With so many options out there on the mattress market today, it can sometimes be hard to even figure out where to start.
You know you want a good sleep, and you probably have a good idea of what kind of a sleeper you are—whether you sleep hot, whether you tend to shift positions a lot before getting to sleep, whether you have back pain, what kind of a budget you’re looking at, etc.
The only problem is finding something that actually meets your needs!
That’s why Mattress Guides is here to help.
In this article, we’ll be taking a look at two of the most common kinds of mattresses today: innerspring and memory foam.
While we can’t decide on a mattress for you, hopefully this will at least give you a good head start to figuring out the best investment for you.
What Is an Innerspring?
Let’s start with the basics. Just what is an innerspring mattress, anyway?
Innersprings account for about two-thirds of mattress sales today, and they’re probably the first thing you think of if somebody asks you to picture a mattress.
Basically, they’re composed of two main parts: a coil core, and the comfort layers on top.
Did you ever get in trouble for jumping on the bed as a kid?
If so, that’s because you had an innerspring.
These mattresses’ coils are what give them their unique springiness, which you’re not going to find on any memory foam mattress.
Innersprings’ comfort layers, meanwhile, provide an extra layer of padding on top to keep you sleeping comfortably.
Different Kinds of Innersprings
One of the greatest advantages of innerspring mattresses is just how ubiquitous they are.
You can find them anywhere, in any shape, size, or specification.
There are far too many varieties of innerspring mattress to cover in any single article, but here are a couple of the main categories and ideas to keep in mind as you get further along in your research.
Types of Mattress Springs
There are four main kinds of mattress springs, and each comes with its own advantages and disadvantages.
The most popular kind are Bonnell coils, which can both flex and conform to the shape of your body.
They offer a fair amount of motion isolation, and they’re also the cheapest kind of springs.
On the other end of the spectrum, meanwhile, you have pocket coils.
These come individually wrapped in “pockets” of fabric, which allow them to interact with the different parts of your body individually, rather than as an entire meshwork of springs.
This means they do a very good job of conforming to your body, as far as innersprings go.
To be sure, it’s not quite as good a job as you’ll find on a memory foam mattress, but pocket coils don’t come with some of memory foam’s biggest disadvantages (more on all that later).
Types of Comfort Layers
One of the best things about innerspring mattresses is that they come with a huge variety of comfort layers.
These can be made in practically any material—from natural fibers to memory foam and latex—which can add a whole new dimension to your innerspring sleeping experience.
Innerspring Mattress Pros
As a whole, innersprings have a lot going for them.
They’re the tried and true mattress model, and with such an enormous variety of manufacturers, styles, and coil systems to choose from, you have good odds of finding something you like.
They’re also bouncy and easy to move around on, and they tend to be less expensive than their memory foam counterparts.
Innerspring Mattress Cons
Compared to memory foam mattresses, though, innersprings can’t really compete when it comes to body support.
At the end of the day, you are sleeping on spiraled pieces of metal, and you’re never going to get perfectly equal pressure on every part of your body.
Innersprings also have worse motion transfer than their memory foam mattresses, so if you’re sleeping with a partner, there’s a better chance you’ll wake up if they tend to roll around or get up in the middle of the night.
Most also have shorter life expectancies than memory foam mattresses.
Their coils can give out, and the comfort layers sag and grow compressed over time.
The springs can also squeak, which may be important to you if you’re sleeping with a partner…
Memory Foam Mattresses
Memory foam mattresses built completely differently from innersprings, and they come with their own suite of pros and cons.
Before we can get too far into those, though, we’re first going to have to take a look at exactly how memory foam works.
Most foams are made out of a material known as polyurethane—a material also found in many sofas, car seats, and spray foams.
It’s of a class of materials known as “viscoelastics,” which means that it both presses in with the shape of your body, and morphs back to its original shape once you’re out of the bed.
However, it does take a while to get into the right shape, which can be annoying if you’re the sort of person who likes to change their sleeping position a lot at night.
Different Kinds of Memory Foam
If you’re doing any kind of research into memory foam mattresses, one of the first complaints you’re likely to find is their tendency to make you “sleep hot.”
Memory foam is a very dense material, and it tends to trap in heat while you sleep.
This can lead to problems for certain kinds of sleepers, which is why researchers have developed a couple specialized alternatives to traditional memory foam.
Note that, while these do solve the problem of sleep hot, they are almost always going to be more expensive than regular memory foam.
Open Cell Foam
Open cell foam has a modified internal structure that allows for greater breathability while you sleep.
Air is able to diffuse in and out of tiny pockets in the material, instead of getting trapped in the dense material of the memory foam.
Gel Memory Foam
Another approach is to pump the memory foam full of gel, which will absorb the heat off your body, instead of trapping it up against you.
There are a couple different kinds of gel out there, but basically they all just improve your mattress’s temperature while you sleep.
Memory Foam Mattress Pros
Memory foam mattresses have quite a few advantages over their innerspring counterparts.
They’re newer on the market, and you might consider them the more “high tech” mattress option (although many innerspring mattresses can get just as creative with their design).
Since you’re probably more familiar with innerspring than with memory foam, we’ll go a little more in-depth here about what you stand to gain.
The greatest advantage of memory foam is without doubt its support.
When you lie down on a memory foam mattress, every part of your body is, at least in theory, perfectly supported.
Your shoulders aren’t taking any more pressure than your side.
You buttocks isn’t taking any more pressure than your lower back.
This makes memory foam ideal for people with joint or back pain, and you won’t ever have to worry too much about getting into a comfortable position.
Also, if you’re sleeping with a partner, there’s virtually no motion transfer—so you don’t have to worry about waking them if you toss and turn too much, or get up in the middle of the night.
Memory Foam Mattresses Are Good for Allergies, Bad for Pests
The denseness of memory foam makes it very difficult for unwanted elements to take up residence in your mattress.
Innerspring mattresses tend to accumulate allergens over time, which can pose problems for certain kinds of people.
With memory foam, though, there’s nowhere for dust mites or other allergens to gather.
Memory foam mattresses are also treated with antibacterial agents, and they can’t get infested with bedbugs.
Although this varies a good bit based on the quality of the material, memory foam mattresses tend to have longer lifespans than they innerspring counterparts.
Innersprings typically last 7 to 10 years, while memory foam gets 10 years of use on average.
Memory Foam Mattress Cons
No mattress is perfect, though. Despite all these advantages, memory foam also comes with a number of drawbacks.
One of the most common problems people find with memory foam mattresses is the “sinking feeling” that comes with lying on top of a material as soft as this.
There’s no springiness to memory foam, and many people simply do not enjoy the feeling of sleeping on it.
As we’ve mentioned before, memory foam has an irritating tendency to trap in more heat than we’d often like.
Some people might not take issue with this, but it can be a deal breaker if you tend to sleep hot, or if you’re living in a warmer climate and looking to save on your electric bill.
While some materials can help with this, they will increase the price.
Slow to Shift Positions
Another issue with memory foam is that, while it does conform to the shape of your body, it does this slowly.
This means that if you tend to change positions a couple times before getting to sleep, memory foam might not be the most comfortable option for you.
Vulnerable to Moisture
Memory foam and water do not mix.
Moisture can deteriorate the material, weaken the adhesive that holds the mattress layers together, and lead to mold accumulation.
Thankfully, though, there’s a quick fix for this—just get a waterproof mattress cover.
They’re not hard to come by, and you probably won’t even feel the difference.
Conclusion About Memory Foam vs. Innerspring Mattresses
Ultimately, this is a decision you’re going to have to make on your own.
There’s no definitive answer to whether memory foam or innerspring is better, simply because there are many different kinds of sleepers and everybody has their own set of priorities.
Once you can figure out the basic kind of mattress you’re in the market for, though, everything becomes a whole lot easier.
Hopefully you now have a pretty good idea of which of these two types of mattress would work better for you.
Good luck on the rest of your research, and don’t forget to check out our mattress reviews for more info on virtually every kind of mattress!
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 September 6, 2021