Although most people don’t realize it, today’s mattress industry is in a constant state of change.
Since the online mattress market started to take off in 2014, a huge number of new and innovative companies have sprung up, fighting each other tooth and nail for a spot in this changing world.
As we enter this new era of mattress marketing and manufacturing, it can sometimes be hard to tell which mattresses are really worth your dollar.
In these swarms of fancy-sounding terms and technologies, how can you know what product is really right for you?
In this article, we break it down.
Read on to find out the absolute best mattress technologies on the market today!
Innersprings: Faithful But Dated
First up, we have the innerspring mattress.
This is by far the most popular kind of mattress in the world today, and it’s probably not going to disappear any time soon.
There are two main components to an innerspring mattress: the comfort layer on top, and the coil core beneath.
Put together, these elements give innersprings their signature feel of both comfort and bounciness.
The Comfort Layer
The comfort layer is the part of the innerspring that makes it actually feel good to lie on.
It acts as a kind of buffer between your body and all those metal springs beneath you, providing a number of much-needed therapeutic benefits.
There are many different kinds of comfort layers, which makes them a little difficult to talk about in general terms.
The Coil Core
An innerspring’s coil core, meanwhile, provides a component of support and stability to your mattress.
There are four different kinds of mattress coils: Bonnell coils, offset coils, continuous coils and pocket coils.
The first three of these are all fairly similar in that they more or less make your mattress act like a single unit.
Bonnell, offset and continuous coils are all in some way connected together, which makes them pretty bad in terms of motion isolation.
This means that if you’re sleeping with a partner, you’re far more likely to have your sleep interrupted if they’re tossing and turning, or if they tend to get up in the middle of the night.
Pocket coils, however, have found a workaround.
In mattresses made with this technology, the springs are arranged vertically, so that each unit collapses and expands in response to the pressure placed on it.
This improves both motion isolation and basic support, making pocket coils an all-around superior technology.
The Pros of Innersprings
In general, innerspring mattresses are a pretty solid technology.
Their construction allows for a good amount of ventilation while you sleep, which makes it less likely that you’ll be sleeping hot.
Another little-known benefit to innersprings is that, once they’re past their prime, you can hack them up with a switchblade to harvest their steel springs.
This can earn you a bit of profit if you take the springs to your local recycling center.
The Cons of Innersprings
The main disadvantage to innersprings is that they’re just not that well-suited to the modern mattress market.
Most internet mattress companies run on the “bed-in-a-box” business model, which involves squeezing your entire mattress into a cardboard box and shipping it to your house.
This tends to work best for memory foam mattresses, so innersprings may find themselves left behind in the most recent wave of innovations.
Another disadvantage to innersprings is that the springs tend to squeak once they reach a certain age, which many couples may find inconvenient.
Memory Foam: The Mattress of Tomorrow?
The number one competitor to innerspring mattresses is, you guessed it, memory foam.
First developed by NASA engineers back in the 60’s, memory foam mattress sales have been skyrocketing over the past few years.
Here’s what you need to know.
Memory Foam Mattress Construction
Memory foam mattresses are typically made up of several layers of progressively denser foam.
The stuff on top is the softest, easily conforming to the many dips and ridges of your body.
The layers underneath this uppermost bit create a level of base support, preventing you from sinking too far into the mattress.
All in all, people tend to be quite satisfied with memory foam.
The Pros of Memory Foam
As I mentioned earlier, one of memory foam’s greatest advantages is its adaptability to the new age in mattress manufacturing.
The bed-in-a-box industry is built on memory foam, so this is where we’re seeing a lot of the greatest advances in comfort technology.
If you know where to find the best memory foam mattresses, you’ll likely be pretty happy with whatever you end up with.
The Cons of Memory Foam
There have traditionally been a couple drawbacks to memory foam, but recent companies have been hard at work trying to develop workarounds.
First of all, a lot of what makes memory foam so comfortable is a network of air pockets laced throughout, which can collapse and expand in response to your body weight.
In lower-quality memory foams, these pockets can trap in hot air, making for some truly unpleasant sleep.
However, some contemporary memory foam makers have pioneered the use of open-cell memory foam, which allows for far greater ventilation.
Others opt for gel-infused memory foam, which keeps its cool by having a greater specific heat than old-fashioned foam.
This means it can absorb more heat before it actually starts feeling warm!
The only really serious problem with memory foam is that some people just don’t enjoy the physical feel of it under their bodies.
Some complain of an unpleasant sinking sensation that makes it difficult to sleep.
Latex: Mother Nature’s Favorite Mattress
Finally, the last really popular mattress technology is latex.
This material is fairly similar to memory foam in terms of feel, only it’s naturally far more breathable.
It also comes with on vital advantage: it’s incredibly eco-friendly.
Why Tree-Huggers Love Latex
Latex is the only technology on this list that’s derived directly from plants.
That’s because it’s literally just sap.
Workers tap it from rubber trees in much the same way as syrup is harvested from maple trees.
Many acres of trees go into making a single mattress worth of latex, which means that in some ways, you’re actually helping the earth.
It depends on the source, but many rubber tree plantations are also pretty good at maintaining proper biodiversity – so you don’t have to worry about your purchase ruining too many ecosystems over in Southeast Asia.
Dunlop vs Talalay Latex
There are two ways a latex mattress can be made: the Dunlop process, and the Talalay process.
The Dunlop is by far the simpler of these two.
Once all your latex has been harvested, it’s simply poured into a giant cast and baked until it hardens.
Once this has been washed, dried, and wrapped up in quilting, you’re pretty much good to go.
The Talalay process, on the other hand, is a bit more complicated.
Unlike in Dunlop, the latex here only fills its cast partway.
It is then exposed to a vacuum, which forces the liquid latex into a foamy consistency that fills the casts the rest of the way.
After this, the mattress is flash-frozen to lock all the particles in place, and then popped in the oven to harden.
This results in a more uniform firmness that’s very similar in feel to memory foam.
Dunlop latex, on the other hand, gets firmer the deep in you go, since some of the particles settled to the bottom during processing.
It has a slightly springier feel.
Waterbeds and Airbeds: Those Weird Cousins
These are both kind of weird and don’t work very well, which is why we don’t talk about them much.
The main advantage to airbeds is that you can adjust the level of firmness in different areas of the mattress, supposedly creating an overall more even weight distribution.
In practice, however, airbeds are often ridiculously expensive, and tend to be prone to leaks that drive up the net cost even more.
Waterbeds, on the other hand, are a pretty cool idea, although they fell out of fashion several decades ago.
There isn’t anything particularly bad about them, although filling them up and draining them can be a bit of a pain.
They mostly just feel unnecessary.
They came into style at a time when memory foam was just in its infancy – but since memory foam technologies have improved so much over the past few decades, it’s hard to see the appeal today.
Conclusion: Today’s Best Mattress Tech
You should now have a pretty good understanding of the many varieties of mattress technology on the market today.
If you’re looking for more specific advice about the greatest mattresses out there today, you might want to check out our complete guide to the best mattresses of 2021.
Happy shopping, y’all – and good luck!
Founder and Owner
Ted is the founder and owner of Mattress Guides and is an expert in his field. Ted believes that having the right mattress is key to getting a good night’s sleep and feeling well-rested in the morning.
Updated at November 9, 2020