Memory Foam vs. Pillow Top Mattress: What’s the Best?

By April Mayer
Last Updated On June 5th, 2020

If you are looking for a plush sleeping surface providing you with the right cushioning and support balance, both memory foam and pillow-top mattresses may be great options. Both the…

Memory Foam vs. Pillow Top Mattress: What’s the Best?

If you are looking for a plush sleeping surface providing you with the right cushioning and support balance, both memory foam and pillow-top mattresses may be great options. Both the beds have a similar feel, but the support structure of a memory foam mattress is usually different from a pillow top.

While high-density poly-foam forms the support layer of a memory foam mattress, pillow-top mattresses usually have innerspring coils as their support structure. The extra layer of padding sewn on top enhances plushness and makes the bed more comfortable. Pillow tops are usually found on traditional innerspring beds because they mitigate the underlying steel coil layer’s stiffness, leading to extra comfort.

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What is Memory Foam?

Temperature and pressure-sensitive memory foam softens in response to your body heat, leading to its body-contouring abilities. Memory foam mattresses conform to your body leading to even distribution of weight on the sleeping surface, providing pressure point relief.

Memory Foam vs Pillow Top

Memory foam’s malleable nature makes it ideal for spinal alignment, especially for back and side sleepers. Memory foam forms to the spine’s natural curvature leading to enhanced lumbar support, a good option for those with back pain.

Types of Memory Foam

Memory foam has evolved with time leading to new generations of foam which are adept at fighting heat retention—traditional memory foam’s common complaint.

Plant-Based Memory Foam

Substituting a portion of petroleum with natural plant-based oils makes the mattress cooler. Replacing a synthetic element to make way for something more natural enhances the bed’s coolness.

Gel Memory Foam

Adding cooling gel or gel beads to memory foam enhances the mattress’ coolness because the gel beads comprise “phase-changing material” or “PCM”, which absorbs heat—helping the bed stay cool.

Other Cooling Additives

Good conductors of heat, such as graphite and copper added to memory foam, dissipate heat from its source helping you sleep cool.

Benefits of Memory Foam

  • Body-conforming nature provides pressure relief
  • Pain-relief for those with back and joint pains
  • Durable

Drawbacks of Memory Foam

  • Traditional memory foam may retain heat
  • Some memory foam mattresses may emit off-gassing odors—the strong smell of chemicals from a new product

What is Pillow Top?

A pillow top is an extra layer of padding sewn on top of the mattress to enhance its plushness. The pillow top layer comprises materials like cotton, wool, down, fiberfill, memory foam, or latex foam. These materials promote plushness while diminishing the bounce and firmness from the coil layer, or the innerspring support layer underneath.

Types of Pillow Tops

Pillow-top has a minor variation to it, known as a Euro top. As the name suggests, the Euro-style originated in Europe and is more common there. Both act as a comfort layer to relieve pressure points.

Regular Pillow Top

A regular pillow top is sewn on top of the mattress with a noticeable gap above the comfort layer, giving the impression of extra padding.

Euro Pillow Top

In a Euro top, the additional padding layer is sewn underneath the cover of the mattress making it look more flush and uniform—there is no gap, leading to better edge support. Euro top layers are comprised of foam or fiberfill, appearing thicker and denser than a regular pillow top.

Benefits of a Pillow Top

  • Coil layer promotes airflow making the mattress breathable
  • Comparatively lesser-priced
  • Fewer chances of off-gassing

Drawbacks of a Pillow Top

  • Not as durable as other mattress types
  • May cause motion transfer leading to sleep disruptions

Difference between Memory Foam and Pillow Top

A pillow top mattress may contain memory foam, giving both beds a similar feel, but the difference in the other layers makes them stand out—the bounciness of innerspring coils or motion-restricting foam.

ParametersMemory Foam Pillow Top
FeelBody-conforming, pressure reliefResponsive and bouncy from the coiled support layer
DurabilityHigh-quality memory foam beds are more durableCoil layer degenerates faster affecting the bed’s durability
Temperature RegulationTraditional memory foam retains heat, but memory foam with cooling properties, like open-cells, cooling gels, and other cooling additives help beat the heatInnerspring coils promote airflow making the mattress cooler and more breathable
Motion IsolationExcellent in isolating motionLittle to no motion isolation because of innerspring coils
Off-gassingMore likely to off-gas due to synthetic polyurethane foamSlight off-gassing, depending on if the pillow top contains foam
PriceUsually more expensive than a pillow top with the price for a queen size ranging between $600 to $4000Usually less expensive than memory foam with the price for a queen size ranging between $200 to $2000

FAQs

Can you have a pillow top on a memory foam mattress?

Pillow tops aren’t necessary because of memory foam’s conforming properties—they’re more common with innerspring beds, acting as the comfort layer.

What is the difference between a hybrid mattress and a pillow top?

While both hybrids and pillow tops contain innerspring coils as a support layer, hybrid mattresses have pocketed coils—individually-wrapped innerspring coils to restrict motion transfer. Hybrid mattresses also have a memory foam or latex comfort layer at least 2 inches thick. A pillow top mattress may contain memory foam, latex, or any other material like cotton, wool, or fiberfill in its comfort layer but is likely to be less than 2 inches thick.

Conclusion

The best mattress to suit your needs may either be a memory foam or a pillow top. Decide based on your preferences and priorities. While memory foam is good for a body-conforming hug, you may prefer a pillow top if you like a little bit of bounce.

This article is for informational purposes and should not replace advice from your doctor or other medical professional.


About the author

April Mayer has a degree in exercise physiology and is a firm believer in the power of a good night’s sleep. April’s passion lies in helping others lead more productive lives by helping them get sound, restful sleep every night. April primarily writes about foods and vitamins for better sleep and has written several “better sleep guides” covering a wide variety of topics in her time with Early Bird.

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