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A Guide To the Different Mattress Types

by Paige Pesko

A person puts a mattress topper on a mattress

Deciding on a mattress is an important task made even more significant by how infrequently you do it. With the average lifespan of a mattress being eight to 10 years, making the right selection suddenly takes on added importance. Complicating this decision is the role that personal comfort plays in selecting where your head will rest every night. Here is a guide to the different mattress types and what makes each unique from the rest.

Box Spring or Foundation

Before deciding on the mattress, you should decide if you are going to use a box spring or a foundation. Both options keep your mattress off the floor and offer additional padding for a better night’s sleep. A box spring is usually a wooden frame with coils on the inside designed to offer some give while sleeping so that you sink. A foundation is a wooden frame that offers mattress support as its primary function. Box springs are great for those looking for a softer sleep experience while foundations are for those looking for a firmer night’s rest.

Innerspring Mattresses

Innerspring mattresses, sometimes called coil mattresses, have been around since the late 19th century and make up a large portion of all mattresses in use today. This style of sleep system uses metal coils inside a metal frame with padding surrounding it. The sleep quality and durability of this type of mattress can be inconsistent because of the materials used and general wear and tear. One big benefit of innerspring is that you can get a comfortable night’s sleep, regardless of the position that you sleep in.

Memory Foam Mattresses

The next type of mattress worth discussing is memory foam. Designed for those who sleep on their sides, a memory foam mattress will conform to your sleeping position. These mattresses aim to offer support while still maintaining comfort for the user. They are also very good for preventing the rut that can appear in the middle of a bed over time. Created from materials originally used by NASA, memory foam is a popular choice to help relieve daily aches and pains while preserving your comfort.

Pillowtop Mattresses

Another fantastic choice for side sleepers, pillowtop mattresses work in much the same way as innerspring but with more padding. They are generally firmer and offer more support than memory foam but are still not as hard as other beds. One of the biggest benefits of pillowtop mattresses is that they offer the same support as more traditional mattresses while offering the comfort of the newer styles. The biggest knock against pillowtop is the lack of durability because of compression over time. This can lead you to need a new mattress much sooner than with other types.

Gel Mattresses

Gel-infused mattresses are a great alternative to memory foam if find yourself overheating at night. Typically made from the same base material as memory foam, manufacturers are known to keep a tight lid on what, exactly, the gel is made from. The gel is infused into the support system of a memory foam mattress, offering the additional benefit of your mattress conforming to your body more quickly while still allowing air to circulate.

Hybrid Mattresses

Just like the name suggests, a hybrid mattress melds design and form elements from different mattress styles, resulting in a more nuanced sleep system. These beds usually take the spring system found in innerspring mattresses and combines them with the support structure found in memory foam. While this is a fantastic option for couples who have different sleep requirements, hybrid mattresses have a reputation for being good at most things but excelling at none. This can lead to dissatisfaction among buyers if not properly tested in-store before purchasing. That being said, this type of mattress can be ideal for those looking for a firmer mattress without the give of older, spring-style beds.

Adjustable Mattresses

This style of bed is the most unique simply because of how versatile this type can be. Some adjustable mattresses offer users the ability to change the incline of different parts of the bed to offer more personalized comfort. Others offer varying options for firming or softening the bed. Adjustable mattresses can also offer climate control to help users sleep better at night. Because there is so much variety within this style of mattress, it can be hard to know exactly what to look for when buying an adjustable bed. One thing to remember is that while there is the option of purchasing an adjustable frame, they will not work with all mattresses, especially those that are thicker than 12 inches.

Other Options

There is no way for a guide to the different mattress types to be complete without mentioning some of the other sleep options available. Though these additional styles serve more niche purposes, they all have their uses, even if they are less common.

Air Mattress

Commonly used while camping or for sleepovers, air mattresses are great for portability and quickly adding additional sleeping options. The biggest drawback is that they can be uncomfortable to sleep on and need to be refilled regularly, depending upon the quality.


A fixture of the 1980s, waterbeds have mostly fallen out of style in the ensuing decades. Consisting of a bladder filled with water and covered in upholstery, a waterbed can be adjusted for perfect temperature control while you sleep. On the other hand, this type of sleep system can be incredibly difficult to relocate and is very time-intensive to properly set up.


No college dorm room is complete without a futon, perfect for all those late-night “study sessions.” But while futons offer a quick sleeping option for visitors and of course feature the benefit of doubling as a couch, they can be uncomfortable to sleep on because of their lack of cushion and give. Futons are a great option for studio apartments and other small spaces where putting in a traditional bedding solution is not possible.

With all of these options available, it can be hard to find your perfect sleep system. If you find yourself struggling, come check out the experts at the Great American Home Store. Our showroom has the best mattresses in Memphis, and we are proud to work with you to address all of your sleeping needs.

A guide to mattress types infographic