If you have already read some of the previous articles on our blog, you might be acquainted with a number of solutions when it comes to sleep furnishings: various types of pillows, beds, bed frames and other useful sleep-promoting tools have surged in the last decade. When one first comes across this plethora of information, the sheer amount of it can be overwhelming – you suddenly realize how much science goes into something that you’ve previously given barely any thought. After all, even the people who don’t know anything about it, have the ability for restorative sleep which comes instinctively to all humans. This, however, doesn’t guarantee that sound sleep is quite what you will get most of the time. Many factors, internal or external, often plot against us and have good odds at impairing the amount and quality of our rest. What from your health state, location, living situation, all the way to the culprits immediately surrounding you as you sleep – your mattress, bed, and pillows.
You may logically solve most of these problems without help. For instance, if a loud noise right next to your building is disrupting your sleep, you will shut the windows, get earplugs or maybe complain to the authorities. However, not all problems have obvious solutions. When you find yourself in a situation when you have to pick out a new pillow, for example, you might suddenly realize you know nothing about the matter. You will notice a pillow is bigger or smaller, feels softer or firmer, but how do you know which of those is suited for you?
Such is the dilemma with mattresses, too. The differences between innerspring and memory foam models are what we will tackle in this article, in hopes to break the ice even if this is your first glance into the matter. The answer mostly depends on your sleeping position, but we will cover all aspects of both options to make it easier for you to choose between these two mattresses, or opt for a third one instead.
What is an Innerspring Mattress?
This type has been around since the 1870s, and a lot of people still use it today. Some smaller variations between the models exist, but the base of them all is a similar construct. A layer of metal coils forms the core of this mattress, and it sits on top of a base layer, usually made from dense polyfoam for support. On top of the coils lays a soft, comfort layer from memory foam, polyfoam and sometimes latex, five centimeters thick at most. If the comfort layer is thicker than that, it is classified as a hybrid rather than an innerspring mattress.
The metal coils usually come in four main types:
Bonnell coils – this type of structure is the oldest and cheapest of all. The coils are shaped like an hourglass, with spiral-shaped wires known as helicals connecting them.
Offset coils – designed in the same way as the bonnell coils regarding the coil and wire shapes, this type of coils is distinct thanks to the flattened bottom of each coil, meant to create a hinging effect. This makes offset coils the more durable, although also more expensive type.
Continuous wire coils – created with circular wires in long rows which are connected by helicals. This design is more durable than the bonnell, but not very contouring, and comes at affordable prices.
Pocket coils – the coils covered in fabric and connected using strands of cloth instead of helicals are good for contouring, but not so durable due to the coils being of thinner steel, compared to the other designs. This is an essential factor to consider when shopping for an innerspring model.
What is Memory Foam?
The newer, more modern designs gained its popularity swiftly and became serious competition to innerspring mattresses. Memory foam, or viscoelastic polyurethane foam, is a type of polyfoam that softens once exposed to warmth and pressure and hardens back into original shape when it starts cooling down. It was developed by NASA around 1960 to be very adaptable but remain its firmness using density-increasing petrochemicals. The material is also open-cell, which means it contains small holes to let the air circulate with ease.
What this all means is that memory foam is made to conform to your body when you sleep, using your natural heat and weight to shape around you and support your spine. Such mattresses are ideal for people who sleep on their side the majority of the night, as it relieves the pressure otherwise built-up in their hips and shoulders. Memory foam beds also benefit people who report neck or back issues, often caused by improper pillow type, mattress or their particular sleeping position.
The impressions about either option vary from person to person, depending on one’s needs and the features of the mattress itself. We will list some key aspects to think about.
The smooth, flat surface of the innerspring models makes them generally very supportive, although the way the coils are constructed makes a difference. Heavier, thicker coils typically offer more support, while pocket and offspring coils offer less support but benefit one’s spine alignment. Innerspring mattresses tend to sag over time, so the support factor naturally decreases, but they are considered the most supportive nonetheless, especially for people with over 230 pounds of weight.
Memory foam types, on the other hand, offer better contouring than innersprings, but that doesn’t automatically make them less supportive. When trying to assess how supportive memory foam is, the marker to look out for is its density – the denser the mattress, the better its supportive property. Four or five pounds per cubic foot range is about the best you can find. That being said, memory foam beds may not fulfill the needs of people on the heavier side.
As already mentioned, innersprings aren’t best known for their conforming property. The flatter surface that these beds have doesn’t include a thick enough comfort layer for an individual to sink in properly. That isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker for everybody, but if you are set on innersprings and want this specific feature, the best shot would be a mattress with pocket coil construction. It won’t be as contouring as a memory foam might, but it will respond to your body movements better, compared to other innersprings.
Contrarily, contouring ability is what memory foam models are famous for. This is the selling point of the mattress, along with its two other features. Isolated motion transfer that memory foam provides allows for one to switch sleeping positions or get up without waking up their bed partner. That, along with the lack of noise when bearing weight, makes memory foam well suitable for couples, especially if one or both of the partners wake easily. However, people who sleep on their stomach should be careful when choosing this type of bed, as sinking too deep into it might curve their spine out of alignment.
Mattress materials can make a big difference when it comes to pressure relief. Various sleeping positions may create problems in specific areas. Back sleepers might have gaps under their neck and pressure in the lower back, and stomach sleepers experience stress on the joints as their weight pulls them into the bed. Side sleepers are prone to discomfort due to the pressure on their shoulders or hips when sleeping on a mattress too firm. If you have such issues, innersprings probably aren’t the best idea, as their flat surface doesn’t allow for much adjustment. The best bet out of these would once again be pocket coils and thicker comfort layers.
In this area, memory foam scores yet again, as the heavier parts of your body can comfortably sink in as needed, enabling the straight position of your spine. This is important, as the discomfort of improperly distributed body weight may cause the sleeper to switch positions more often and directly impair the quality of their sleep.
If sleeping hot is an issue you or your partner are prone to, proper temperature regulation is a must. Innerspring mattresses are well worth considering in this situation. A disadvantage when it comes to some other mentioned criteria, the flatness, and the favorable airflow that innersprings provide make them some of the best mattresses you can get to keep you cool during sleep.
Memory foam falls short in this category. The contouring, hugging property, along with its density, is a con here, as it traps your body heat around you, making the problem even worse. While it is possible to keep cool to an extent on this model, other materials provide more airflow, so you would do better to skip this one in such a scenario.
Innersprings win this one as well, and not just compared to memory foam. Responsiveness of the mattress is appreciated here, and the steel coils provide just that. Memory foam models are not favorite when it comes to sex.
New memory foam mattresses, when being unpacked, tend to let off some gas or chemical compounds for a short period. These are not harmful and disappear quickly once they’ve had a chance to air out, but some people mind the smell enough to be discouraged from using the mattress because of it. In that case, innersprings are an excellent solution, as they have no scent to them whatsoever, due to being made mostly of steel.
Memory foam and innerspring models range similarly in price and are affordable compared to other types of mattresses. This, of course, depends on the specific models, which are quite a few – a high-quality memory foam will be more expensive than a low quality innerspring, and the other way around. On average, though, their prices level out about the same.
When it comes to innersprings, pocket coils and thick comfort layers tend to be more pricey, while bonnells are the cheapest. The cost of memory foam mattresses depends mostly on their density level – those with a higher density are considered more luxurious, while lower density can be found at meager prices. Either way, both innerspring and memory foam mattresses can fit within almost any budget, as options are many, and available online, too.
Lifespan and Warranty
Out of the two, memory foam mattresses usually have longer lifespans – seven years on average, compared to the innersprings’ five and a half years.
The longevity of an innerspring model depends on the coil gauge and type – high gauge and low-tempered steel, like the type found in pocket coils, shorten the lifespan of the mattress. Funnily enough, the cheapest innerspring models are the most durable.
Memory foam lifespan, once again, depends on the mattresses’ density. The denser models, although slower to conform to one’s body during sleep, last longer than the less dense ones. The golden middle can be found between immediate comfort and durability, and it’s as simple as finding a model with the medium density.
As for the warranty, make sure to do your homework. Both types tend to sag over time, so see to it that the warranty includes this issue. Knowing to what extent this is covered, as well as how to approach replacements and claims helps keep your peace of mind and potentially saves you money.
The Final Verdict
You should buy an innerspring mattress if you:
- Tend to sleep hot
- Like a flat sleeping surface
- Appreciate the responsiveness of a mattress
- Weigh 230 pounds or more
- Are very sensitive to smell
- Prefer firmer, more supportive mattresses
You should buy a memory foam mattress if you:
- Experience chronic, back or neck pain
- Need quality contouring
- Prefer softer but supportive models
- Awake easily due to noise or movement
- Sleep on your side or have issues with pressure points
- Want a longer-lasting solution
Co-founder of Counting Sheep and Sleepaholic