15 Different Types of Mattresses and How to Choose One

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A mattress is the resilient, cushioned layer of bed, upon which sleepers lie. By some estimates, it is where we spend as much as one-third of our lives. Hence, choosing a mattress is quite an important task, but one that often doesn't get the careful attention it deserves. Shopping online or in a store can be overwhelming because there are so many types and brands of mattresses. Each one promises to give you a perfect night of restful sleep. With so many options, do you really know where to start?

Below, learn about 15 different mattress types and how to choose the one that's right for you.

  • 01 of 15

    Continuous Coil Innerspring Mattress

    Best for: Affordable, durable mattress.

    Innerspring mattresses of various types are now the most popular type of mattresses sold in the United States and are usually more affordable than high-end foam mattresses. There are a variety of manufacturing methods, including the continuous coil.

    This mattress type is manufactured using an interlinked single wire to form the S-shaped coils. The system is affordable and durable, but it has a tendency to transfer motion (sometimes annoying for partners), and it can be squeaky if a sleeper likes to toss and turn.

    Pros
    • Least expensive option

    • Sleeps "cool"—doesn't trap heat

    • Springs offer broad, even support

    Cons
    • Wear out faster than other types

    • Can be noisy, squeaky

    • Motion transfer can be a problem

  • 02 of 15

    Marshall (Pocketed) Coil

    Best for: Good support with minimal motion.

    Unlinked and fully individually encased, Marshall coils (also known as pocketed coils) move independently of each other, offering more support and motion isolation. The more coils in the mattress, the higher the level of comfort and quality.

    Made with a barrel-shaped design, the coils can be made of thinner or thicker metal. The higher numbers in the coil gauge represent thinner coils and a softer mattress. Lower numbers or thicker coils mean a firmer mattress that is also more durable.

    Pros
    • Quieter and less motion transfer than standard coil mattresses

    • Better support for pressure points

    Cons
    • More expensive than standard inner spring

    • Noisier than foam mattresses

  • 03 of 15

    Bonnell Coil Innersprings

    Best for: Durable affordabilty.

    Shaped like an hourglass, these coils have been around since the 1800s and connect to form a helix-like structure. You will find Bonnell coils in many mid-range mattresses. These are affordable mattresses that "sleep cool," but individuals with joint discomfort may find that they create pressure point discomfort.

    Pros
    • Low cost

    • Even support

    • Sleeps cool

    Cons
    • Can cause pressure-point discomfort

    • Can be noisy, squeaky

    • Motion transfer

  • 04 of 15

    Offset Coil Innersprings

    Best for: Affordable, quiet mattress

    Offset coils are very similar to Bonnell coils, but are less squeaky thanks to flattened edges at the top and bottom of the coil. This created a hinge effect that is quiet, durable, and conforms to the shape of the body.

    Pros
    • Affordable cost

    • Quieter than other spring mattresses

    Cons
    • Motion transfer

    • Can cause pressure-point discomfort

    Continue to 5 of 15 below.
  • 05 of 15

    Polyurethane (Polyfoam)

    Best for: Durability, firm support.

    As a class, foam mattresses made without internal metal springs will be quieter to sleep on, and less likely to transfer motion when one sleeper tosses and turns. Many people find them more comfortable to sleep on, since foam mattresses offer more even support to all pressure points. The central drawback is that foam tends to trap body heat, and therefore can be uncomfortable for those who like to "sleep cool."

    The degree of these advantages and drawbacks depends on the type of foam used and how it is layered within the mattress.

    Polyurethane is the original petroleum-based foam product, sometimes called simply polyfoam. It can be produced at different levels of density. The higher the density, the more durable the mattress and the firmer the sleeping experience. Polyurethane foam is sometimes used as the inner support layer, with a comfort layer made of a different type of foam or a pillow top.

    Since petroleum contains chemicals that can be toxic, always look for the CertiPUR US certification on a polyfoam mattress. This certification brings peace of mind that the mattress is free of formaldehyde, heavy metals, and ozone depleters.

    Pros
    • Good for pressure relief

    • Least expensive type of foam mattress

    Cons
    • Can be hot to sleep on

    • Edge support is weak

  • 06 of 15

    Memory Foam

    Best for: Even support for sleepers with joint or muscle problems.

    Memory foam is a polyurethane variation, which contains additives that make the foam more malleable to heat. While memory foam was invented by the scientists at NASA in the mid-1960s, it took some time before the first memory foam mattress came on the market—not until 1991.

    A mattress labeled as "memory foam" may contain mostly this kind of augmented polyurethane, but often the memory foam is used only for the comfort layer placed around a support layer of traditional polyurethane foam

    Memory foam allows the mattress to take the shape of your body as you lie on it and then bounce back when the weight is removed. It provides low motion transfer, soft support, and proper spinal alignment for side sleepers and those who have a painful bone or muscular condition.

    However, many users find that the density of memory foam traps body heat and increases the temperature of the sleeper throughout the night. It is a good choice for anyone with allergies because the mattress is allergen- and dust-mite-resistant.

    Pros
    • Good contouring to body shape

    • Good for allergy sufferers

    • Quiet to sleep on

    Cons
    • Can be hot to sleep on

    • Poor bounce

    • More expensive than polyurethane

  • 07 of 15

    Latex Foam

    Best for: Sleepers who prefer natural materials.

    If the idea of synthetic foam does not appeal to you, choose a latex foam mattress. Latex is made from rubber tree sap.

    Latex is similar to memory foam but has more bounce and retains less heat. You'll find two options in latex: Talalay and Dunlop. Talalay latex is manufactured by filling the mattress mold and then sucking out any air pockets. The latex is then stabilized by freezing it for a consistent level of firmness so the mattress can be flipped. Dunlop latex is poured into the mold and allowed to harden, resulting in a mattress that is softer on top and denser on the bottom.

    Pros
    • Uses natural materials

    • Quiet to sleep on

    • Better temperature regulation

    Cons
    • Poor contouring to body shape

    • Heavy, difficult to move

    • Expensive

  • 08 of 15

    Gel

    Best for: Cool, even support.

    The term gel mattress is a bit of a misnomer: Gel mattresses are made of memory foam that is infused with gel. The gel decreases the density of the memory foam and prevents the foam from trapping as much body heat, helping the mattress stay cooler throughout the night.

    Often, these mattresses use gel-infused foam as the top comfort layer, with traditional polyurethane as the support layer.

    Pros
    • Cooler than other types of foam

    • Quiet to sleep on

    Cons
    • Expensive

    • Like other foam, uses synthetic chemicals

    Continue to 9 of 15 below.
  • 09 of 15

    Hybrid

    Best for: Firm support combined with comfort.

    Hybrid mattresses combine the support of an innerspring mattress with the softness of foam. Most hybrids have a layer of some type of coils topped with one to three layers of memory, latex, or gel foam. Many companies offer custom-made hybrids to suit the customer's sleeping needs.

    Pros
    • More bounce, resilience than solid foam mattresses

    • Good body temperature regulation

    Cons
    • Heavy, difficult to move

    • More expensive than other types

  • 10 of 15

    Pillowtop

    Best for: Durability combined with comfort.

    Pillowtop or Euro-top mattresses are constructed with a layer of padding on the top of a standard mattress, usually stitched in place as a self-contained additional layer. The padding can be made of foam, wool, or cotton. The pillowtop layer adds comfort and durability to the mattress. Usually more expensive than a standard mattress, a pillowtop mattress cannot be flipped.

    A pillowtop can be affixed to any mattress type, though it is most often used to give innerspring mattresses a plusher feel. In the Euro-top version of this design, the added layer has a thinner, more compact look and feel.

    Pros
    • Extremely comfortable

    • Can be included on either inner spring or foam mattresses

    • "Sleeps cool", when compared to foam mattresses

    Cons
    • Most expensive type of mattress

    • Mattress cannot be flipped

    • Potential for sagging

  • 11 of 15

    Organic

    Best for: Sleepers with chemical sensitivities or environmental concerns.

    If you are trying to limit your exposure to toxins and do as much as you can to protect the environment, choose an organic mattress, which meets defined standards for natural production. These are made using organic wool or cotton fibers, recycled steel for the coils, and/or natural latex. Choose those certified as GREENGUARD GOLD for the safest options. Other certification standards include the Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS) or Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) Usually, it is the separate components, not the mattress itself, that receive certification.

    Pros
    • Environmentally friendly

    • Good for those with allergies or chemical sensitivities

    Cons
    • Can be expensive

    • Options are limited


  • 12 of 15

    Waterbed

    Best for: Adjusting temperature and support level.

    Waterbed mattresses have an outer bladder with individual chambers that can be filled with water to the level of support and motion that suits you. Most have thermostat controls to help regulate temperature. While they offer nearly pressure-free comfort to sleepers, they are extremely heavy and time-consuming to set up or move.

    Water beds aren't for everyone. Some sleepers love them, others find the experience disconcerting and unpleasant.

    Pros
    • Provides pressure-free sleeping experience

    • Modern types can be adjusted for firmness

    • Temperature is adjustable

    Cons
    • Very heavy; floors may need reinforcement.

    • Can be prone to leaking

    • Set-up is difficult

    Continue to 13 of 15 below.
  • 13 of 15

    Air Mattress

    Best for: Accommodating side-by-side sleepers with differing firmness needs.

    An air mattress for daily use is much more than the inflatable floor variety pulled out for overnight guests. Quality air mattresses are covered with foam layers for more comfort and have adjustable air chambers to make co-sleeping more pleasant. The mattresses themselves tend to be lightweight and easy to move, but they are often used with premium bed frames that make these among the more sophisticated and expensive sleeping arrangements. Many smart mattresses (see below) are based on air mattress designs.

    Pros
    • Light, easy to move

    • Some types adjustable for co-sleepers

    • Infinitely adjustable, sometimes with smartphone app

    Cons
    • Less durable than other types

    • Can be prone to leaks

    • May have weight limit

  • 14 of 15

    Adjustable Bed Mattress

    Best for: Users of adjustable-frame beds.

    The mattress on an adjustable bed—one that allows the head and foot to be adjusted up and down—is usually made from foam, so it is flexible. Air mattresses can also be used, and a few manufacturers are making innerspring mattresses that flex.

    Make sure to specify that you have an adjustable bed when shopping for a mattress. Adjustable mattresses are typically thinner than standard mattresses and are designed especially for this purpose. Also, keep in mind the reason you are sleeping on an adjustable bed. The recommendation for a sleeper with back pain may be different than for a couple who simply wants to sleep in different positions.

    Pros
    • Flexible

    • Several designs available

    • Good for orthopedic problems

    Cons
    • May wear out quickly

    • Few options available

    • Can be expensive

  • 15 of 15

    Smart Mattress

    Best for: Side-by-side sleepers with different preferences.

    This category includes mattresses that combine the adjustable firmness features of air mattresses and the flexibility of adjustable bed mattresses, along with other features, to create a mattress with almost infinite adjustability.

    You can, for example, choose a mattress with independent remote controls that allow side-by-side sleepers to set their own preferences for mattress firmness, mattress position, and temperature. Such mattresses may even adjust firmness automatically as they sense sleepers tossing and turning in the night.

    Smart mattresses are hybrids that combine features found in the other types of mattresses. They usually have air chambers to provide the adjustability factor, some version of foam in the support layers, and often memory foam or gel used in the surface comfort layer. Many smart mattresses also add a pillow-top.

    Smart mattresses that offer full adjustability are often proprietary and must be matched with bed frames offered by the manufacturer—you can't just buy any smart mattress and put it on an existing frame.

    Pros
    • Offers infinite adjustability

    • Great for side-by-side sleepers with different preferences

    • Good for sleepers with physical problems

    Cons
    • Requires electrical connection

    • Can be very expensive

    • May not work with existing bed frame

Choosing a Mattress

Modern bed mattresses come in many types, ranging from dependable continuous innerspring designs that have been used for more than 100 years, to smart mattresses with remote controls. But every type of mattress has its unique qualities, so picking the right one requires you to weigh the importance of factors such as cost, noise, bounce, motion transfer, temperature regulation, and preferences for natural vs. synthetic materials. Choose carefully, as you will spend many hours on the mattress you select.

Most mattresses are going to feel great when you lie down on them for a few minutes, but there is more to selecting the right mattress. Consider how you typically sleep—side, back, or stomach. What is your budget? How often do you typically replace a mattress? Will it be used sparingly in a guest room or every night in a primary bedroom?

All of the mattresses described above will come in many variations—mattress firmness is perhaps the most important. For most people, a medium-firm or firm mattress with a pillowtop provides a good balance of support and comfort, but there's still plenty of variety. Side-by-side sleepers with different sleeping preferences will likely appreciate the flexibility offered by a smart mattress.

Although it has nothing to do with mattress type, when it comes to choosing a specific mattress, you're well-advised to shop at retailers that offer a free trial period, during which you can determine if the mattress is likely to please you over the long run. Most major mattress retailers now offer this service, though the length of the trial period may vary. Even when purchasing a mattress from an online retailer, you usually can get a free trial.

The trial period may last anywhere from 30 days to a full year, but 90 to 120 days is the norm. Be sure you understand the nuances of the return policy. Will you be required to pay for shipping or drop-off? Do you receive a cash refund or just an exchange credit toward a different mattress? Some return policies are quite accommodating, while others are prohibitively restrictive.

Article Sources
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  1. Best mattress for adjustable beds. Sleep Foundation.

  2. Mattress Return Policies. Sleep Foundation.