Buying a mattress can be extremely stressful, since it’s a major investment and is one of the objects in the home that has the most influence on the quality of your daily and nightly life. Especially since there are so many different types of mattress, trying to narrow down your options by comfort, quality, and cost can feel overwhelming.
Luckily, it doesn’t have to be — our guide is designed to simplify the process and make buying a mattress as comfortable as the sleep you’ll be having as soon as you bring it home.
The first thing you need to determine is whether you want a spring mattress or a foam mattress (or both, also known as a hybrid mattress).
Here’s everything you need to know to decide between spring, foam, and hybrid:
The most traditional type of mattress, the spring mattress is made up of a layer of coils surrounded by layers of comfort material that can consist of materials like latex, natural fibers, or foam. Different types of spring mattresses use different coil types and layouts to achieve different effects.
Spring mattresses are often the best choice for stomach and back sleepers, those with lower back pain, and heavier individuals who find foam mattresses don’t offer sufficient support.
First popularized after NASA invented memory foam in the 1970s, foam mattresses rely on different combinations of different-density foams to provide softness and support. Though memory foam is the most well-known type of foam mattress, there are several different types that provide different benefits.
Foam mattresses are often the best choice for side sleepers and those who experience joint pain and discomfort.
Some mattresses offer a hybrid composition that includes layers of both springs and foam. Hybrid mattresses can be a great option for those whose preferences fall in the middle of what spring and foam mattresses can offer.
Hybrid mattresses are often the best choice for couples and those who prefer the support of a spring mattress combined with the comfort of a softer option.
Casper offers a variety of hybrid mattresses: the Casper Original, the Nova Hybrid, and the Wave Hybrid.
Pillow top mattresses are available in spring, foam, and hybrid constructions, and simply offer an additional layer of cushion material at the top of the mattress.
There are a few drawbacks to the pillow top mattress option. One is cost—the luxurious feel offered by the soft pillow top comes at an additional price. Another is that some pillow top mattresses are too tall to fit into standard fitted sheets, so they require special linens.
Different spring mattress constructions offer different comfort characteristics, and finding the correct type can really enhance sleep quality.
In addition to differences in construction, spring mattresses can vary by the thickness or gauge of the coil. The thickest available coil is the 12-gauge, which will feel the most firm.
Made up of rows of flat, connected, single-wire coils, the spring layer of a continuous coil mattress looks less like a series of coils and more like a latticework of metal supports.
Also called open coils, Bonnell coils are the oldest version of the innerspring mattress. They’re built with hourglass-shaped coils which are placed evenly throughout the mattress and connected by smaller helical coils.
Offset mattresses came about as an improved version of the Bonnell mattress and feature cylindrical coils which hold up more sustainably than their hourglass-shaped predecessors. The drawback to this option is that, in most cases, it is the most expensive spring mattress available.
These coils are unique because each individual spring is wrapped in a fabric “pocket,” which helps the the coil absorb pressure without needing to distribute it to the surrounding springs. As a result, the pocket coil mattress absorbs motion better than other types of spring construction.
Most foam mattresses combine two or more different types of foam, but generally each mattress is characterized by one dominant foam style. Different foam mattresses offer different pro’s and con’s.
Memory foam is the type of mattress that most people are talking about when they talk about foam mattresses. Invented by NASA in the 1970s to make aircraft cushions safer and then adopted for use in hospital beds, memory foam has an advanced capacity for absorbing pressure and motion. This makes it a popular option for those with certain types of body pain.
Though memory foam mattresses are usually more expensive, Casper has a memory foam option for every budget. The Element, our most affordable option, is made up of three different foam densities, offering necessary support without sacrificing soft comfort. The Casper Original, our most popular foam mattress, is made up of four layers of premium foam, offering zoned support and extra breathability.
Gel or Gel-Infused Foam
For those who like memory foam mattresses but find them too warm to be comfortable, gel foam regulates the temperature in the bed more capably and may be the perfect option.
Gel foam can also be incorporated into a hybrid mattress to achieve some of the same advantages.
Latex is turned into foam when it is aerated in order to trap bubbles within the material that provide soft and bouncy support evenly throughout the mattress. Latex foam is soft and offers the same pressure relief of other foam options, but unlike memory foam, latex mattresses rebound more quickly and lessen the sensation of sinking into the mattress.
Latex is also a popular material for use in hybrid mattresses, like the Wave. Incorporating a latex layer rather than opting for a fully latex foam mattress can be a great option to capture the advantages of latex without its drawbacks.
Polyfoam, short for polyurethane foam, is very similar in material to memory foam and is in fact often used as one of the layers that encases the coils of a spring mattress. There are three types of polyfoam, two of which are only used in polyfoam layers of spring mattresses. The third type, called high resiliency foam, is firmer and more supportive and therefore can be used alone.
The Wave mattress also includes a layer of high resilience polyfoam, which works in combination with the resilient innerspring base, supportive latex layer, and soft memory foam layer to achieve the maximum benefits of a hybrid mattress.
Adjustable Bed Mattresses
Adjustable beds allow the sleeper to prop up the head or foot of the mattress to enhance circulation, increase comfort, and customize their sleep experience. However, it’s essential to note that not all mattresses are compatible with adjustable beds.
If you have or are considering buying an adjustable bed, your best option is to purchase your mattress and adjustable bed from the same company. (For instance, Casper makes an adjustable bed frame that is compatible with all three of its mattress models.)
Futon mattress technology has come a long way in recent years, and you may be surprised at the quality of futon mattress available.
The benefits of a futon are obvious: the dual-purpose couch-bed combo makes the maximum use out of minimal space, making it perfect for small rooms or apartments. When picking out a futon, it’s smart to stick to a thickness of six inches or greater to ensure sufficient comfort and support. Futons are available with or without innersprings; if your futon is going to be used frequently for sleep, an innerspring mattress is the way to go.
Many people think of waterbeds as being a thing of the ‘80s, but in fact people have been using water-filled mattresses since as early as 3600 BCE. While they are less popular now than they were in the 20th century, many still prefer the unique advantages that the aquatic alternative offers.
Air mattresses are often thought of as being short-term options for camping, travel, and brief overnight stays. While that is largely the case, there are still certain features available that can make air mattresses more pleasant to sleep on.
Standard air mattresses are rarely taller than a few inches, while double-high air mattresses keep sleepers further from the ground. Air mattresses with built-in inflation devices also allow the sleeper to adjust the firmness of the mattress with the touch of a button.
For camping, it’s important to choose an air mattress that’s compatible with a battery-powered pump; don’t get stuck in the wilderness with an air mattress that can only be inflated with a wall outlet!
With every mattress, you also have the option of adding a mattress topper. Think of a mattress topper as a pillow top that isn’t sewn into the mattress. Whereas mattress materials should be chosen for their combination of comfort and support, mattress toppers are designed to enhance comfort only.
You can find foam mattress toppers in the same varieties you can find foam mattresses (polyfoam, memory foam, latex, gel, etc.) as well as cotton, down, or fiberfill. In cases where budget is a primary factor in choosing a mattress, combining a more affordable mattress with a high-end mattress topper can help achieve the comfort effect you seek at a fraction of the cost of a high-end mattress.
While having a comprehensive knowledge of mattress basics is essential to make an informed decision while buying a mattress, there’s no substitute for expert knowledge. A mattress professional can listen to your individual comfort and cost needs and make individualized recommendations based on what matters to you most.
It’s also a great idea to test out a mattress before committing to it long-term. Trying out mattresses in-store can be helpful for determining basics like whether you prefer spring or foam, but the only way to know for sure whether a mattress is for you is to sleep on it. Look for mattresses with liberal return policies or a risk-free trial period that will give you the freedom to let your body make the final call on your perfect mattress.