Memory foam mattresses and their hybrid relatives are the mainstream alternatives to traditional innerspring bed sets. But to many, these soft and supportive mattresses are the new kid on the block: untested, unnecessary, just another trend that will soon be replaced by an even greater fad.
In truth, memory foam mattresses are now enjoying their third decade of strong sales. And sales are only getting stronger. Memory foam is slowly commanding more floor space in mattress stores, and more foam-focused brands are popping up each month. Folks are catching on. Across every major bed brand and chain of stores, the benefits of memory foam mattresses are becoming well-recognized.
Nevertheless, some mattress shoppers remain unconvinced. People like sticking to what they know best. It’s human nature. For a majority of shoppers, what they know best are innerspring mattresses bought from a local department store. Their current bed might have even given them 25 years of reliable service. How can you beat that? For such shoppers, memory foam would have been a rarity the last time they bought a new mattress. And if they’ve heard testimonials, chances are they’re considering outdated stories from a field that has grown immensely in quality and nuance over even just the past five years.
So, now would be a good time to reset expectations. For folks who haven’t yet considered the benefits of memory foam mattresses, we’ve summarized the most important points. Let’s dive in.
Back pain ranks among the main reasons people lose sleep or consider changing their mattress. Too often, a poor mattress leads to a restless night’s sleep. More importantly, it leads to a long and sluggish day ahead. Whether you’re tossing and turning from inadequate lumbar support, or trying to plead with sore back in the morning, an ill-suited mattress makes a sleeper miserable.
So why should I consider anything but a supportive spring mattress?
One of the counterintuitive principles of physics is that as you press down on a surface, the surface is also pressing up against you. This is easier to appreciate for anyone who has atop the padded metal bars of a pull-out sofa. A significant problem with spring mattresses is that they can’t offer long-lasting, consistent support across the sleep surface. That’s because the springs create more resistance directly beneath the sleeper. As such, areas of the back that press the coils most keenly experience the mattress differently. Manufacturers try to offset this by having different spring strength in different portions of the mattress, but sleep sensitivities vary so much among people that it hardly makes a difference beyond the sales pitch.
Memory foam offers more consistent support
With memory foam, all parts of the sleeper’s body that touch the bed surface are supported equally. The physical structure of memory foam cells means that this support is consistent over time.
The physical structure of memory foam cells means that this support remains consistent over time. It doesn’t experience wear and like a coiled spring. This is another reason why spinal support stays aligned for longer with memory foam.
Has your partner ever woken you up by rolling over or getting out of bed? Depending on what stage of the sleep cycle you’re in, or if you are simply a light sleeper, even negligible movement can disturb your slumber on an innerspring mattress. Springs transfer motion. Traditional mattress manufacturers have made improvements to this problem in recent years by better isolating spring networks, but memory foam mattresses remain far superior at absorbing motion.
(Every mattress reviewed on this site lists its motion isolation rating relative to other models. The higher the score, the better the motion isolation, the less motion transfer. We commissioned these ratings through third-party engineers using professionally validated methodology.)
Good motion isolation means movement on one side of the bed shouldn’t be felt on the other. For couples who go to bed or get up at different times, the switch to a memory foam mattress can feel like a breath of fresh air after years on an innerspring bed set.
Over the last decade, companies like Casper and Novosbed have turned the mattress industry on its head. How can you tell? Not only are thousand of people loving the new mattresses they never tried out pre-purchase, but big retailers like Amazon, Wayfair, and Sleep Country are all getting into the mix.
A high-end memory foam mattress from a branded store can cost over $5,000. That’s the cost of quality these days, you might think at first. But with beds-in-a-box, even king-size ones, rarely cost more than $1,500 online. And well-reviewed mid-range brands like Endy and Douglas sell queen-size mattresses for less than $900.
This is where you need to check your own biases. Decades of marketing and personal experience have trained the average person to associate higher prices with better quality. Unfortunately, this quick rule of thumb no longer applies in the mattress industry; it can leave you paying premium prices for a mid-market product. Or just as bad – you may overlook plenty of top-of-the-line mattresses just because their price points are below what you would expect from a luxury item.
Mattress prices are crashing like the cost of computers
Let’s take a quick look at why that is. Bed-in-a-box mattresses are made to order, so manufacturers don’t need to risk producing and storing additional inventory that may someday need to be cleared out at a loss; they can make exactly as many beds as they need. They sell their products directly, so the prices aren’t marked up by retailers or middlemen needing to offset their profit margins. The product is more compact, so shipping is more efficient. And online brands don’t need showrooms or commission salespeople, so that reduces overhead costs further.
After all these gains in efficiency, the online companies still make the same amount of money per mattress sold, but they can afford to sell their products for nearly a third of the cost of what traditional mattress retailers ask for. To make your dollar stretch as far for a traditional innerspring mattress, you would need to accept a lesser tier product or rely on unpredictable promotion scheduling on outgoing models.
Indeed, there are dozens of excellent memory foam mattresses available for purchase online. Most of them with generous return policies. There are a few innerspring mattresses available online that are also delivered compressed in a box. The most successful (and well-reviewed) brands of this category are Saatva and Logan & Cove. But for now, innerspring mattresses remain closely associated with big box stores (and the commission salespeople who sell them).
Other benefits of memory foam mattresses
In addition to reducing pain, providing a more even sleep surface, increasing motion isolation, and saving you money, there are still other benefits to memory foam mattresses. For example, they’ll look newer for longer. Innerspring mattresses that sag can be a real eyesore within a few years. Memory foam mattresses, on the other hand, retain their shape and look great for years. Also, memory foam mattresses have a reputation for needing to be rotated less often. While many innerspring mattress companies recommend rotating their products every two months, memory foam brands often list six months as the sensible benchmark.