Memory Foam Mattress vs Air Mattress: What’s the Difference?

By Geoff McKinnen Certified Sleep Coach

Last Updated On April 15th, 2024
Memory Foam Mattress vs Air Mattress: What’s the Difference?

Key Takeaways

  • Picking the Right Mattress: Choosing between memory foam mattresses and air beds depends on personal comfort preferences, support needs, and other factors. It’s essential to consider factors like support, pricing, pain/pressure relief, sleeping temperature, mattress upkeep, motion isolation, noise, availability, and durability when making your decision.
  • Why Choose Memory Foam Beds: Memory foam mattresses excel in conforming to the body’s shape, relieving pressure points, and providing personalized comfort. They are highly rated for their durability, noise-free operation, and overall owner satisfaction.
  • Why Choose Air Beds: Air beds offer firmness adjustability and tend to sleep cooler than memory foam mattresses. They are more portable and suitable for camping but may have limited pressure relief and durability compared to memory foam mattresses.

For people tired of spring mattresses, two popular alternatives remain memory foam mattresses and air beds. Many shoppers find themselves comparing foam and air to see which is better, which is more comfortable, which is more durable, and which should be crowned the best mattress.

These two types of beds offer distinct benefits and features with very different mattress constructions. So, determining which might be the ideal option can be a challenge. In this guide, we will contrast memory foam and air mattresses to explain their differences to offer insight for prospective shoppers.

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When comparing memory foam mattresses and air beds, keep in mind that the perfect mattress will truly depend on your own personal comfort preferences as well as on the individual brands and models involved. Always be sure to compare your options in-depth and check reviews and ratings.

Best Amerisleep Memory Foam Mattresses

Quick Guide: A 30-Second Summary

Best Memory Foam Mattress Overall Amerisleep AS3
Best Firm Memory Foam Mattress Amerisleep AS2
Best Soft Memory Foam Mattress Amerisleep AS5

What is a Memory Foam Mattress?

Memory foam mattresses contain a special type of polyurethane foam that excels at contouring to sleepers’ individual shapes while still returning to their original shape afterward. This viscoelastic foam uses temperature and pressure to contour and mold to the sleeper. This means the material excels at pressure point relief as the sleeper’s weight is evenly distributed across the surface.

Rather than resist weight like traditional springs or even newer coils, visco foam cells disperse air to accommodate you. True visco foam beds are also all foam, with the upper layers containing the memory foam with a bottom core layer of regular poly foam to provide support and prevent sleepers from sinking too far.

With their ability to contour to your body, they alleviate pressure points and provide a personalized sleeping experience. The viscoelastic foam used in memory foam mattresses adapts to your body’s temperature and pressure, ensuring optimal support and alignment.

Memory foam mattresses also helped pioneer the idea of mattresses in a box and mail order mattresses. These mattresses are typically delivered in a compressed form, conveniently packaged in a box, making them easy to transport and set up in any room.

What Is an Air Mattress?

Air mattresses, also known as air bed mattresses, incorporate adjustable air bladders that can offer sleepers the flexibility to customize the firmness level according to their preferences. By adding more air pressure, the mattress can provide a firmer feel, while reducing the air pressure results in a softer sensation.

These air bladders are typically enclosed within a mattress cover, and the top layers can feature a range of comfort materials, including fiber pillowtops or various types of foam. The surface may have a quilted look, helping you know which side of the mattress faces up.

Different brands may rely on either baffled or multi-chamber bladders to ensure more even support, while others may opt for a single chamber design. The controls and adjustable air pumps also vary by brand.

Air beds tend to do well at relieving pressure points as the core support is provided by an inflatable air chamber rather than springs. We must note that while some air beds can be quite expensive, costing thousands of dollars, there are also more affordable mattresses available on the market.

However, these cheaper air mattresses may offer fewer features or lower durability compared to their higher-end counterparts. Still, they can provide a convenient bed for sleeping well while camping or occasional use, with conforming materials that ensure a good night’s sleep.

Comparing Air and Memory Foam Mattresses

The two bed types differ considerably in how they are put together. Memory foam beds are made exclusively of foam with comfort layers over a support core. Air beds have bladders made of vinyl, rubber or urethane topped with layers of fiber quilting or foam.

While foam mattresses are adhered together, air beds typically come apart, with a zippered encasement containing the air bladders and a vinyl moisture barrier inside, topped with a padding layer. Foam rails may surround the perimeter of the bladders, and some brands even place a foam bar in between dual-chamber beds as well. Air bladders connect to external electric air pumps via hoses which allow users to adjust the firmness.

All of these construction differences mean you can expect different strengths and weaknesses from these two types of mattresses.


Memory foam mattresses excel in providing excellent support by contouring to the body’s curves and distributing weight evenly. This can help alleviate pressure points and promote proper spinal alignment. Air mattresses, while adjustable, may not offer the same level of targeted support as memory foam.


Memory foam mattresses are available at various price points, offering a wide range of options to suit different budgets. While high-quality memory foam mattresses may come with a higher price tag, there are also budget mattresses available that provide satisfactory comfort and durability.

Air mattresses, generally, tend to be more affordable than memory foam mattresses.

Pain/Pressure Relief

Memory foam mattresses are highly regarded for their ability to relieve pain and serve as mattresses for pressure points. The conforming nature of memory foam helps cushion sensitive areas, such as joints and pressure points, resulting in a more comfortable and pain-free sleep experience.

Meanwhile, air mattresses may possess only a thin layer of fiber or foam over its air-filled support. This may not offer the same level of targeted thin cushion cannot offer the same level of pressure relief from a memory foam mattress.

Sleeping Hot

Memory foam mattress manufacturers have made significant advancements in temperature regulation to build cooling mattresses. Many models now incorporate cooling technologies such as gel-infused foams or open-cell structures, which help dissipate heat and keep the sleep surface cool.

Air mattresses, without additional cooling features, may hold onto body heat and potentially cause discomfort for those who tend to sleep hot. Air beds with lower-quality foam layers are at particular risk of heat retention.

Mattress Upkeep

Maintenance and upkeep are an important aspect of owning any product. Mattresses are no different. Memory foam mattresses require minimal upkeep and there are no parts that require maintenance. They should not be flipped, but it’s good to rotate them every 6 months or so and vacuum them occasionally to remove any dust. A simple mattress cleaning routine should suffice.

Air beds also do not get flipped. And depending on the electric pump/hose placement, they may be difficult to rotate. They do require frequent cleaning of the internal parts to prevent mold or mildew, and the top should also be vacuumed. The parts in an air mattress, like seals, hoses and pumps, may occasionally require maintenance or even replacement parts if they break down.

Motion Isolation

Motion isolation refers to how well a mattress prevents one partners’ movements from disturbing the other. The absorptive natural properties of foam excel at isolating motion, and visco foam mattresses prove excellent for limiting partner disturbance.

Air bed mattresses have somewhat more motion transfer especially in single chamber models. Though, they still fare better as mattresses for motion isolation than spring beds.


Some sleepers are fairly sensitive to noise at night, which can disrupt rest. This is why popular reason why shoppers seek a mattress without springs, to avoid the squeaks and creaks of coils. The construction of memory foam beds make them virtually noise-free, with less than 1% of owners complaining about the issue.

Since air bed mattresses utilize pumps to inflate and deflate, there is the potential for noise with these types of beds. Many models auto-adjust pressure throughout out the night which can wake people up. Certain brands and pump types fare better than others, though.


Memory foam mattresses are widely available in local stores and online from several brands and retailers. Fewer retailers sell air beds, which are primarily available from branded mall stores, specialty mattress outlets and online. You may find cheaper air mattresses at department stores or places specializing in outdoor gear, but these are not mattresses you want to use regularly. They better serve as mattresses for guests or camping.


When it comes to the most durable mattress, memory foam mattresses have the clear edge over air mattresses. Memory foam is known for its ability to retain its shape and provide consistent support over time.

On the other hand, air mattresses are more prone to potential issues such as leaks or punctures, which can significantly impact their longevity. It is possible to patch an air mattress, but even these patches can have a questionable shelflife when it comes to extending a mattress’s longevity.

Owner Satisfaction

Overall, memory foam mattresses have a higher owner satisfaction rating due to their ability to provide personalized comfort, support, and pain relief. The conforming nature and pressure-relieving properties of memory foam contribute to a more restful and rejuvenating sleep experience, which is often favored by a majority of users.

Satisfaction by Individual brand can vary significantly, however. So it is always important to research and check reviews.

What About Camping Comfort?

When it comes to camping mattresses, both air mattresses and memory foam mattresses have their advantages and considerations. For tent camping, where weight and portability are important factors, air mattresses tend to be a popular choice. If you are backpacking, an air mattress is likely your only alternative to a traditional sleeping bag.

Air mattresses are typically lightweight and compact, making them easy to transport and set up as a camping mattress. Smaller models can go in the back seat when sleeping in the car.

However, it’s important to note that air mattresses require an electric or manual pump to inflate, which may not be ideal for remote camping locations without access to electricity.

On the other hand, memory foam mattresses are well-regarded for their comfort and support. They provide excellent cushioning and contouring, good for campers seeking a more luxurious experience when car camping or when mattress weight and portability are not major concerns.

Memory foam mattresses are also versatile. A simple memory foam sleeping pad can be used on various sleeping surfaces, including the floor of a tent, a camping cot, the expanded trunk of a car or the bed of a truck.

One disadvantage of air mattresses, especially for tent camping, is their susceptibility to leaks. If an air mattress springs a leak and cannot be repaired, it can lead to discomfort and a night of less restful sleep. Memory foam mattresses do not have the same risk of deflation or loss of support due to leaks, offering a more reliable and consistent sleeping surface.

However, we must note that memory foam mattresses are at risk of collecting allergens and irritants if they are not covered.

Other Types of Mattresses

In addition to memory foam and air mattresses, there are a few other mattress types worth considering. When considering these mattress types, it’s important to evaluate your specific needs, preferences, and budget.

Latex Mattresses

Latex mattresses are known for their natural and responsive properties. They offer excellent support, pressure relief, and breathability. Latex foam is derived from the sap of rubber trees, making a latex mattress a more eco-friendly choice compared to the synthetic materials in air or traditional memory foam mattresses.

Latex mattresses are durable, hypoallergenic, and resistant to dust mites and mold. However, we do suggest caution if you have a latex allergy. You may be better served by a latex-free mattress.

See also:

Innerspring Mattresses

Innerspring mattresses are the traditional coil-based mattresses. They are constructed with a network of steel coils that provide support and bounce. Innerspring mattresses offer a wide range of firmness options and tend to be more affordable mattresses compared to other mattress types. However, they may have limited motion isolation and durability.

See also:


Hybrid mattresses combine the benefits of different materials, typically memory foam or latex with innerspring coils. They offer a balance of contouring, responsiveness, and support. Hybrid mattresses are designed to provide the best of both worlds, offering pressure relief and motion isolation from foam layers, combined with the support and bounce of innerspring coils.

See also:


Waterbeds use water as the primary support system. They offer a unique sensation and can be adjusted for firmness by adding or removing water. Waterbeds can provide excellent spinal alignment and pressure relief. However, they require regular maintenance and may not be suitable for everyone due to their distinct feel and potential for motion disturbances.

See also:

Frequently Asked Questions

Should I use an air or memory foam mattress for camping?

When it comes to good sleep while camping, both air mattresses and memory foam mattresses have their pros and cons. Air mattresses are generally more portable and convenient to carry, as they can be easily deflated and packed away.  And they can be supportive enough to keep you well-rested when traveling.

On the other hand, memory foam mattresses provide superior comfort and support. They contour to your body, relieving pressure points and ensuring a more restful sleep. If comfort is a priority, especially for longer camping trips, or if you’re looking for an RV mattress or bed rather than a tent bed, a memory foam mattress would be our recommended choice.

Can you put a memory foam topper on an air mattress?

Yes, you can use a memory foam topper on an air mattress to enhance its comfort. Adding a memory foam topper can provide an extra layer of cushioning and contouring support to the air mattress. It can help alleviate pressure points and improve overall sleep quality.

However, keep in mind that the effectiveness of the topper may depend on the quality and thickness of the air mattress itself. It’s recommended to choose a topper specifically designed for use on air mattresses and ensure that it fits securely to avoid any shifting during sleep.

Do you need anything under a memory foam mattress?

While memory foam mattresses can be used directly on a supportive surface such as a platform bed or adjustable base, using a mattress foundation or bunkie board can be beneficial. A solid bed foundation provides added support and helps prolong the lifespan of the mattress. It also prevents the mattress from sagging or sinking if the slats are not close enough.

However, it’s important to note that using a box spring is not recommended for memory foam mattresses, as it can affect the support and stability of the mattress. We also cannot recommend keeping the mattress on the floor, as this can create an environment for mold and mildew to grow.

How long will a memory foam mattress last?

The lifespan of a memory foam mattress can vary with several factors, including the quality of the materials used, the density of the foam, and how well the mattress is maintained. On average, a high-quality memory foam mattress can last between 8 to 10 years with proper care. As a show of faith in our mattresses’ quality, we offer warranties that span 20 years.

However, it’s important to note that individual usage patterns and sleeping habits can impact the longevity of the mattress. To maximize your memory foam mattress’s lifespan, we suggest rotating it regularly, keeping it clean, and using a mattress protector to prevent stains and moisture buildup that can lead to mattress mold.

Is it good to sleep on an air mattress every night?

Air mattresses are generally not recommended as long-term home mattresses for regular nightly use. They lack the same level of support, pressure relief, and overall comfort that a high-quality memory foam mattress can offer. Sleeping on an air mattress every night may result in inadequate spinal alignment and increased risk of discomfort or body aches.

Air mattresses are typically made for temporary purposes, such as camping trips or accommodating guests. Prolonged use as a primary mattress can lead to issues like sagging, loss of air pressure, and reduced support. Moreover, air mattresses may not provide sufficient cushioning for pressure points, which can impact sleep quality and cause aches and pains.

The Bottom Line

Ultimately, both mattress types aim to accomplish similar goals: improving upon the traditional spring bed with comfortable support by reducing and relieving aches and pains. The differences between the two result from the different means of support, with one using all foam and the other using adjustable air chambers.

According to the owner reviews we researched, memory foam has the advantage when it comes to conformability, pressure reduction, motion isolation, noise, upkeep, durability, availability and general owner satisfaction. Air mattresses generally excel at sleeping cooler and offering firmness adjustability, though the latter is a feature usually reserved for luxury mattresses rather than inexpensive camping beds.

Both types also exceed the ratings of spring beds on most factors. When contrasting memory foam mattresses and air beds, keep in mind that the best mattress will truly depend on your own personal comfort preferences. Models from individual mattress brands vary, so always be sure to compare your options in-depth and check customer reviews and ratings.

About the author

Geoff McKinnen is a writer focusing mainly on the healthcare industry and has written articles on everything from foods to help you lose weight to the connection between Alzheimer’s and sleep. Geoff’s passionate about helping readers improve their well-being to lead happier lives. Outside of work, Geoff enjoys cycling and hiking and believes that by leading a healthy lifestyle, he can help others do the same.

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