Getting a good night’s sleep is one of the most crucial components of a healthy and happy lifestyle. You might be dreaming every night about buying a fancy car or vacation home — but you’ll only be able to have those dreams if you’re actually able to fall asleep. Fortunately, sleep science has advanced significantly in recent years, from the best foods to eat before bed to the highest-quality mattresses. If you have back problems, a wriggly bed partner, or you're just ready for an upgrade, you’re probably on the hunt for new technologies on the market like memory foam or hybrid mattresses. No two sleepers are exactly alike, but here’s a little introduction to help you find the most comfortable mattress for you (and your plus one).
What is a Memory Foam Mattress?
You’ve likely heard friends in the past couple of years swearing by memory foam mattresses, especially if they have struggled with back problems or spine alignment. Originally developed by NASA researchers in the 1960s to improve the cushioning on aircrafts, memory foam has become a popular material you can find everywhere from hospitals to sneakers. In recent times, it has become most known for its use in top-notch mattresses. That’s because memory foam gives your body a unique level of support, aiding in spinal alignment and hugging your body no matter your favorite sleep position.
Classic memory foam advertisements show someone pushing their hand into a mattress only to leave a dissolving handprint, and that really does provide the perfect visual aid. Memory foam, unlike a traditional spring mattress, offers the sensation of contouring your body — a kind of shock absorption for your back that keeps you comfortable throughout the night. This is done with layers of memory foam that have different densities and feel to provide for the support.
When they first came onto the scene, memory foam mattresses were fairly simple in their design and structure, but now they have become much more sophisticated and, well, mattress-like. They still tend to utilize a person’s body heat for that enveloping, contouring effect, which means you need to look for a mattress that has cooling foam layers to avoid overheating. The best memory foam mattresses also have responsive foam layers that give you an actual bounce — or else it doesn’t really feel like a mattress at all.
What is a Hybrid Mattress?
A Hybrid is the combination of two or more different support structures. For some sleepers, hybrid mattresses can feel like the best of both worlds. That’s pretty much the point. The aptly-named hybrid mattress is trying to offer a little bit of old and new school technologies — foam layers combined with the classic innerspring — to give you a good night’s sleep. With the innerspring coils, you’re getting that tried-and-true support, firmness, and classic bounce of a traditional mattress. The foam component offers comfort through a hugging sensation — though short of 100% memory foam. For some people who don’t care for that “sinking” feeling, a hybrid mattress can be a nice upgrade from a classic poking innerspring, without going full-on memory foam.
Most hybrid mattresses today will have pocket coil springs. Pocket coils are springs individually wrapped in a sleeve of fabric. Each pocket reacts to pressure independently which can help with movement when sleeping with a partner. Inner coil springs are linked together so any movement that happens on one side of your mattress will affect the entire bed.
Compare The Mattress Types
Memory Foam Mattress
The combination of coils and foam provide a hotel-quality feel to your mattress.
Memory foam is great at limiting motion transfer.
Coils sleep cooler than foam, making hybrid mattresses more adept at dissipating heat.
If you like the feeling of being hugged by your mattress, memory foam is for you.
Hybrid mattresses provide more of a “bounce” than memory foam.
Benefits of a Memory Foam Mattress
The benefits of a memory foam mattress are pretty well documented. The layers essentially adjust to your individual body shape. That means the material fills in around common problem areas like your lower back, offering even pressure point relief. During the day, many people struggle with bad posture, and of course the same is true at night. But a memory foam mattress can help optimize your spinal alignment, since the foam is filling in the gap areas around your body to keep your back straight. (If you struggle with lower back problems, placing a pillow between your legs at night also helps to straighten your spine).
Memory foam mattresses also tend to be the best option if your bed partner is a tosser-and-turner, since these mattresses have a smaller amount of bounce and motion transfer. If your partner writhes around all night, you’re considerably less likely to wake up if you’re sharing a memory foam mattress. Memory foam can even help with snoring, since a more aligned nighttime posture can positively affect breathing.
Allergy-prone sleepers also tend to like memory foam mattresses because they are dust resistant and relatively easy to clean compared to other traditional mattresses. Still, it’s important to make sure that you find a memory foam mattress that regulates body heat properly, since some of these mattresses can run quite hot. Look for memory foam mattresses that include layers with cooling gel infusions to ensure you don’t sleep sweaty.
Benefits of a Hybrid Mattress
Let’s get this one out of the way: If you tend to enjoy nighttime activities that require a mattress with more bounce and rhythm, memory foam might not be the most conducive option. Still, you probably want the nice enfolding foam affect, and hybrid mattresses offer a happy middle ground. With a hybrid, you’ve still got the feeling of a mattress hugging you to sleep, but you also have a… more romantic innerspring bounce. In general, hybrid mattresses tend to have more options when it comes to firmness than memory foam.
Even though memory foam mattresses have improved when it comes to cooling technology, hybrid mattresses also often “breath” better, so if you’re someone that gets very hot while sleeping, this might be the better option for you.
One of the classic complaints with an innerspring mattress is a sense that you’re being poked by a coil, which isn’t exactly pleasant when you’re trying to fall asleep. With a hybrid, the coils are generally tucked away under layers of soft memory foam, helping the mattress feel more uniform and consistent. In general, hybrids also tend to have better “edge support” — meaning the structural integrity along the perimeter of the mattress. Memory foam mattresses, on the other hand, tend to struggle in this regard (though they beat hybrids when it comes to not waking up your partner by simply rolling over at 2 a.m.).
How to Choose Which Mattress is Right For You
Mattresses, like most things in life, are about tradeoffs. If you’re ready for a vastly different sleeping experience, memory foam might be right for you. Go for a memory foam mattress if you have back problems, a seriously annoying sleeping partner who squirms around all night, or if you sleep on your back and want a mattress that will fill into the necessary nooks and crannies of your spine. Make sure you don’t mind the sensation of sinking into a mattress, which definitely takes some getting used to. Take caution if you’re the kind of person who wakes up sweaty in the middle of the night, because memory foam might feel too clammy (and if you still go this route, make sure your memory foam mattress has sufficient cooling technology).
If, however, you like memory foam conceptually, but aren’t on completely on board, a hybrid mattress is probably your best bet (and best bed!). Maybe you want a little bit more bounce or you favor a firmer foundation because you sleep on your side. Maybe you’re a hot mess every night and don’t want to sweat all over the foam. Or maybe you and your partner are lucky, peaceful sleepers in need of a comfortable, semi-contouring, but still somewhat traditional mattress. If that’s the case, just go with the hybrid.
Either way, you’re deciding between a memory foam mattress and a hybrid mattress, you can at least be proud of yourself for graduating beyond typical innerspring coils. Well done, you.