A mattress that cushions your pain points and supports your spine will keep you comfortable all night long. However, there’s no one mattress that’s perfect for everyone. We all have unique comfort needs along with likes and dislikes. To help you in your search for the perfect night’s rest, we’ve compared memory foam and latex mattresses.
Memory foam has been in the mattress market since the 90s, whereas latex mattresses were introduced in the 1930s. We’ll give you a quick overview of these two mattress types along with their strengths and weaknesses. As you’re reading, start thinking about what specifically you need from your mattress. You never know; your best mattress could be a memory foam or latex model.
What is Memory Foam?
Memory is made from polyurethane foam (poly-foam). The poly-foam goes through a manufacturing process involving chemicals, plant oils, or a combination of both to give the foam viscoelastic properties. The properties are different enough to create a new foam —memory foam. Unlike polyfoam, memory foam stretches, conforms, and molds when exposed to pressure and heat.
A memory foam mattress adjusts and changes shape according to the heat and pressure of the sleeper’s body. The foam stretches and gives under the high-pressure points of the shoulders and hips. If the sleeper changes position, the memory foam gradually returns to its original shape while the foam underneath the sleeper conforms to their shape. If the sleeper stays in one position, the memory foam continues to deepen the pressure relief.
Memory foams are made in different densities. They can also be made in firmnesses that range from soft to firm. Softer memory foams make up the comfort and transition layers of the mattress, while the firmer foams are used in the support core.
Manufacturers also work to improve the breathability of their memory foam. There are formulas and manufacturing processes that enhance the open-cell structure of each foam cell to promote airflow without compromising the durability of the foam. To further dissipate heat, memory foams are often infused or swirled with copper, graphite, and gel. These extra materials help absorb and move heat away from the sleeper’s body.
Memory foam mattresses work well for many types of sleepers. The high conformability and contouring of a memory foam mattress makes them a popular choice for side sleepers. The memory foam helps maintain a neutral spine by relieving pressure at the hips and shoulders. At the same time, the mattress conforms at the head, waist, and knees.
Memory foam also provides excellent pressure relief and support for back sleepers as the foam cradles the lower back. A soft memory foam mattress can be problematic for side sleepers because their hips will sink down too far, putting pressure on the lower back. However, there firm memory foam mattresses that contour to the body while preventing painful sinkage for stomach sleepers.
What is a Latex?
Latex mattresses can be made with natural or synthetic layers. In some cases, latex foams are actually a mix of natural and synthetic latex.
Natural latex is derived from the sap of the rubber tree, while synthetic latex is man-made. Natural latex goes through one of two manufacturing processes —Talalay or Dunlop— to make the latex foam used in a mattress. Dunlop latex has a denser, firmer feel. Consequently, it’s often used in the transition layers and support core of the mattress. However, there are mattresses with Dunlop top layers. They’re slightly less responsive to movement than a layer of Talalay latex.
Talalay latex goes through an aeration process during manufacturing that makes it lighter and springier than Dunlop latex. Its bouncier feel makes it ideal for comfort layers. However, because it’s less dense than Dunlop, it’s not as durable and isn’t usually used in the support core.
Synthetic latex is derived from petrochemicals. It can feel similar to natural latex and costs less to produce. However, it breaks down faster than natural latex.
Latex mattresses are often compared to memory foam because they both contain foam layers, but these materials have very different feels. Memory foam is more cradling while latex has a lifting feel. Latex is also naturally cooling, while memory foam mattresses can sometimes retain heat.
Memory Foam vs. Latex: Strengths and Weaknesses
Every mattress has its strengths and weaknesses that determine who will enjoy them. What feels comfortable to you will depend on your preferred sleep position, weight, temperature preferences, and other individual likes and dislikes. To narrow down your choices, think about what mattress characteristics are most important to you.
Memory Foam Mattress Strengths
Conformability and Contouring
It’s hard to beat memory foam when it comes to conformability and contouring, which is one of the main reasons why they’re some of the best mattresses for back pain relief. Memory foam naturally stretches and molds to the shape of the sleeper, providing customized pressure relief. The longer you lay on it, the more it forms to your body. It’s slower to respond to movement than other foams, but it changes shape to support the body no matter the sleep position.
Memory foam absorbs motion, so it doesn’t transfer across the mattress. Couples will find that they don’t feel their partner’s movements nearly as much on a memory foam mattress in comparison to a model with coils. That means more sleep for everyone.
Memory foam is also a natural sound absorber. It also absorbs ambient sound from the bedroom for a quieter night’s sleep.
Dust, dust mites, and other allergens often congregate in mattresses. Memory foam mattresses naturally resist these common allergens.
Memory Foam Mattress Weaknesses
Memory foam can trap heat and overheat the sleeper unless it’s made with cooling technology; and today’s memory foams have impressive designs and infusions to dissipate heat. Memory foams with advanced open-cell structures and gel, copper, or graphite infusions create ways for heat to move away from the sleeper. In short, you’re far less likely to overheat in a memory foam mattress today than you were in the 90s.
Memory foam slowly returns to its original shape, making it less responsive to movement than some other mattress types. Some memory foam formulas create more responsive foams than others, so responsiveness can vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. There are also manufacturers who use more responsive layers beneath their memory foam layers to prevent sleepers from feeling trapped in the conformability of the memory foam.
Memory foam naturally conforms to the body even when you’re sitting on the edge of the bed. That can lead to the premature breakdown at the bed’s edge. However, some manufacturers counter this problem with denser foam at the edges.
Latex Hybrid Mattress Strengths
Latex gives you the feeling of sleeping on rather than sinking into the mattress. Latex, while contouring, is a more responsive material than memory foam, so these beds are usually bouncier. Some report latex beds feeling firmer than memory foam beds due to the fact that they aren’t as cradling.
Latex foam does an excellent job of relieving pressure. However, it favors contouring to the curves of the body rather than a deep conforming like memory foam. For some sleepers, that’s perfect. If you don’t necessarily want to sink into the mattress, a latex with still relieve pressure.
Latex is naturally cooling, and its cooling abilities are usually enhanced by creating aerated channels throughout the foam. If you’re looking for a cooling mattress for hot sleepers, latex is likely better than memory foam.
Latex mattresses with layers containing zoned support technologies can adapt to the varying pressure needs of the body without causing aches and pains.
Eco-friendly . . . But Not Always
Latex beds can be incredibly eco-friendly. However, this is a strength you have to be wary of because not all latex mattresses are eco-friendly and it can be hard to tell when they’re not. To know the difference, you need to know what you’re looking for.
Latex that’s been certified by the eco-INSTITUT and/or Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS) tells you the latex is both natural and organic, which may also make it eco-friendly. You can also look for the GREENGUARD Gold and Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) to check on the overall eco-friendly and organic standing of the mattress. If the mattress has other independent certifications, a quick online search can tell you if they certify the safety or eco-friendliness of the mattress.
Mattresses made with synthetic latex or that claim eco-friendly, organic, or green standing but don’t have any independent certifications may not be as eco-friendly as you think.
Latex Mattress Weaknesses
Responsiveness can be a strength, but it can also be a weakness. A highly responsive bed may be too bouncy for some sleepers, especially if you share your bed with a partner. Latex foam does absorb motion and sound, but it will transfer more motion than a memory foam mattress.
Latex contours to the body, but it doesn’t provide the snug feeling of memory foam. The conformability of latex is sometimes enhanced by a memory foam layer underneath the latex. However, if you prefer the custom fit of memory foam, a memory foam mattress or memory foam hybrid would probably be a better choice.
Memory Foam vs. Latex: The Bottom Line
Both memory foam and latex mattresses can provide a great night’s sleep. The question is, will one of them work for you? Take a good look at how you sleep. Are you a back, side, or stomach sleeper? Do you get hot at night? Do you share your bed with a partner? The answer to these questions can help you make your decision. When comparing these two mattress types, remember:
- Memory foam mattresses conform to every curve of the body, relieving pressure at the shoulders, hips, and lower back. It continues to relieve pressure even after you’ve been lying on it for a long time.
- Couples may sleep better with the motion and sound absorption of memory foam.
- Latex successfully relieve pressure while providing a quick response to movement.
- Latex can be an eco-friendly and/or organic.
A mattress is a highly personal choice. You may need to try a few models in a showroom to really understand how they feel. Many manufacturers offer sleep trials that let you return a mattress within a certain window of time if you find it’s not comfortable for you. Remember, no matter the type of mattress you choose, the model that’s right for you is the one that leaves you rested and energized for the day.
This article is for informational purposes and should not replace advice from your doctor or other medical professional.