Updated May 18, 2020When shopping for a new mattress, the bed you choose should be based on personal preferences. Two of the most popular mattress types in particular—gel memory foam and innerspring—give their own unique feel, which some customers may prefer over the other.In our article, we review the difference between gel memory foam and spring mattresses, outlining the pros and cons so customers can make an informed decision in choosing the best mattress.What is Gel Memory Foam?To look at gel memory foam, we first need to find out what traditional memory foam is. Traditional memory foam is a polyurethane foam treated with chemicals to increase viscosity and elasticity—also known as viscoelastic foam. Body temperature and pressure soften memory foam, causing it to form to the body, relieving pressure points. Memory foam has excellent motion isolation too, so you’re less likely to wake from movement.A problem with traditional memory foam is its heat retention—because of its dense cell structure, heat gets trapped and builds up, leading to more sleep disruptions from overheating. To combat this problem, manufacturers add cooling components, like gel. During the production process, gel is mixed or swirled in, or gel beads are added, resulting in gel memory foam. The best gel memory foam mattress absorbs and disperses body heat for better temperature regulation, but maintains the same feel as traditional memory foam.LayersA gel memory foam mattress is made of at least two foam layers—a comfort layer of gel memory foam and a support layer of high-density foam. Some mattress companies include a transition layer of poly-foam.ComfortThe comfort, or top layer, contains gel memory foam, conforming to the body for pressure point relief and absorbing heat for a cooler, more restful sleep.TransitionPolyurethane or poly-foam prevents the body from sinking too deeply and encourages spinal alignment. Some transition layers may contain a zoned support system with hundreds of segments forming soft and firm areas for enhanced pressure relief.SupportThe support layer contains high-density foam, which distributes body weight across the surface with little risk of sagging.Other Types of FoamDifferent types of memory foam include plant-based and copper and graphite-infusions. These also provide cooling for a good night’s sleep.Plant-BasedPlant oils partially replace petroleum during the manufacturing process. The result is an eco-friendly memory foam, more responsive and breathable than traditional memory foam, making movement easier and producing little to no off-gassing odor.Copper and Graphite InfusionsCopper and graphite are natural heat conductors—when infused with memory foam, both draw heat away from the body. Copper has the bonus of improving local blood flow in some sleepers.ProsAbsorbs and disperses body heatPressure point reliefMotion isolationConsOff-gassing potentialLimited on heat absorptionWhat are Innersprings?Traditional innerspring, or coil, mattresses contain rows of coil springs to support the body—coil springs provide more bounce to the bed and better cooling from its open structure. Innerspring mattresses are the least expensive and more widely available than other mattress types.While innerspring beds seem like the perfect mattress, particularly for those with a tight budget, there are a few drawbacks potential shoppers need to be aware of. Coil mattresses are prone to sagging and the least durable mattress type. They also have no motion isolation and little pressure point relief. Adding a mattress topper may improve pressure relief.LayersAn innerspring mattress contains 2 to 3 layers, depending on the manufacturer—a comfort layer of foam or fiberfill and a support layer of innerspring coils. Not to be confused with a hybrid mattress which contains a comfort layer at least 2 inches thick and pocketed coils.ComfortMaterials inside the comfort layer vary—pocketed microcoils, foam, and fiberfill are found in some popular models on the market today. A traditional spring mattress will contain a thin comfort layer (usually in pillow top form) of foam or fiberfill. The comfort layer isn’t designed to relieve pressure points; rather, it’s meant to cushion and protect the body from innerspring coils.TransitionSome mattress manufacturers may include a transition layer of foam or microcoils to increase pressure relief and for targeted support.SupportThe support layer contains innerspring coils—some include a mixture of different gauge (thickness) coils to form a zoned support system. The support layer is what gives innerspring mattresses their bounce and cooling. Some models include a thick, high-density foam perimeter for reinforced edge support.Types of CoilsDifferent types of coils inside innerspring mattresses include Bonnell, continuous, offset, and pocketed.Bonnell CoilBonnell coils are spiral-shaped—thinner in the middle for soft pressure and thicker at the ends for firmer support.Continuous CoilContinuous coils are a single wire twisted into hundreds of individual coils linked together. Continuous coils are more supportive than Bonnell coils because they act as a singular unit.Offset CoilOffset coils are individual coils linked together for better conformity and a firmer feel, great for those with back pain.Pocketed CoilPocketed coils are Bonnell coils individually-wrapped in fabric to reduce motion transfer and provide overall body support.ProsLow costBouncy surfaceOpen structure enables more airflowExcellent edge supportConsMore motion transferLittle pressure point reliefNoise potentialOther Mattress TypesIf you’re looking for a mattress other than memory foam or innerspring, other mattress types include latex and hybrid.LatexLatex shares similar properties with memory foam, including contouring, pressure relief and motion isolation. Latex mattresses sleep cooler and have a responsive bounce. Latex comes in three forms; synthetic, natural, and a blend of both. Synthetic latex is created through a chemical process, while natural latex is made from rubber tree sap.Latex mattresses can be more expensive than other mattress types, depending on how much natural latex they contain. A latex mattress contains a comfort layer of latex and a support layer of high-density foam.HybridHybrid mattresses combine pressure-relieving memory foam or latex with the bounciness of innerspring coils to form the perfect bed. Hybrids provide the benefit of both memory foam or latex with innersprings, including pressure relief, motion isolation, and bounce. Still, they also include the drawbacks, like overheating and less motion isolation.Hybrid mattresses are heavy and have a higher price point than other types of mattresses because of the number of materials they contain. A hybrid mattress contains a comfort layer, at least 2 inches thick, of either memory foam or latex, and a support layer of pocketed coils.Finding the Best MattressBefore shopping for a new mattress, consider sleeping position, body weight, and available sleep trials, return policies, and warranties to find the right bed for better sleep.Sleeping PositionEach sleeping position needs a certain level of comfort and support to keep the spine in alignment.Side SleepingSide sleeping is one of the healthiest sleep positions, enabling better breathing, improving heart health, and reducing acid reflux symptoms.The best mattress for side sleepers is soft to medium for optimal pressure relief in the shoulders and hips, and to fill in larger gaps between the body and mattress.Back SleepingBack sleeping is healthy for the spine since it allows you to rest in neutral alignment. Back sleeping includes risks of snoring and developing sleep apnea.Back sleepers need a medium to firm mattress to cradle the hips and push back against the spine.Stomach SleepingStomach sleeping is the least healthy sleep position due to pressure placed on the spine, increasing the risk of neck strain and back pain.The best mattresses for stomach sleepers are firm enough to keep the body resting on the surface with no deep sinkage.Combination SleepingCombination sleepers toss and turn, alternating between sleep positions regularly—they get the benefits of each sleep position, like better breathing, but also get the drawbacks, including back pain.Combination sleepers need a medium to medium-firm surface for consistent spinal alignment.Body WeightBody weight is a significant factor in finding the ideal firmness in a mattress, determining how much comfort and support you need for better sleep.LightLight weight sleepers weigh less than 130 pounds and need a softer mattress to enable body contouring, pressure relief.AverageAverage weight sleepers weigh between 130 to 230 pounds. A medium feel is best for a balance of comfort and support.Plus-SizePlus-size sleepers weigh more than 230 pounds and require a firmer feel for better support without sagging.Sleep Trials, Return Policies, WarrantiesSleep trials, return policies, and warranties reassure customers of a high-quality purchase, built to last.Sleep TrialA sleep trial enables customers to try a new mattress at home without pressure to commit. Sleep trials last 90 to 120 nights—if the customer doesn’t like the bed, most companies will pick up and donate the mattress before issuing a full refund.Return PolicyA return policy is a good substitute if a sleep trial is missing. Return policies last 30 days—about the time it may take to adjust to a new sleep surface. If the customer doesn’t like the bed, they can return it for a refund.WarrantyMattress warranties cover manufacturing defects, which could damage the bed and sagging greater than 1 inch (this measurement depends on the company). Warranties only apply to the original purchaser and can’t be transferred.Other Things to ConsiderWhich mattress is best: foam or spring?A memory foam bed is an excellent choice for most sleepers. Body-contouring properties of memory foam are more effective in relieving pressure points than an innerspring—innersprings have a thin comfort layer, not enough to reduce pressure for a pain-free night.Is gel memory foam or traditional memory foam better?Gel memory foam may be the better choice. Traditional memory foam tends to overheat—to solve this issue, manufacturers add gel to absorb and disperse body heat for temperature regulation.Do foam or spring mattresses last longer?Foam mattresses tend to last two or three years longer than spring mattresses because springs break down quicker than thick foam layers. Some hybrids with foam or fabric-encased coils last longer than plain ol’ innersprings, but overall coils have a shorter lifespan than foam layers.Are spring mattresses good for back pain?Not necessarily, the best mattresses for back pain are usually medium-firm memory foam mattresses because they’re contouring to alleviate pressure but still supportive enough to facilitate healthy spinal alignment. Spring mattresses can cause pressure points and don’t offer a lot of cushioning.If you have chronic back pain, we suggest avoiding spring beds. That said, if you can’t go without the bounce of a spring mattress, we suggest choosing a hybrid mattress since they also contain thicker foam layers to alleviate pressure and tension.Are foam mattresses healthy?Many have concerns with foam mattresses because they’re made with a combination of chemicals, and nobody enjoys sleeping on a chemical-filled bed. With that, though, foam mattresses are perfectly healthy and safe. The chemicals in these beds only pose a threat to our health in their raw form, meaning foam layers in these mattresses are completely safe.There are also certifications out there to ensure products are made with fewer chemicals and low in volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Look for certifications like CertiPUR-US® to guarantee your new mattress is free from heavy metals and chemicals like formaldehyde, and low in VOCs.The Right Type of MattressGel memory foam conforms to the body for pressure point relief, while spring mattresses give a responsive bounce with edge support. Choosing the best mattress depends on your personal preferences and what you expect from a high-quality bed.This article is for informational purposes and should not replace advice from your doctor or other medical professional. Comments Cancel replyLeave a CommentYour email address will not be published. Required fields are marked * Comment Name Email I agree to the Terms and Conditions of this website.