The Price Points, Pros, and Cons of All the Different Types of Mattresses
Back pain? Side sleeper? There’s one for you.
Published Apr 15, 2022 6:37 PM
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Understanding the differences between mattresses goes far beyond doing a bunch of in-store lay-downs. Sure, it’s a fun way to spend an afternoon, but to know exactly what you’re investing in (after all, we spend a third of our lives sleeping!), you need a peek at the inner workings. Let’s dive into the five main types of mattresses—foam, innerspring, hybrid, latex, and gel—with the help of Megan Anderson, a Mattress Firm merchandising sleep expert, and Keith Cushner, a Sleep Foundation product expert. Read on for a breakdown of each type’s pros and cons.
The Five Types of Mattresses You Need to Know About
How much you’ll pay: $800–$2,500
What it’s made of: Layers of high-density polyurethane foam and a foam alternative, which provides firmness. Some include a gel or layer with pockets to enhance airflow. Expect wool, plant fibers, or silica right under the decorative surface, which act as fire barriers (a federal safety regulation requires all mattresses to have these).
Typical life span: Seven to 10 years, depending on the quality and overall wear and tear. But as with any mattress, you can extend its life by using a well-made protector, which will create a barrier between your skin and the mattress.
Who it’s good for: Anyone who sleeps cool or likes their mattress to conform to their body, plus allergy sufferers.
The higher-density ones effortlessly mold to the sleeper, but they still offer solid support and relief for pressure points, Anderson says. The low-motion transfer (no more waking up when your partner is tossing and turning) and the mattress’s hypoallergenic nature—most spring or pillow-top varieties have extra space beneath the surface that practically invites dust mites, bedbugs, and other pests—don’t hurt either. Then there’s the convenient delivery process: Foam mattresses are often compressed, covered in plastic, and rolled up into a cardboard box (also known as a mattress-in-a-box). Simply open the package, remove the covering, and watch the mattress take shape.
“It can be hard to change positions, and they offer less edge support, so it may not be a good choice for people who have a hard time getting in and out of bed,” says Cushner. (Edge support involves the “frame” of the mattress, which supports its structure, prevents overall sagging, and decreases the likelihood of you rolling off the bed.) Also, foam mattresses tend to sleep hot, especially in warmer climates (innerspring and hybrid mattresses have coil units below the surface that create airflow; foam ones don’t). However, Anderson says choosing a mattress with highly breathable surface fabric like cotton can help with this issue. Another thing to keep in mind: Most aren’t biodegradable, and some are prone to what is known as off-gassing, where the chemicals used in production are released during unpackaging, resulting in an unpleasant, albeit short-lived, odor.
How much you’ll pay: $500–$1,200-plus
What it’s made of: A metal coil system topped with layers of foam, gel, or other materials that add comfort. Typically this style has a quilted or tufted top.
Typical life span: Seven to 10 years, depending on the spring construction and overall mattress quality.
Who it’s good for: Someone who experiences lower back pain, a heavy person, or one who prefers the sensation of sleeping on top of their mattress versus enveloped in it.
Aside from their thick, supportive coils and relatively inexpensive price point, Cushner lauds spring mattresses for their quality edge support. Additionally, spring mattresses allow for more airflow, which means they tend to sleep cooler.
Some brands like Saatva only hand-deliver spring mattresses in their as-is state (not compressed or boxed), but Cushman says they can also be roll-packed or compressed and shipped in a box.
There’s one big one: high-motion transfer. “You’re going to feel your partner moving around, and you’re going to feel your pet jumping on the bed and rolling around,” Cushner says. Light sleepers, beware.
How much you’ll pay: $1,000–$3,000-plus
What it’s made of: A smooth surface over a foam, gel, or latex upper layer combined with at least one spring steel coil layer underneath.
Typical life span: Up to 10 years.
Who it’s good for: Both hot and cold sleepers.
Both Anderson and Cushner agree: The hybrid is the best of both worlds. This pick combines pressure relief (that cushy top layer) and support (the interior spring-filled unit). “They often have smooth surfaces like memory foam mattresses, which look sleeker and elevated compared to the quilted, more traditional-looking innerspring top,” Anderson says. Hybrids are also known for their excellent edge support (which is backed up by pocketed coils and what he refers to as “temperature neutrality”). Their breathable core can accommodate hot or cold sleepers. “It’s not like you’re sleeping in or on a mattress, but kind of somewhere in between, which is a great feeling for a lot of people,” he adds.
The connected innerspring coils are not the best at isolating movement, which could be disruptive for light sleepers. Also if you purchase a hybrid with memory foam, you’ll be dealing with that material’s heat-retention issue—not ideal for those of us who get hot easily.
Hybrids can also be delivered flat-packed or compressed and shipped to your front door, so the setup is simple, but they’re notably heavier due to their steel springs. Consider having a friend lend a hand with unboxing.
How much you’ll pay: $1,000–$2,500-plus
What it’s made of: Between two to four layers of natural or synthetic latex foam over a spring or poly-foam core.
Typical life span: 12 to 20 years.
Who it’s good for: All body types and sleepers, plus anyone with allergies.
One hundred percent latex mattresses are naturally fire-resistant, while 100 percent natural latex beds, made from plant derivatives, are biodegradable, extremely durable, and the most eco-friendly choice of the bunch. This type contours to heavier body parts like the stomach, shoulders, and hips, and gently supports the neck and back, which is good news for your spine. “Latex has somewhat of a buoyant feel,” Anderson explains. That’s due in part to the open-cell structure in the layers, which increases airflow and makes it one of the more breathable mattresses. Oh, and there’s no need to wait around for a delivery person—these get the roll-and-wrap treatment, too.
Because they’re made of rubber, standard latex styles tend to be bouncy. And since manufacturing costs are higher, these mattresses are pricier. (A note on delivery: They can weigh, on average, between 90 and 125-plus pounds, so again, grab a pal to assist.)
How much you’ll pay: $250–$5,000
What it’s made of: Traditional memory foam infused with gel or gel beads.
Typical life span: Five to 8 years, longer depending on level of care and maintenance.
Who it’s good for: Side or back sleepers and anyone who needs extra lower back, neck, and joint support.
Where to buy one: Intellibed.
Like latex, this relative newcomer has contouring abilities that help to ease hip and shoulder pain, making it a draw for side and back sleepers who need a somewhat firm top. However, gel is less bouncy and doesn’t sink as much as foam on its own. “It’s almost like a really stretchy, durable grid that creates a very specific, weightless feeling,” Anderson says. They also reshape quickly after you get up for the day.
Anyone who often finds themselves becoming overheated at night should know that heat retention is still a factor here.