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Types of mattresses explained

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There’s not one type of mattress that suits everyone since sleep is personal and different for each person. What feels comfortable for one person might be uncomfortable for someone else. But weighing up the pros and cons of each type of mattress will help you decide which best suits your needs.

Various studies suggest that the type of mattress you choose can affect your sleep quality. However, research on the ideal mattress type for comfort and support remains limited. This is because there isn’t one type of mattress suitable for everyone. Sleep is personal and unique to each individual. What one person finds comfortable, someone else may find uncomfortable.

Considering various factors like your weight, height, sleeping style and previous experiences with certain types of mattresses is helpful when choosing a new mattress.

This guide provides an overview of common types of mattresses to help improve your understanding and narrow down your options.

Different types of mattresses, including latex, pocket springs, coil springs, and memory foam

Sprung mattresses

Mattresses commonly use spring interiors to provide the underlying support. Wire thickness, the number of coils, the height and shape of the springs affect how a sprung mattress feels and performs.  

Open coil

Coil springs are widely used in mattresses and tend to be cheaper than other mattress types as they can be mass-produced inexpensively. An open coil unit is formed from a single piece of wire wrapped around to create a series of large springs that are interconnected.

Movement is transferred across the entire mattress surface, meaning that sleeping partners will likely disturb each other when they move in bed. An open coil mattress will typically feel firmer and bouncier than other mattresses.

Open coil mattresses are ideal for budget-conscious shoppers, such as those looking for a bed for the spare room or a growing teenager. However, other mattress types offer better comfort and support.

open coil spring unit inside mattress

Pros

  • Light and relatively easy to move.
  • Ideal for budget-conscious shoppers.

Cons

  • Less effective at body contouring.
  • Uneven weight distribution can cause pressure points.
  • Movement is transferred across the entire sleeping surface, which may result in roll-together and partner disturbance.
  • Shorter lifespan compared to other mattress types.
  • Collapsible edges might give a sensation of falling off the bed.

Further reading: What Is An Open Coil Mattress? Here’s What You Need To Know

Pocket springs

Pocket springs are smaller, softer springs encased in fabric pockets, hence the name. Each pocket is sewn or hand-tied together, allowing the mattress to conform to the body and distribute weight more evenly.

Pocket springs work independently, ensuring sleeping partners are less likely to disturb one another in bed when they turn or get up at night. In general, the more pocket springs there are in the mattress, the more supportive it should be. A basic pocket spring mattress usually contains between 600 and 800 springs, while higher-quality models can have 2,000 or more springs.

A pocket spring mattress can be constructed with one or more layers of pocket springs. Mattresses with over 2,000 springs usually have multiple rows of pocket springs stacked on top of each other.

Pocket spring mattresses are often available in soft, medium, firm, and extra firm spring tensions. The spring tension is achieved by changing the thickness (gauge) of the wire. Pocket springs are ideal for couples of different weights as you can often combine two spring tensions in one mattress. Another option is zipping and linking, allowing two single beds to be zipped together, creating one large bed.

Cheaper pocket spring models often contain synthetic materials such as polyester and foam. In contrast, luxury models usually contain natural fillings like wool, horsehair, and cotton. Natural materials feel soft and sumptuous. They are more durable than synthetic materials and are fully breathable.

Rows of pocket springs stacked on top of each other.

Pros

  • Conforms and adjusts to the body, ensuring the body is correctly supported.
  • Each spring moves independently, reducing partner disturbances.
  • Available in various spring tensions to accommodate different body weights and preferences. Split tension models allow each partner to have their side of the bed in their preferred spring tension.
  • Higher-quality models often contain natural materials, which are soft and breathable.
  • Luxury models, typically hand-stitched, reinforce the edges of the mattress, extending the usable sleeping area.

Cons

  • Higher-quality models might be heavy and difficult to move.
  • Regular mattress turning may be necessary to maintain an even sleeping surface.

Further reading: Pocket Spring Mattresses: Everything You Need To Know

Foam mattresses

All-foam mattresses are typically constructed in layers. Foam mattresses can be soft or firm depending on the density and depth of the material. Latex and memory foam are two common types of foam. Both offer effective pressure relief.

Memory foam

Memory foam was first developed by NASA to help cushion astronauts during lift-off. Due to its unique pressure-relieving qualities, it was adapted in mattresses and pillows for use in healthcare settings and later for widespread commercial use.

Memory foam is a temperature-sensitive material that slowly conforms and adapts to the body. It can initially feel quite firm but softens as your body temperature warms it up.

By conforming to the body, memory foam eliminates pressure points and distributes body weight evenly, promoting spinal alignment. Due to the removal of pressure, memory foam can help alleviate aches and pains and improve circulation.

Memory foam also absorbs movement, meaning sleeping partners are less likely to disturb one another during the night. It is also quiet in use, meaning no squeaky springs or components to keep you awake at night.

There are different qualities of memory foam. Cheaper memory foam mattresses are less effective at relieving pressure points, and some layers may break down sooner than expected.

A drawback of memory foam is that it relies on body heat to conform to the sleeper’s shape. Because the material has a dense cell structure, it retains heat, which causes the body to become hotter. As a result, some people may feel uncomfortably warmer in bed.

Many companies have developed ways to help keep the surface cooler using breathable fabrics and materials like gel. Some memory foam mattresses have an open-cell structure, allowing the material to breathe so that heat can escape effectively.

Another issue with memory foam is that as the foam becomes softer, the body sinks deeper into the mattress. Though some people prefer this hugging sensation, others may feel trapped and find it difficult to turn over in bed.

male hand pressing down on memory foam material

Pros

  • Offers excellent pressure relief across different sleeping positions.
  • Memory foam can improve circulation, resulting in less tossing and turning and a comfortable night’s sleep.
  • Adapts and conforms to the body, distributing weight more evenly.
  • Memory foam absorbs movement, reducing partner disturbance.

Cons

  • Memory foam can feel warm and uncomfortable to sleep on due to its dense cell structure.
  • Heavier individuals may find it difficult to change sleeping positions due to the gradual softening and slow recovery of the material, creating a sensation of feeling stuck.

Further reading: Is Memory Foam Good For Your Back?

Gel

Various manufacturers are using gel materials in their mattresses. Gel foam mattresses typically combine memory foam with gel to help keep the sleeping surface cooler. Gel-infused memory foam involves mixing tiny gel particles or beads into the memory foam.

Some mattresses contain a gel grid layer, allowing the mattress to better conform to body shape. The gel provides good support and pressure relief. It also has an open-cell design, allowing for better airflow and a cooler night’s sleep.

Pros

  • Provides effective pressure relief.
  • Conforms to the body, distributing weight evenly.
  • Offers a cooler sleeping surface because of its open-cell structure.
  • The material absorbs movement, reducing disturbances between sleeping partners.
  • Naturally hypoallergenic.

Cons

  • Generally more expensive than other mattress types
  • Gel mattresses can be heavy and difficult to move.

Latex mattresses

Natural latex is produced from the sap of rubber trees. Like memory foam, latex conforms well to the body, offering excellent support and pressure relief. However, latex responds and recovers almost immediately when pressure is removed, addressing some of the ‘sinking’ issues often associated with memory foam.

Latex is a breathable material with an open cell structure, allowing air to circulate freely inside, keeping you cool and fresh at night.

The material naturally absorbs movement, meaning that sleeping partners are less likely to disturb one another. Latex is also quiet to sleep on as well.

Latex tends to be more expensive than other materials. But, it is incredibly durable and resilient and retains its shape well. A good quality latex mattress can last up to fifteen years with correct care.

Latex foam close up

Pros

  • Offers excellent pressure relief.
  • Latex conforms to the body and evenly distributes weight.
  • Latex is a breathable material, ensuring a cool and undisturbed sleep
  • Latex responds and recovers quickly, making it easier to change sleeping positions compared to memory foam.
  • Latex is known for its durability and typically has a longer lifespan than other mattress types.
  • Latex is quiet in use, with no squeaky components to keep you up at night.
  • Latex is a natural and renewable material.

Cons

  • Natural latex tends to be more expensive.
  • Latex mattresses can be heavy and difficult to move.

Further reading: What Is A Latex Mattress? Here’s What You Need To Know

Hybrid mattresses

Hybrid mattresses are the perfect compromise for those who prefer the bounce and feel of springs but would like to experience the pressure-relieving benefits of foam.  

Most hybrid models feature a pocket spring or open coil spring unit, with one or more comfort layers of memory foam, latex, or gel on top. The combination of springs and foam allows for greater ease of movement. Sleepers can turn over and change positions in bed more easily than all-foam models.

Hybrid mattresses are typically cooler than all-foam models because air can circulate freely between the springs. However, hybrid models are usually bouncier and are less effective at reducing partner disturbance.

pocket spring mattress with memory foam layers construction

Pros

  • Hybrid mattresses combine the pressure-relieving benefits of foam with the support of springs.
  • Offer a bouncier feel, making it easier to turn over in bed.
  • Typically sleep cooler than all-foam mattresses.

Cons

  • Hybrid mattresses may be more expensive than traditional mattresses.
  • Potential for some transfer of movement between sleeping partners.

Further reading: What Is A Hybrid Mattress & Should You Buy One?

Pillow-top mattresses

Pillow-top mattresses are constructed with a plush, luxurious layer sewn into the top of the mattress for extra cushioning. They typically offer a soft and sumptuous feel, often likened to sleeping on a cloud.

The top layer is typically made from materials like wool, latex, memory foam, and polyester, with a foam or sprung core layer underneath providing the underlying support.

Pillow-top mattresses are single-sided and cannot be flipped over, often resulting in a shorter lifespan than other mattresses. Some poorly constructed pillow-top mattresses may sag prematurely, particularly along the edges.

Pillow-tops are ideal for side sleepers because of their soft, cushioned surface. However, heavier individuals might sink too deeply into the mattress and may struggle to change sleeping positions.

Luxury pillow top mattress

Pros

  • Luxurious design.
  • Extra comfort from a soft and sumptuous top layer.
  • Closely conforms to the body.

Cons

  • Shorter lifespan compared to other mattress types.
  • Prone to sagging over time.
  • Lack of edge support.
  • Pillow-top mattresses may require deeper sheets.

Further reading: Pillow Top Mattresses Explained

Roll-up mattresses

Roll-up or boxed mattresses offer a convenient and affordable alternative to traditional mattresses. They can easily be ordered online and delivered or taken home in conveniently sized packaging.

Typically made from foam, springs or a mixture of both, roll-up mattresses often come with generous trial periods, allowing you to return them if they fail to meet your expectations.

Roll-up mattresses are typically lighter and more flexible than regular mattresses, making them easier to carry and manoeuvre.

However, be cautious of brands claiming roll-up mattresses suit everyone. Choosing a mattress is a personal decision with many factors to consider. Sleeping on a mattress unsuited to your weight, size, height, or sleeping style might cause issues later on.

Woman unrolling new mattress on bed frame, cutting the packaging

Pros

  • Typically cheaper than traditional mattresses.
  • Convenient online purchasing with just a few clicks.
  • Quick delivery services.
  • Easy to carry and manoeuvre, eliminating any problems regarding bedroom access.
  • Extended sleep trials allow you to return the mattress if you’re unsatisfied.

Cons

  • The misleading notion of one-size-fits-all.
  • Waiting for the mattress to expand to its actual dimensions.
  • New mattresses may release a slight odour when unpacked.
  • Unable to try before purchasing.

Further reading: Roll-Up Mattresses Explained

Mattress toppers

A mattress topper rests on top of the mattress, providing an extra comfort layer. It is usually two to four inches deep and made from materials like wool, latex, or memory foam.

A mattress topper isn’t usually necessary for a new mattress. But, if your mattress is uncomfortable, a mattress topper can help improve its feel. However, it is unlikely to improve an old worn-out mattress.

Bed bases

In addition to mattress types, consider the bed base you will be using with it. While the mattress provides comfort, the base provides the underlying support.

There are many types and styles of bed bases, from stylish and elegant bed frames to divans with drawers and lift-up ottomans. Whichever style you choose, ensuring it is compatible with the mattress is important. For example, sprung mattresses work well with divans, while foam mattresses perform better on slatted bases. The two are equally important and need to work together.

Final thoughts

A mattress lacking proper support can cause poor sleep and restlessness. Each mattress type has its pros and cons. Take the time to assess different options and choose the mattress that best fits your needs.

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About the author

About the author

Tony Brown is the founder and creator of The Bed Consultant. His career in the bed industry began in 2002. After graduating from university with a degree in Business Administration, Tony joined one of the largest independent furniture retailers in the UK as a bed consultant. Tony has helped thousands of customers find the perfect mattress.

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