Memory Foam vs. Hybrid Mattresses
There are so many mattress options available that it can be tough to make a decision when you’re looking for the best mattress. Two popular options are memory foam and hybrid mattresses. These two mattress types have some similarities, but it's their differences that could determine if they’ll work for you or not. We've done a mattress comparison so you can decide what features might be best for you based on your sleep position and personal preferences. Remember that the right mattress for you is the one that gives you a deep, full night’s sleep.
What is a Memory Foam Mattress?
When memory foam entered the mattress market in the 90s, it amazed people with its unique ability to conform to the human body. The classic demonstration shows someone pressing their hand into the surface of the memory foam. After removing the hand, its impression and shape remain. Memory foam’s viscoelastic properties give it this superior cushioning and conformability.
Memory foam is made from polyurethane foam that’s undergone a special manufacturing process using chemicals and sometimes plant-based oils. This transforms the polyurethane foam into memory foam that has the ability to stretch and mold when exposed to pressure and heat. If the heat or pressure increases, the conformability of the memory foam increases as well.
Memory foam mattresses contain memory foams of different densities. The highest density foams create durable, firm support cores. Some manufacturers make models with a poly-foam support core. The top layer, also known as the comfort layer, and transition layers usually consist of softer, less dense memory foams. The layers’ order and thicknesses heavily influence the mattress’s firmness level.
Memory foam mattresses contour to the shape of the sleeper even as the sleeper changes positions. They’re an excellent option for side sleepers who may experience pain at the shoulders and hips without adequate pressure relief. Back sleepers can also get support and contouring in the lower back and through the shoulders. Stomach sleepers typically need a firmer mattress than back or side sleepers to prevent the hips from sinking into the bed. There are even firm memory foam mattresses designed to meet these needs as well.
What is a Hybrid Mattress?
Hybrid mattresses bridge the gap between an all-foam mattress and an innerspring model. These two types of mattresses have very different characteristics. As we've just discussed, memory foam mattresses have incredible conformability. They adjust to the shape of the sleeper, which provides pressure relief at the shoulders and hips and supports the lower back.
Spring or innerspring mattresses have metal coils as a support system rather than foam. There are four types of coils— Bonnell, continuous, offset, pocketed. Each type has a different design and feel. For example, Bonnell coils have a traditional hourglass shape, are interconnected, and are the least expensive. However, they also transfer motion across the surface of the mattress and lack the durability of the other types of coils.
Pocketed coils, on the other hand, are the same width from top to bottom and are not interconnected, so there is less motion transfer and more targeted pressure relief than with the other three coil types. Overall, innerspring mattresses have firmer support than your average mattress and offer excellent responsiveness. A responsive mattress immediately bounces back into shape when you move.
Hybrids combine the cushioning of foam with an innerspring support core. Memory foam, poly-foam, and latex foam or a mixture of two or three of these are common in hybrid mattresses. These mattresses tend to have some of the conformability of their chosen foam along with the support and responsiveness of the coil type. They have thicker foam layers than a traditional innerspring mattress to provide more of the foam qualities into the mix. Combo sleepers, who move frequently through several sleep positions, often benefit from the balance of cushioning and support of a hybrid mattress.
Memory Foam vs. Hybrid: Identifying the Differences
Hybrid mattresses may contain a memory foam layer or two, which gives them some of the characteristics of a memory foam mattress. However, there are some definite differences between these two that could affect your comfort.
Memory Foam Mattress Strengths
Conformability and Contouring
Memory foam changes shape to support the unique curves of the sleeper. The conformability and contouring promote healthy spinal alignment and pressure point relief at the shoulders, hips, and back. A healthy spine should be kept in a relatively straight line from the head to the tailbone. Memory foam's ability to cushion at the body’s pressure points increases the chances of a neutral spine even as sleepers change positions throughout the night.
Foam is a natural shock absorber. Therefore, it reduces the transfer of motion across the surface of the mattress. That makes memory foam models an excellent option for couples because a restless partner is less likely to awaken you if the mattress prevents the spread of movement.
Some mattresses, especially innerspring models, may squeak or make noise when a sleeper moves. Foam absorbs and reduces sound just as it does motion. Memory foam beds are some of the most silent on the market. That equates with a more peaceful night’s rest for the sleeper.
Memory foam is naturally resistant to dust mites, dust, and other allergens. Mattresses can be a natural collection point for these substances. If you suffer from allergies, memory foam is a great option.
Memory Foam Weaknesses
The first memory foam mattresses on the market were known for trapping body heat. Memory foam lacks natural breathability. However, memory foam mattress manufacturers counteract this issue with various cooling technologies. They may infuse the memory foam with gel or graphite to cool or pull heat away from the body. Others use special formulas that enlarge the size of the individual cells in the memory foam, creating more space for air and heat to pass through. In comparison to a hybrid mattress, memory foam has more potential to trap heat.
One of memory foam's strengths can also be its weakness. This type of foam slowly conforms to the body. If you move, the foam does not immediately bounce back into its original shape. This slow response can leave some sleepers feeling stuck in the mattress.
Memory foam mattresses may lack edge support. The conformability that’s so comfortable in the middle of the mattress may cause too much sinkage when sitting on the side of the bed. Some manufacturers use a denser foam around the edge to counteract this problem, but without it, memory mattresses are more prone to breakdown at their edges.
Hybrid Mattress Strengths
The coil support system of hybrid mattresses offsets any lack of responsiveness in their foam layers. That makes hybrids a good option for those who don't like that the sinking and contouring feel of a memory foam model.
Hybrid mattresses often have the same cooling technologies in their foam layers that are found in memory foam mattresses. However, the open spaces around the coils of a hybrid model provide more space for air and heat to circulate. The improved airflow generally makes a hybrid cooler than a memory foam mattress.
Hybrids generally offer a firmer sleep surface. That may not be true across all memory foam or hybrid mattress models because you can find firm memory foam mattresses and soft hybrids. But, when making broad generalities, that's typically what you'll find. Hybrid mattresses also tend to have better edge support than a memory foam model. Many manufacturers use stiffer coils or denser foam at the edges to prevent sagging.
Hybrid Mattress Weakness
Continuous, Bonnell, and offset coils, in particular, transfer motion across the surface of the mattress. Pocketed coils do better because they are not interconnected and are each covered with a sleeve of the fabric. However, you’ll still feel more movement than you would on a memory foam mattress. For those who share with a partner, this can lead to wakefulness for both sleepers. Hybrids do better than innerspring mattresses, but they don't have the motion isolation of a memory foam model.
Coils always have the potential to squeak and make noise. While hybrid mattresses have foam layers that will absorb some sound, they are not as silent as all memory foam models. As the coils weaken and break down over time, the potential for noise increases.
Memory Foam vs. Hybrid Mattress: The Bottom Line
It's possible to get a good night’s rest on either a memory foam or a hybrid mattress. Much depends on your personal preferences. Do you sleep hot? Share a bed with a partner? Are you a devoted side sleeper? All of these questions can help you determine what type of mattress would be best for you. As you're comparing these two, remember:
- Memory foam mattresses offer unparalleled pressure relief. If you suffer from aches and pains due to a medical condition or just general pain, a memory foam mattress with the right support and firmness could help with those issues.
- Couples may benefit from the sound and motion absorption of memory foam. This is especially true for couples where one is a light sleeper, and the other is restless.
- Hybrid mattresses offer better temperature regulation than a memory foam model. However, if you need the conformability of memory foam, look for a model with cooling technologies that improve breathability.
- Hybrid mattresses provide a balance between conformability, support, and responsiveness. They’re a good option for couples where one sleeper prefers memory foam while the other prefers innersprings.
Your choice of mattress is a highly personal decision. If you can, go to a showroom and try laying on different types of mattresses. However, don't limit yourself to what you see in a brick and mortar store. Online mattress shopping has expanded your choices and allows a mattress to be delivered directly to your front door. You can also take advantage of sleep trials that give you anywhere from 30 to 365 days to return the mattress if it doesn't work for you. Rest assured that a comfortable mattress that caters to your needs is out there waiting for you.