Updated April 10, 2021When shopping for a new mattress, you will likely come across a large selection of memory foam and spring mattresses. These are two of the most popular mattress types available to us today. But what’s the difference? Below, we breakdown the history, makeup, and construction of these two very different mattresses so you can determine which is the best mattress for you.History of Memory FoamMemory foam (viscoelastic polyurethane foam) was created by NASA back in the 1970s. It was initially called “slow spring back foam” because it could withstand intense pressure and heat but could still slowly “spring” back to its original form.In 1991, after NASA made this technology available to the public, many mattress companies started featuring this foam in their beds. At first, these mattresses were used only in hospitals because of their unique ability to provide pressure-free support. However, memory foam quickly became a staple of the mattress industry. Customer satisfaction ratings for memory foam beds are among the highest, especially among those who suffer from back pain.What is a Memory Foam Mattress?Every mattress company has its own method of producing memory foam. Different methods can change the feel of the foam, as well as its heat retention. For example, a foam made with a combination of petroleum oils and plant-based oils will have a quicker response time than memory foam made only with petroleum.Despite the various production methods, all memory foam contours to the body and supports you without any push back. This pressure-free support often feels “cloud-like.” When your body weight is supported evenly, muscles can repair themselves more quickly, leading to a reduction in pain and stiffness upon waking. This contouring is one of the reasons memory foam mattresses can reduce pain back so effectively.Types of Memory FoamMemory foam mattresses feature a variety of foam layers, each ranging in density and breathability. Low-Density foam is typically used in the top layer of the bed to provide maximum comfort, while high-density foam gives stability to the bed. Some beds will feature five different layers of foam, while others will only feature two.These foam layers are often infused with other materials to help regulate body temperature and improve responsiveness. The structure of the foam can also be changed to give sleepers more comfort and support. Below we break down the different types of foam you might come across.Convoluted Memory Foam: This foam features peaks and valleys, similar to “eggshell” foam. This structure creates air pockets that can release trapped body heat.Channeled Memory Foam: This alteration changes the structure of the memory foam layer by adding in ventilated air channels. These channels help promote air circulation throughout the bed.Gel Memory Foam: Some memory foam mattresses are infused with gel microbeads. These beads can absorb body heat and hold it within the mattress. However, this infusion can reduce the durability of the bed, and gel beads can only absorb heat for a short time.Copper Infused Memory Foam: Copper can naturally dissipate heat. When used in memory foam, it can wick hot air away from your body.Graphite Infused Memory Foam: Graphite has been used for many years to remove heat from a variety of products. Many mattresses now feature graphite infused foam layers to help regulate body heat.History of Spring (Or Innerspring) MattressesInvented in 1871 by Heinrich Westphal, traditional spring mattresses have dominated the market for many years. Although spring mattresses have changed since the 19th century, these beds still feature a coil support system. In addition to the coils, new mattress technology has advanced the comfort and durability of these beds.Due to their low price point, spring beds remain popular today. However, with the invention of more advanced foam mattresses, spring beds are quickly falling out of favor. Before we discuss why that is, let’s take a look at the structure of a spring mattress.What is a Spring Mattress?An innerspring mattress has three parts–the comfort layer, the core, and the foundation.The Comfort Layer: This layer can feature a variety of materials, such as memory and latex foam. Others may not feature foam at all–opting instead for layers of cotton or wool. This layer prevents sleepers from feeling the spring coils underneath.The Core: The core houses the spring coil system. The number and type of springs will vary from mattress to mattress. There are also different types of springs. Below, we breakdown some of the most common support systems you will find in a spring mattress.Bonnell Coils: These coils come in an hourglass shape–thinner in the middle but broader near the top and bottom. You will typically find Bronnell coils in older mattresses since newer models have moved away from using these springs. These coils tend to break quickly and don’t offer the same support as more modern coils.Continuous Coils: A continuous coil base is made with one single piece of wire. These bases are durable and sturdy. However, because they tend to have a lot of motion transfer, couples may want to avoid these beds.Offset Coils: Offset coil bases are made up of individual coils set closer together. These coils are great for support, but sleepers often find them to be too firm.Pocket Coils: Pocket coils are common among newer spring beds. These coil springs are made from individual pieces of wire and have a uniform width from top to bottom. These coils are “pocketed” because they are wrapped in fabric, such as cotton or wool. Some pocketed coil systems are zoned to give firmer support to the neck and back and softer support to the hips and shoulders. Coils with a targeted support system will help reduce the likelihood of developing painful pressure points.The Foundation: The goal of the foundation is to support the spring coils and maintain the structure of the bed. The foundation usually features a sturdy material such as wool or foam.What are the Differences?As you can see from their makeup and construction, memory foam and spring coil mattresses are very different. Depending on what you are looking for in a bed, they each have benefits and drawbacks. For a side by side comparison, you breakdown the differences even further.Firmness and Sleeping PositionsYour preferred sleeping position will determine what type of mattress you find comfortable.The best mattresses for side sleepers are soft to medium. This firmness allows for more cushioning around the shoulders and hips, so no pressure points form near these sensitive areas.Back sleepers often prefer a medium to medium-firm mattress, so they don’t experience sinking, and the spine stays aligned.If you need the best mattress for stomach sleeping, choose something firm. Firm mattresses prevent the chest from sinking too far into the bed and keep the spine in healthy alignment.Mattresses for combination sleepers can range from soft to medium in firmness since these beds are suited to most sleep positions and body types.Takeaway: Overall, memory foam mattresses offer more firmness options than spring mattresses. This variety makes it easier to shop for a mattress that will suit you. However, spring mattresses also vary in firmness. You will have to research the bed thoroughly to understand what type of mattress you are getting.SupportMemory foam supports the curves of the body with no added pressure. It also keeps body weight evenly distributed and promotes a healthy spinal alignment.The cotton and wool in the comfort layer of most spring beds do not offer the same support as memory foam. Therefore, they are not able to provide as much pain relief.Some spring mattresses feature a foam pillow top, but it would have to be at least 2 inches to provide pressure-relieving support and keep the spine aligned. Most spring beds do not offer this much foam in their mattress topper.Takeaway: Memory will offer more pressure-free support than a spring mattress.CostSpring mattresses are relatively cheaper than memory foam beds. However, many bed in a box mattress brands are offering a range of foam mattresses at affordable prices.Takeaway: Regardless of budget, you can find both memory foam and spring mattresses within your price range.DurabilityMemory foam mattresses are more durable than spring mattresses. Body oils and dirt do not build up within a foam mattress as quickly as they do in a spring mattress. Therefore, they do not attract dust mites and break down much slower. A high-quality memory foam bed will last around 8 to 10 years.The coils within a spring mattress tend to break quickly, causing them to stick up through the comfort layer. The springs can also sink, causing indents to form. This sagging disrupts the even surface of the bed, forcing sleepers into awkward, uncomfortable positions. These mattresses usually last around 5 years.Takeaway: A good quality memory foam mattresses will last between 8 to 10 years, while spring mattresses will only last about 5 years.BounceSpring coil mattresses have more bounce than memory foam beds. However, memory foam is more responsive, which allows it to quickly mold to the curves of your body even when you change positions.Latex mattresses provide the same responsiveness as memory foam but with more on a bounce. The elasticity of this material makes it more springy.Takeaway: Spring mattresses have more bounce, but memory foam mattresses have more responsiveness.Motion TransferSince innerspring mattresses have more bounce, they are not great at motion isolation. If you sleep with a partner, this motion could disrupt your sleep. In contrast, the density of memory foam helps absorb movement, so you will experience very little motion transfer.Takeaway: Memory foam mattresses have less motion transfer and are more suited to couples.TemperatureOne of the biggest complaints concerning memory foam is its tendency to trap heat. However, the construction of the foam can help improve heat retention. Memory foam with an advanced open-cell structure will be more breathable than traditional memory foam. Infusions such as copper and gel can also help wick moisture and heat away from the body.Takeaway: Although spring coil mattresses tend to trap less heat, more advanced memory foam beds will include features that keep you cool.FAQsWho are memory foam mattresses best for?If you’re looking for the best mattress for couples, consider a memory foam mattress, as they isolate motion better than most other mattress types. The small amount of motion transfer across the surface of the bed will ensure you never feel your partner’s movements during the night.If you suffer from back pain, a memory foam mattress can provide you with the pain relief you need for a good night’s sleep.Who are spring mattresses best for?Spring mattresses don’t offer the contouring of memory foam; therefore, they don’t provide the same pain relief as a foam bed. They do tend to be more breathable than traditional memory foam, but more advanced foam beds can solve this problem.What is a hybrid mattress?A hybrid mattress is a combination of foam and spring coils. These mattresses usually have at least 3 inches of foam in the top layer of the bed and a base made of pocketed spring coils. There are many different hybrid mattresses on the market. Some feature memory foam layers, while others rely on latex foam. Many consider hybrids to be the best of both worlds since they offer the contouring of memory foam but also have the bounce that comes with an innerspring bed.Do foam or spring mattresses last longer?A quality foam mattress tends to last longer than a spring mattress. An innerspring mattress is more likely to sag as its coils wear out, which can happen in as little as three years if the coils are thin and low-quality. On average an innerspring mattress lasts five to six years, while the average memory foam mattress lasts about 7 years.Which mattress is best for back pain?We recommend memory foam mattresses if you’re looking for pain relief. The material molds to your body for full support, preventing muscle strain and pressure buildup. Try a medium-firm mattress to ease back pain.Are Memory Foam Mattresses Better Than Spring Mattress?Memory foam mattresses tend to have the highest customer stratification ratings due to their ability to provide support and pressure relief. However, the best type of bed for you will depend on your personal preferences. You will want to consider your sleep position and any health issues when deciding on a new mattress.Take some time to research the mattress and understand how it will fit your needs. Mattress reviews found on Amazon and the brand’s website can also be a great way to learn more about a mattress. These reviews are written by customers who have experienced the comfort of the bed first hand. Their feedback will give you an unbiased perspective on the overall quality of the bed.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 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.