

Coils can handle heavier weights and provide additional support that you don't get with memory foam mattresses. This is especially helpful if you sleep on your back or stomach. Because coils can handle heavier weight, hybrid mattresses can handle more wear and tear and tend to hold up longer than memory foam.

They have improved responsiveness

Hybrid mattresses have more support structures than memory foam mattresses, so they adapt more easily to different sleeping positions and adjust quickly when you move positions in the middle of the night. They also don't have the same "slow sink" that memory foam mattresses have, so they adjust more quickly when you toss and turn during the night.

They have a high-quality, luxurious feel

Hybrid mattresses are designed with comfort and luxury in mind, so many people find them more comfortable than memory foam mattresses, especially if you're someone who prefers to sleep on top of your mattress, rather than sink into it.

There's a wider variety of options

With memory foam mattresses, you pretty much get what you get, but when it comes to hybrid mattresses, there are a lot of different layering combinations, so it's easier to find something that's a great fit for you.

Drawbacks of hybrid mattresses

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They're not so great with motion transfer

Innersprings are notorious for motion transfer—or movement that spreads from one part of the mattress to another. If you're sleeping with a partner who tosses and turns a lot, you'll feel the bounce more with a hybrid mattress than with memory foam. 

They can get noisy

As the coils in a hybrid mattress break down over time, they can get noisy and squeaky, which isn't a huge deal, but can be a bummer during nighttime activities with your partner if you have a roommate or kids living in the house.

They're more expensive

This isn't always true, but as a general rule, hybrid mattresses are more expensive than memory foam. Because they're more durable, you may actually get more use out of them before it's time for a new mattress, but you have to be willing to spend a little more upfront.

Which one should you choose?

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Mattresses are all about trade-offs, and there's no definitive answer to whether you should choose a memory foam mattress or a hybrid one. Each one has its own merits, but I put together some checklists to make the decision a little easier for you.

You may want to try a memory foam mattress if:

  • You're a side sleeper. 
  • You stay in one position all night.
  • You like to sink into your mattress. 
  • You have allergies.
  • You're a cool sleeper.
  • You want to save some money.

You may want to try a hybrid mattress if:

  • You toss and turn at night. 
  • You don't want to sink into your mattress.
  • You're plus size or heavier than average. 
  • You're a hot sleeper. 
  • You sleep with someone else and you're looking for a compromise.
  • Budget isn't a concern.
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.