Memory foam and spring mattresses are two of the most popular kinds of mattresses available. Many of us grew up sleeping on a spring mattress, but as adults, we now have more options to consider.
In this guide, we explain what memory foam and spring mattresses are, along with their pros and cons. We cover what kind of sleeper each type of mattress suits and answer a couple of frequently asked questions.
What is a Memory Foam Mattress?
Memory foam is polyurethane foam processed to make it more responsive to heat and temperature. The added viscoelasticity causes memory foam to yield when you lie down on it, while also regaining its shape quickly when you get off of it.
Memory foam mattresses have two to four foam layers—the basic model has a top layer of memory foam and a bottom layer of support foam, often poly-foam. Additional layers can improve the bed’s support and responsiveness, creating a durable mattress that adapts to your movements.
What is a Spring Mattress?
Spring mattresses, also known as coil mattresses or an innersprings, have been around for nearly 100 years. Coils make up the support layer, with thin layers of foam or fabric on the top and bottom for cushioning.
The coil types in an innerspring mattress can vary:
- Bonnell coils are interconnected hourglass-shaped springs—the coils are responsive but provide little pressure relief. Offset coils also have an hourglass shape, with wire hinges added for better pressure relief.
- Continuous coils are formed from a single wire to improve contouring.
- With pocketed coils, manufacturers wrap each coil in foam or fabric to improve isolation. Pocketed coils are more common in hybrid mattresses than in innersprings.
Advantages of Memory Foam
Pressure Point Relief
Memory foam’s responsiveness allows it to mold to the body without pressing against it—this full-body support prevents pressure from accumulating. If you suffer from chronic back pain or another pain ailment, memory foam can make it easier to fall asleep and wake up in the morning.
You can find numerous deals on foam beds—plenty of excellent memory foam mattresses are less than $1000.
Just be careful not to buy one with too low a price (under $300). Memory foam mattresses with extremely low prices are quick to wear out and may contain unsafe materials.
No Motion Transfer
Memory foam mattresses absorb motion at the point of impact. Couples often find a memory foam mattress helps both partners get a good night’s sleep.
The density of memory foam keeps out irritants and pests, such as dead skin, hair, and dust mites. The mattress does still need to be vacuumed regularly, however, to best prevent these allergens from penetrating the foam layers.
Disadvantages of Memory Foam
It’s common for a new memory foam mattress to have a strong chemical smell after it’s opened. This odor occurs as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are released from the mattress in a process known as off-gassing.
Most of the time, the smell disappears within three to seven days if kept in a well-ventilated room. A mattress certified by CertiPUR-US® is less likely to off-gas, as certified beds have low amounts of VOCs.
Conventional memory foam often holds onto body heat once absorbed, as the foam’s density prevents air from carrying away the excess heat. Often companies solve the problem with cooling infusions such as gel or copper.
Memory foam mattresses made with lower quality materials often have a delayed reaction to the body’s movements. If the mattress doesn’t adjust quickly enough, it’s possible to feel stuck. While lower-quality foams may need a full minute to spring back, high-quality foams tend to snap back into shape within seconds.
Most memory foam mattresses lack edge support, which means the bed sags if you sit on the edge or otherwise apply pressure to the sides. No edge support increases the available sleeping surface, but it may make it difficult for a person with a chronic pain condition to move in and out of bed.
Some memory foam bed manufacturers, however, do add firmer foams to the mattress’s perimeter, creating stiffer edges.
Advantages of a Spring Mattress
You might remember the bouncy nature of an innerspring mattress from your childhood. Many adults still love the springy lift it provides.
Easy to Obtain
You can find a suitable innerspring mattress at your local mattress store and select furniture stores. Finding an innerspring is easy if you need a new mattress immediately (for example, if you’ve had no luck getting rid of bed bugs and need to throw out your current mattress).
Innerspring coils provide space for airflow through the mattress. The air wicks away excess heat, keeping your body temperature cool to prevent sleep disturbances.
Spring mattresses have a basic construction—coils sandwiched between foam or fabric. The simple design lets manufacturers keep production costs low, which keeps prices affordable.
Disadvantages of Spring Mattresses
Lacks Pressure Relief
The thin comfort layer of innerspring mattresses means they can’t mold to the body for complete pressure relief. If you have a chronic pain condition, sleeping on an innerspring mattress can worsen your symptoms.
Prone to Sagging
An innerspring mattress is the type of bed most likely to sag, as its coils fail to provide sufficient support with age. Lower-quality innerspring mattresses can sag in as little as three years.
Fewer Firmness Options
Most innerspring mattresses feel naturally firm thanks to their thin comfort layers and spring support. Some manufacturers include a pillow top to increase the bed’s softness.
An innerspring’s coils are usually connected, which makes it easy for movement to transfer across the mattress. Motion transfer can worsen with age as the springs wear out.
Which Is Best for Me?
Your personal preferences and health conditions determine what the best mattress for you is.
If you like to sleep on top of the mattress, shop for an innerspring mattress.
If you prefer to sink into your bed, look for a memory foam mattress.
If you’re sensitive to chemical smells, consider an innerspring. However, memory foam mattresses tend to off-gas within the first few days.
If you have allergies, we recommend a memory foam mattress. While the coils of an innerspring mattress keep a sleeper cool, the airspace also provides room for dust mites and allergens to pile up.
If you’re a side sleeper, look for a memory foam mattress. A traditional innerspring bed is inherently firm and cannot easily relieve pressure points. Memory foam mattresses come in a wide variety of firmness levels to suit all sleeping positions.
Other Mattress Types
If neither a memory foam mattress or an innerspring mattress sound ideal to you, no need to fret—there are different types of mattresses available on the market.
Latex mattresses are an eco-friendly, hypoallergenic option for those who like a bed with some bounce. Latex can contour to a sleeper’s body like memory foam for pressure relief, although it feels firmer. Natural latex is extremely durable—some latex mattresses last up to 20 years.
If you’re having trouble deciding between a spring mattress and a memory foam bed, consider a hybrid. Hybrid mattresses have 2 to 3 inches of foam on top of a coil support layer, creating a supportive yet conforming bed.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do you need a box spring with a memory foam mattress?
No. A box spring is likely to damage a memory foam mattress, as its coils are too far apart to prevent the memory foam mattress from sinking between them. The best foundation for a memory foam mattress is solid or slatted—and if you use slats, they should be no more than 3 inches apart.
How long do you have to wait to sleep on a memory foam mattress?
It depends on the brand, but you can sleep on most memory foam mattresses a couple of hours after setup. The bed may not be at its most comfortable, however, as full expansion can take between 8 to 72 hours.
Did We Help?
Remember to shop for your comfort when it comes down to a choice between a memory foam or a spring mattress. Memory foam provides excellent pressure relief, while a coil mattress offers bouncy support.
If you can, try out your mattress before you buy it and get a mattress with an extensive sleep trial. Research has shown that trying out a mattress for a few minutes in a store doesn’t give you the full idea of what it’s like to sleep on it night after night.