Innerspring, Memory Foam, Latex: What Type of Mattress Is Best?
The type of mattress you love is the type of mattress someone else will hate. So says Terry Cralle, RN, a certified clinical sleep educator and co-author of Sleeping Your Way to the Top. That's why, when it comes to finding your perfect mattress, it pays to keep an open mind.
“It's hard to point someone in just one direction," Cralle says. Even if you think you're sold on the responsiveness of innerspring or the support of foam or the feel of whatever you sleep on now, you might think differently once you learn about all the new types of mattresses available. Innovations in materials, design, and features means there is tremendous variety, not just between different types of mattresses (the most common being innerspring, memory foam, and latex) but within them too. Compared with only a few years ago, Cralle says, “it's a whole new playing field out there."
If you're wondering what kind of mattress is best for you, here's a primer on the fundamental differences between common kinds of mattresses—and how to tell when it's time to upgrade your sleep surface.
Signs you need a new mattress
How do you know it's time for a new mattress in the first place? Start by assessing comfort. Does your bed feel relaxing? Have you been waking up with aches and pains you didn't have last year? Do you toss and turn more in your sleep? Do you wake up feeling less rested, even though you went to bed early enough to get a good night's sleep? Any of these could be signs that your current mattress isn't cutting it for you anymore.
Maybe it's old and worn out; sagging and worn spots are sure signs of age. But sometimes a mattress may seem less comfortable to you not because it's worn, Cralle says, but because your body has changed. If you've lost or gained a significant amount of weight, your mattress will feel different. Normal aging affects comfort too. More prominent bones and less resilient skin, for example, may call for a softer surface. “Even if the mattress manufacturer has a twenty-year warranty, that doesn't imply that you will be comfortable on that same mattress for that long," Cralle points out.
The Better Sleep Council recommends taking stock of your mattress every seven years or so. Most types of mattresses start showing their age after eight years, but that's not a hard and fast rule. Someone on the heavier side, for instance, may need the support of a new mattress in as little as five years.
And don't underestimate the benefits a new bed can bring. One study of 59 men and women found that compared with sleeping for 28 days on their own beds (which were 9.5 years old on average), sleeping on a new bed for the subsequent 28 days improved sleep quality and sleep efficiency, reduced back pain complaints, and lessened other symptoms of stress like feeling irritable, tense, nervous, and worried, according to data published in the Journal of Chiropractic Medicine.
While you're taking stock, consider size of the bed too. If you have room and can afford it, investing in a bigger sleep surface may give you and your partner more space (and improve your relationship). Two people sharing a queen each get less space than they would get if they were sleeping alone on a twin, Cralle notes.
Why pick an innerspring mattress type
Innerspring mattresses are the most traditional and also the most common type of mattress, with more than 60% of the market, according to Consumer Reports. The core of an innerspring is a steel coil support system, surrounded by layers of fabric, foam, other padding, and even additional coils. But this mattress type, like all mattress types, has gotten major upgrades in recent years, with the introduction of new coil designs and materials that help with comfort and ventilation.
That means innerspring mattress types can accommodate lots of different sleepers and preferences. Some are designed to be firmer, others more contouring to your body. Coil options, such as individually wrapped coils, makes them less likely to transmit movement, which means you won't be jostled by your bed mate's every toss and turn.
What differentiates innerspring mattresses from other mattress types is, of course, the “springiness" you'll feel when you lie on them. Even with foam comfort layers and motion isolation features, innerspring mattresses are still usually the most bouncy type of bed on the market.
Why pick a memory foam mattress type
Memory foam mattresses are made from viscoelastic polyurethane foam, known for its ability to mold and contour to the body. (Fun fact: memory foam was originally engineered by NASA in the 1970s as a cushioning material to help provide crash protection for airline pilots and passengers.)
Higher-density memory foam (4 to 5 pounds per cubic foot) softens in response to body heat, which usually happens over the course several seconds or a few minutes. The denser the foam, the more supportive the surface. Lower-density foam (3 pounds or less) responds to pressure—i.e., body weight—and offers a softer feel.
Some people find the contouring quality of memory foam helps ease pressure on the back and other joints, Cralle says. And while these types of mattresses are often recommended for people with back pain, clinical research suggests that what a mattress is made of is less important than how well it supports your spine in your preferred sleeping position. (learn more about the best types of mattresses for back pain.)
Another traditional pro to memory foam mattress types has been their natural resistance to dust mites and other allergens. But given improvements in materials and design of innerspring and other mattresses, Cralle notes, don't assume that other types of beds can't be dust mite resistant, too.
Why pick a latex mattress type
Latex has a similarly conforming “feel" as memory foam, but the material's responsive quality gives it a buoyancy and elevating sensation that foam can't match. Natural latex is sustainably harvested from rubber trees and processed via one of two methods: Dunlop (which yields a denser, firmer material) and Talalay (lighter and more elastic).
Latex mattresses are oftentimes the best mattress choice for people with allergies because they're naturally hypoallergenic and more dust-mite resistant than other beds. (Latex allergies are not usually an issue with mattresses because of the way the latex is processed, Cralle explains, although there can be sensitivity in rare cases.) Latex beds are more breathable than foam mattresses, making them a more temperature-neutral choice for those who sleep “hot," Cralle says.
The only downside: Because of the costs of harvesting and processing, natural latex tends to be more expensive than other options.
Learn About Saatva's Innerspring, Memory Foam, and Latex Mattresses
Next, read our article on what makes a luxury mattress.