Eachnight may earn commissions for products you purchase through our links. Our articles and reviews include affiliate links and advertisements, including amerisleep advertising. Learn more Updated September 4, 2021Memory foam and pillow tops are both conforming and pressure relieving; however, they are constructed very differently. Memory foam beds typically contain layers of polyurethane and memory foam, while innerspring beds with a pillow top have coil support systems and cotton, polyester, memory foam, or latex comfort layers.Memory foam beds and innerspring mattresses with pillow tops have different strengths and drawbacks—one may meet your sleep needs better than the other.In this article, we will discuss memory foam and pillow-top mattresses, their materials, and how they compare to each other.Memory Foam MattressesMemory foam was created in 1966 for seat cushions and later used in hospitals to alleviate bed sores. Shortly after, memory foam debuted in the mattress industry, where it gained popularity for its unique structure and conformability.Memory foam is polyurethane foam with added chemicals to give it viscoelastic properties, including a slow response to pressure and body-counting abilities. The dense material responds to body weight and heat by softening, allowing your body to sink into the materials and alleviating pressure points.Memory foam mattresses can last between 8 and 10 years when cared for properly. Most cost between $600 and $2000.Memory foam mattresses are made of two or three layers: a comfort layer, a transition layer, and a support layer.The top layer is always memory foam to contour and alleviate pressure.The transition layer buffers between the comfort and support layers, ensuring the sleeper doesn’t bottom out on the dense support layer.The support layer is a high-density foam that reinforces the upper layers and deters sagging to prolong the mattress’s lifespan.Memory foam can accommodate most comfort preferences and sleep positions because it comes in a variety of firmnesses.The best mattresses for side sleepers are medium in firmness to alleviate pressure points and maintain spinal alignment.Back sleepers need a medium to medium-firm mattress to prevent their hips from bowing into the bed, which could lead to back pain.Stomach sleepers sleep in a position that overextends their back, so they need a medium-firm to firm mattress to improve their spinal alignment.Motion TransferMemory foam absorbs shock upon impact, eliminating motion transfer—this allows someone to toss and turn or get up out of bed without disturbing their partner.Heat RetentionWhile memory foam is excellent for individuals who need pressure relief and conformability, it can retain heat, preventing restful sleep. In response, memory foam mattress manufacturers engineered memory foam infused with gel, copper, or graphite to wick heat away. Of the three infusions, gel memory foam is more affordable and readily available—a great option for those on a budget.Off-gassingSome memory foam mattresses emit a chemical smell called off-gassing when first packaged. Off-gassing occurs when a product is made with high levels of VOCs (volatile organic compounds). To avoid off-gassing, look for plant-based or CertiPUR-US® certified memory foam mattresses.Advantages of Memory FoamConforming supportBest for people with hip, shoulder, and back painDurableCan support most sleep positionsDisadvantages of Memory FoamCheaper models may retain heat and off-gasPoor edge supportInnerspring Mattress with a Pillow TopA pillow top is an extra comfort layer on top of an innerspring mattress. This additional layer is usually filled with down, cotton, polyester fiberfill, latex, or memory foam and looks like a gigantic pillow sitting on top of the bed—thus the name “pillow top.”Not all innerspring mattresses come with a pillow top, as we cover in our pillow top vs innerspring mattresses guide. A pillow top is meant to cushion the mattress’s coil layers to alleviate pressure points and add extra conformability.A pillow top is a great option for people who don’t like the feel of a traditional mattress. However, the bed’s overall construction tends to attract allergens, which can irritate sensitive respiratory systems.An innerspring mattress with a pillow top costs between $1000 and $1400 and lasts between four and seven years, depending on the material’s quality and how well you maintain it.Motion TransferInnerspring mattresses are bouncy due to their coil core, so the bed doesn’t isolate motion as well as memory foam.Heat RetentionInnerspring mattresses naturally regulate a sleeper’s temperature; however, the material in the pillow top can increase or decrease the mattress’s air circulation. Cotton, down, and polyester pillow tops encourage air circulation more than latex and memory foam. If you want a cooler mattress, go with a breathable pillow top material.Air doesn’t circulate through latex and memory like a down or cotton pillow top. Sometimes manufacturers infuse memory foam and latex with gel, copper, or graphite to keep you cool.Off-gassingPillow tops without latex and memory foam components don’t have much off-gassing. If the mattress incorporates a latex or memory foam pillow top, the bed could have a fair amount of off-gassing when first unboxed. The odor shouldn’t last longer than a week.Advantages of Pillow TopsPlushy and supportiveTemperature neutralLess likely to off-gasDisadvantages of Pillow TopsShorter lifespanCollects allergensFrequently Asked QuestionsAre pillow tops or memory foam mattresses better?Memory foam mattresses score higher in customer satisfaction than pillow tops because they offer more comfort and are longer-lasting. Pillow tops can make an innerspring mattress more comfortable, but they’re not the first choice for many shoppers.Do pillow top mattresses wear out faster?Pillow tops tend to have a shorter lifespan than most beds because they’re made with thin layers that become compressed easily and lose their life.Are memory foam mattresses good for your back?Yes, memory foam mattresses are some of the best for back pain relief because they contour to the body and adapt to your movement, so they’re great at relieving pressure and eliminating discomfort.Can you flip a pillow top mattress over?No, pillow top mattresses cannot be flipped because flipping one of these mattresses means you’re now sleeping on the firm coil layer and not the cushy pillow top. Instead of flipping these mattresses, retailers suggest rotating them every few months to prevent wear.How can I make my pillow top mattress more comfortable?If your pillow top mattress feels too firm or too soft, you can modify its feel with a mattress topper to make it more comfortable. Mattress toppers are available in both soft and firm options to suit a variety of sleep needs.ConclusionYour sleep needs and priorities significantly influence which type of mattress you end up buying.If you have a restless sleeping partner and need pain relief, consider a memory foam bed. If you enjoy the bounce of traditional innerspring mattresses and a plushy sleeping surface, a pillow top is the best mattress for you.Keep in mind, a mattress with a pillow top has a shorter lifespan compared to a memory foam bed. If you’re buying a pillow top, you may have to purchase a new mattress sooner than you want.About the author Andrea Strand CERTIFIED SLEEP COACH Andrea Strand is a Certified Sleep Science Coach. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from Brigham Young University-Idaho where she studied English with an emphasis in Technical Writing. Since 2019, Andrea has written over 90 blog posts and guides on sleep health, sleep hygiene, and product reviews. Find more articles by Andrea CommentsLeave a comment VouDou September 30, 2020 at 4:13 am Replyyou can flip a pillow top mattress. I flip my pillow top mattress 4 times a year. It has a pillow top on both sides. Rebecca Gardner April 13, 2021 at 11:24 am ReplyI’m glad you mentioned that memory foam mattresses can help people who suffer from back and neck pain. My husband started developing pain in his upper back about a month ago. Thanks for letting me know we should consider getting a memory foam mattress soon! 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