Memory Foam Vs. Hybrid Mattress: How To Choose Which Is Best For You

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When buying a new bed, there are few greater debates than a memory foam vs. hybrid mattress. Die-hard fans of each swear by their mattress of choice. But our sleeping preferences are just as unique as our thumbprints. For example, the doughy Nectar Premier, our pick for the best memory foam mattress, may be heaven for one person but a sleepless nightmare for someone who’d prefer a firmer hybrid like the Titan Plus.

To add even more confusion to the mix, the bedding industry is so steeped in marketing lingo in an attempt to appeal to everyone that deciphering the facts is like trying to unscramble a Rubik’s Cube. Once you’ve gone down the rabbit hole of mattress shopping, you may question what firmness level you want or how many layers of foam your body needs to achieve the perfect state of relaxation.

So before you get overwhelmed by all of the options, let’s break down the basics of memory foam vs. hybrid mattresses and what sets them apart.

In terms of what humans have been sleeping on, memory foam is a relatively new kid on the block. NASA invented it in the 1960s as a way to make safer spacecraft cushions, but it wasn’t until the 1990s that memory foam mattresses started popping up in bedrooms across America (thank you, Tempur-Pedic).

Memory foam is essentially polyurethane, a common plastic material. What makes this kind of polyurethane distinctive is that it’s “viscoelastic” — a fun science term for a material that’s both viscous and elastic.

Viscous means it’s slow to change shape, while elastic means it can recover from deformation. So, when you lie on a memory foam mattress, the material slowly conforms to your body but then bounces back into its original form once you get up.

Every manufacturer has their own heavily guarded chemical recipes they add to their foam. But there are three main kinds of memory foam mattresses you find on the market: traditional, open-cell and gel.

Most people are familiar with traditional memory foam mattresses, which mold to the pressure and heat of your body. Their biggest drawback is that they tend to retain heat and can create uncomfortably warm sleeping conditions.

Open-cell foam mattresses were created to address this issue by allowing for better air circulation and cooling via built-in internal pockets. While this definitely helps with temperature regulation, these mattresses are not as dense and can feel less supportive than traditional memory foam.

Gel memory foam takes the cooling effect a step further by incorporating gel-based microbeads into the foam. This results in better heat distribution and can add extra comfort for those who tend to sleep hot.

Hybrid is the catch-all category for mattresses that combine a foam top with an innerspring core. The idea is to have the best of both worlds: the body-conforming comfort of memory foam and the stable support that innerspring coils provide.

While they’re marketed as versatile mattresses every kind of sleeper can love, hybrid mattresses aren’t one-size-fits-all. No two types are the same, and the materials used in their construction determine how firm, soft, bouncy or supportive they are.

The foam top is typically made of memory foam, polyfoam, latex or microcoils. Memory foam and polyfoam are on the firmer side, while latex and microcoils tend to be more responsive. The internal core can be made of individually wrapped coils, continuous coils or pocketed coils. Pocketed and individually wrapped coils offer more motion isolation than continuous coils, which offer better support. The foam layer’s thickness and the number of coils in the core also affect the overall feel of the mattress.