Which Type of Mattress is Best?
The best type of mattress depends entirely on one factor: you. If you prefer close body-conforming for spinal support and pressure relief, an all-foam or latex mattress is right up your alley. Would you rather sleep on a supportive, responsive bed that won't absorb too much body heat? You're a great candidate for an innerspring or hybrid model. For people who like to experience different firmness levels on a night-to-night basis, an airbed may be the most comfortable option.
The bottom line: use your personal needs and preferences as a guide when browsing different mattress brands and models. To get you started, let's take a closer look at the most common types of beds available today. These include all-foam, latex, hybrid, innerspring, airbed, pillow-top, and organic models, as well as less common types such as waterbeds and air mattresses. Read our detailed descriptions and lists of pros and cons for each category below to determine what type of mattress is best for you.
|Average Price (Queen)|
|Innerspring||$900 to $1,100|
|Foam||$900 to $1,200|
|Hybrid||$1,600 to $2,200|
|Latex||$1,600 to $2,200|
|Airbed||$2,000 to $2,400|
Innersprings – also known as coil mattresses – were first developed in the 19th century and are still widely used. According to recent data, the innerspring is the most popular mattress type among sleepers across all age groups.
Design: By definition, innersprings are constructed with coil systems that serve as the bed's support core. These coils are usually made of steel and reinforced with high-density foam. For comfort layers, most innersprings contain 1 to 3 inches of polyfoam. They may also feature transitional layers made of foam and/or high-gauge coils that prevent you from sinking too deeply into the mattress.
Pros and Cons: Breathability is a key strength of innerspring beds. The coils promote strong airflow to regulate the bed's overall temperature and keep you cool. Innersprings tend to have thin comfort layers and thick coils. These components make the bed feel very bouncy. Innersprings are often ideal for sleepers who would rather sleep on more responsive mattresses, as well as couples who prefer these surfaces for sex. Additionally, the coils provide strong reinforcement along the perimeter to prevent sinkage when you sit or sleep near the edges.
Responsive surfaces don't isolate motion very well, so you'll notice more transfer across the surface when your sleep partner changes positions or gets in and out of bed. Innersprings can also be somewhat noisy. Durability may be another issue. Innersprings are prone to sagging due to their thin comfort layers, and over time you may notice a significant loss of support.
Bottom Line: Most innersprings offer strong support and will keep your body on an even plane. Back and stomach sleepers generally need more support to prevent their torsos and hips from sinking too deeply. Side sleepers, on the other hand, may not feel as comfortable on innersprings because their comfort layers don't conform closely; people who use this position often experience pressure points on beds with insufficient cushioning and contouring.
Types of Coils
If you're interested in an innerspring mattress, be sure to research the coil gauge, or thickness, of that model. Most mattress coils have gauges ranging from 12 (thickest) to 16 (thinnest). Thicker low-gauge coils provide the best durability and overall support, while thinner high-gauge coils offer more comfortable cradling and are often used for transitional minicoil layers. Some mattresses have zoned coils, with thicker springs reinforcing the perimeter and thinner coils located beneath the body.
The majority of innersprings sold today contain one of the following four coil types.
|Coil Type||Bonnell||Offset||Continuous Wire||Pocketed|
|Description||Hourglass coils joined with helical wires. Strong and durable, but also fairly loud.||Hourglass coils with hinged ends to withstand compression. Exceptionally durable and supportive.||Lengthwise rows of steel wire joined with helicals. These coils make the mattress feel very responsive.||Coils are encased in fabric and joined with hot glue. Above-average contouring and motion isolation.|
|Typical Gauge||12 to 15||12 to 14||14 to 16||13 to 16|
|Average Price||Low||Moderate to High||Low||Moderate to High|
In the 1960s, NASA engineers developed memory foam as a padding material for aircraft, and soon the material was also used for bedding surfaces. Memory foam is notable because of its temperature sensitivity. The foam will soften when exposed to body heat, allowing it to conform closely, and then return to its original shape after the heat source is removed. Surveys show memory foam mattresses are fairly popular with sleepers aged 59 or younger, but less so with those who are at least 60.
Design: All-foam mattresses often have comfort layers made of memory foam or polyfoam; those that contain both materials are known as "mixed-foam" mattresses. These beds often include transitional layers of polyfoam or memory foam, along with base layers of high-density polyfoam.
Pros and Cons: All-foam mattresses – memory foam models in particular – are often considered the best type of mattress for back pain. The foam contours to your body to support the spine and cushion your heavier areas. Memory foam also isolates motion very well. This can be particularly helpful for people who wake up easily due to their co-sleeper's movements. All-foam mattresses are also completely silent.
Many people who sleep on all-foam mattresses feel excessively warm. The foam layers can retain and trap body heat, and the support layers do not promote much airflow. Many of these beds also offer limited perimeter support, so you might sink a bit when getting in and out of bed, and may not feel secure sleeping near the edges. Over time, sagging and sinkage across the surface may worsen as the foams deteriorate.
The Bottom Line: Foam beds are widely considered the best mattress type for side sleepers. Foam mattresses cushion the shoulders and hips, which can improve poor spinal alignment – a common issue associated with the side sleeping position. Back and stomach sleepers may sag a bit on all-foam mattresses, but this also depends on how much they weigh and how soft/firm the bed feels.
Types of Foams
Polyfoam vs. Memory Foam: Polyurethane foam, or polyfoam, is often used as a transitional or support layer in mattresses. Some beds also have polyfoam comfort layers. The material conforms a bit but also feels fairly responsive, so you won't experience as much of a body sink.
Memory foam is a type of polyfoam engineered for adaptability and temperature sensitivity. The material contours to your body to create a pressure-relieving cradle. Many people liken this sensation to sleeping "in" – not "on" – the mattress, while polyfoam delivers more of a balance between "in" and "on."
Cooling Foam: Since foam tends to sleep hot, some mattress manufacturers infuse cooling components into their beds' comfort layers. These components may include gel beads, graphite, copper, and/or bamboo. Cooling foams are intended to minimize heat build-up on the surface, though some sleepers don't notice much of a difference between cooling and non-cooling foams.
Foam Density: Density refers to how much one cubic foot of foam weighs, and is expressed in pounds per cubic foot (PCF).
- Low-density memory foam (less than 4 PCF) has limited durability and conforming ability, but it is also fairly breathable and often found in low-priced mattresses.
- High-density memory foam (more than 5 PCF) conforms very closely and offers excellent motion isolation, but it frequently traps heat and most beds with this material are expensive.
- Medium-density memory foam (4 to 5 PCF) is a mid-level option in terms of breathability, conforming, and price.
Hybrids are technically a type of innerspring characterized by thick comfort layers of memory foam and/or latex. Most hybrids also have pocketed coil support cores. These mattresses have become increasingly popular in recent years, so you'll be able to choose one from a very wide selection.
Design: Hybrid composition varies by model, but most contain at least 2 to 3 inches of memory foam or latex – or both, in some cases. A hybrid may also feature one or two transitional layers of polyfoam or minicoils. The support core is almost always composed of pocketed coils.
Pros and Cons: Many sleepers consider these mattresses to be the "best of both worlds." Hybrids conform and reduce pressure like memory foam and latex mattresses. Many offer strong support and good overall breathability thanks to their coil systems, putting them in the same league as well-made innersprings.
That said, hybrids also carry many of the same drawbacks as other mattresses. Hybrid models with thick memory foam comfort layers may sleep too hot, and those with soft surfaces tend to sink along the edges. Durability can also be problematic. Like innersprings, hybrids often sag over time.
The Bottom Line: Hybrids are available in many different firmness levels. If you weigh less than 130 pounds and/or sleep on your side, then a softer hybrid can offer ample padding and help align your spine. If you weigh more than 230 pounds and prefer back or stomach sleeping, we recommend a firmer hybrid with stronger support coils. For those of you who weigh 130 to 230 pounds, a mid-level firmness will probably be most comfortable.
Latex is a substance derived from the sap of the Hevea brasiliensis, or rubber tree plant. Latex mattresses have enjoyed a recent surge in popularity thanks in part to "bed-in-a-box" brands, but they are still somewhat uncommon. Statistics show roughly 2 percent of U.S. sleepers use a latex mattress.
Design: A latex mattress may contain two to five individual latex layers. Softer latex is usually found in the comfort layers; latex conforms to the body but not as closely as memory foam, resulting in a mix of contouring and responsiveness. Firmer and denser latex layers are typically used in the support core.
Pros and Cons: Latex is naturally durable, so you can expect a long lifespan from your latex mattress – at least eight years on average. The material is also fairly breathable compared to foam, and many manufacturers ventilate their latex layers with tiny holes to increase airflow and help you sleep cool.
Latex mattresses tend to be fairly responsive, which can cause motion to transfer across the surface, but they won't be as springy as most innersprings and hybrids. Most of these beds lack strong edge support. You'll mostly likely sink a bit when sitting or sleeping near the edges of a latex bed. And although price-points vary by brand, latex mattresses tend to be expensive.
The Bottom Line: Latex is a great option for sleepers who prefer some body-contouring but don't like the deep, cradling sensation of memory foam. Side sleepers will probably feel more comfortable on softer latex that cushions and conforms to their body, while back and stomach sleepers may lean toward firmer latex beds with stronger support.
Types of Latex
- Dunlop vs. Talalay: Most mattress latex is produced using one of two processes. The Dunlop process requires molding, stirring, and baking the rubber tree sap. This process yields dense, firm latex that can be used in comfort, transitional, or support layers. The Talalay process involves vacuum-sealing the sap, then freezing and baking it. Talalay latex is much softer and fluffier. You may find Talalay latex in the comfort and transitional layers of some beds, but it is not very dense and rarely used as a support material.
- Organic vs. Non-organic: All latex is processed using chemical fillers and other synthetic components. In order to be considered organic, latex should consist of at least 95 percent natural latex and receive certification from the Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS). Blended latex typically contains 20 to 40 percent natural latex, while synthetic latex may be made mostly or entirely of chemicals. Natural latex tends to be more durable than blended or synthetic latex, and is also produced in a more sustainable manner.
Airbeds have been around for a few decades, but they still remain somewhat rare in today's mattress market. Unlike air mattresses (see below), airbeds are sold in standard mattress sizes and designed for nightly use.
Design: An airbed is constructed with adjustable air chambers in the support core. By adding or releasing air into the chambers, you can change the firmness level for different areas of the mattress. Most airbeds contain at least two chambers, allowing couples to use different firmness levels on each side of the bed, but some models feature four or more chambers. Airbeds usually have comfort layers of polyfoam or memory foam that are on the thinner side, but some high-end models have latex, minicoils, and other luxury components.
Airbeds also have an electric pump for adjusting the air chamber volume. Manual and remote control beds are both common, and some airbed manufacturers have introduced app-powered models in recent years.
Pros and Cons: Unlike other mattress types, airbeds offer variable firmness levels. You'll be able to quickly change the feel of your bed by adjusting the amount of air in different chambers. This attribute can be very beneficial for people whose firmness preferences vary from night to night. Airbeds are also very durable, with an average lifespan of eight years.
That said, these mattresses are more susceptible to breakdowns and malfunctions due to their electrical components. The pump may also be somewhat loud when adding or removing air. Additionally, the chambers may create a trench-like dip in the center of the bed. Over time, you may find yourself sinking toward the middle – especially if you share your bed with someone.
The Bottom Line: The adjustable nature of airbeds makes these mattresses suitable for most people regardless of their body type, sleep position, or firmness preferences. However, you should be prepared to spend a lot of dough – the average airbed costs at least $2,000 for a queen size, and some luxury models cost twice as much or more.
Now that we've discussed the major mattress designs, let's look at a couple of categories that can apply across different mattress types.
To provide a cushioning feel, some mattresses feature additional padding sewn to the top of the mattress. This is known as a pillow-top. Some pillow-top models have the extra padding as part of its standard design, but in most cases, the pillow-top is optional and available for an added charge.
Design: A pillow-top contains a single layer of fiber fill or foam that has a very soft feel. The pillow-top layer will be sewn to the top of the mattress to create a distinct separation between the padding and the bed's surface. The Euro-top – a specific type of pillow-top – is sewn flush with the sides of the mattress as well as the top, resulting in a more uniform appearance. Euro-tops often have denser fill than standard pillow-tops.
Pros and Cons: Pillow-tops are commonly included with innersprings, hybrids, and airbeds because these mattress types do not conform very closely. This can help ensure pain and pressure relief for people with shoulder and lower back issues. Pillow-tops are less common for all-foam and all-latex mattresses because these beds usually offer decent contouring and pressure relief without the extra padding.
Because they are so soft, pillow-tops usually have limited durability. As the foam and/or fiber fill begins to deteriorate, the surface may become uneven and less supportive. Some sleepers also find pillow-tops absorb too much body heat, causing the mattress to sleep warm.
The Bottom Line: Pillow-tops aren't for everyone, but you're a prime candidate if you prefer plush surface padding on your mattress. Keep in mind that pillow-tops are often optional and will result in added charges to your mattress purchase – hundreds of dollars, in some cases.
Many mattress brands describe their beds as "organic," "natural," and "green." However, companies that actually use sustainable materials and eco-friendly manufacturing practices will have legitimate organic certifications to back up these claims. Truly organic mattresses are limited to all-latex and hybrid models.
Design: The term "organic mattress" is a little confusing because the mattress itself will never be completely organic. Rather, certain mattress components can be certified as organic if they meet certain criteria.
For example, the Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS) is widely considered the foremost authority for certifying latex foam used in mattresses. To qualify for GOLS certification, latex foam must contain at least 95 percent natural latex and no more than 5 percent chemical fillers. The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) holds similar criteria for organic cotton and organic wool.
Some mattress materials will never be certified as organic, or even natural. Memory foam and polyfoam, for example, mostly consist of petroleum-based chemicals. Even "plant-based" and "natural" foams have primarily synthetic components.
Pros and Cons: Purchasing a mattress with certified organic materials demonstrates a commitment to sustainability on your part – as long as the model has earned legitimate certifications from unbiased, third-party organizations. Natural materials tend to outlast their synthetic counterparts, so you can count on a longer lifespan from these mattresses.
One major drawback of truly organic mattresses is lack of availability. You'll be able to choose from a handful of different models, but your selection will be fairly limited. You should also expect to pay more for a bed with certified organic materials.
The Bottom Line: Beware of misleading claims when researching organic mattresses. A truly organic bed will carry certifications from the GOLS or GOTS. Other certifications, such as the Rainforest Alliance, indicate plant-based materials used in the mattress come sustainably grown and harvested crops.
Less Common Mattress Types
Now that we've discussed the major categories, let's look at a few mattress types that are not as widely used. These beds are less common for a number of reasons, such as common complaints among owners and limited availability.
Waterbeds were a huge fad during the 1970s and 1980s, and if you were alive during this period, there's a good chance you've slept on one. These specialized mattresses are supported with large, internal bladders that contain water – up to 250 gallons, in some cases.
In terms of construction, there are two general waterbed types. Soft-sided waterbeds feature a foam frame and fabric casing around the bladder. These models are designed to rest on a platform. Hard-sided waterbeds have wooden frames and decks for more reinforcement, and also rest on platforms.
Waterbeds also vary in terms of their feel. Traditional waterbeds – known as "free-flow" or "full-wave" models – produce waves across the surface when you lie down. Some sleepers find this sensation relaxing. Those who want a flatter, more uniform surface should opt for a "semi-waveless" or "waveless" waterbed. The bladders in these models are designed with baffles, air chambers, and other add-ons that minimize the waves.
Waterbeds are still available today, but in a much more limited supply. A recent report found waterbeds represent less than 5 percent of U.S. mattress sales. Their decline is partly due to structural issues. Waterbeds can be quite loud and keeping the water heated can drive up energy costs for homeowners. These beds are also prone to leaks – particularly soft-sided models with less protection for the bladder.
Not to be confused with airbeds, air mattresses are usually designed for short-term sleeping arrangements, such as campouts or guest room accommodations. Air mattress shells are made of durable materials like vinyl. The sleep surface may be flocked (or textured) with tiny fibers that retain body heat, allowing you to keep warm in colder climates. Air mattresses are often waterproof and antimicrobial, as well.
An air mattress may be manually filled with air or come equipped with a self-inflating mechanism. As with airbeds, adding or releasing air from an air mattress can adjust the firmness level. Excessive compression can cause air to escape from the mattress, so most models list a recommended weight capacity (usually 300 to 600 pounds).
Air mattresses can be handy in a pinch, but they really aren't intended for nightly use. Escaping air – even when following weight capacity guidelines – is a common issue, as is puncturing.
A staple of dorm rooms across the country, futons consist of a mattress and bed that can be laid flat for sleeping, or converted into a sofa-like surface for sitting. Many futon mattresses are constructed with polyfoam and/or fiber fill, and some contain springs for extra support. Futon mattresses usually measure 5 to 10 inches thick, making them shorter on average than most standard models.
Futons offer a few benefits. They're very affordable, which explains their popularity among students. Their convertible design also makes them highly versatile, which can be an asset for smaller sleeping quarters.
However, futons are not very durable. This is largely due to their lower profiles and, for many, the absence of a strong support system. Many sleepers also find futon mattresses too firm, and experience added aches and pains due to lack of cushioning.
Mattress Support Systems
When selecting a new mattress, you should also think about the support system you plan to use with your bed. Placing a mattress directly on the floor can lead to a build-up of dust mites, mildew, and other contaminants. Many mattress companies will also void your warranty if you don't use a proper support system.
- Box Spring: A box spring features a slatted wooden frame, steel springs, and a fabric encasement. The springs provide extra reinforcement by absorbing shock from you and the mattress. Any bed can be used with a box spring, but they are particularly useful for models that are too heavy and bulky for other support systems.
- Foundations: A foundation has a metal or wooden frame with side rails to contain the mattress. Rather than a flush surface, foundations support the bed with evenly spaced slats. Foundations can be very supportive, but you should check the slat dimensions before you purchase one – if the slats are too far apart, your mattress will sag through the gaps and feel less supportive. Many mattress warranties list slat spacing requirements for this reason.
- Platform Beds: A platform bed is constructed with a slatted frame (much like a foundation), as well as a headboard. Some platform beds also have posts and/or a canopy. These beds can improve your overall bedroom decor.
- Adjustable Beds: Adjustable beds allow owners to elevate or lower the foot of the mattress. This can be useful for people with back pain, or those who prefer to sleep with their legs at a certain angle. Many adjustable beds can also be raised or lowered at the head of the mattress to minimize snoring and alleviate neck pain. As innovative and helpful as adjustable beds are, many carry steep sticker prices. Be prepared to spend as much as you would on a new mattress, if not more.