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What Are the Different Mattress Types?

Reginald has been a sleep specialist for the past 20 years, training new and veteran associates in the retail mattress industry.

Typical Bedding Store

Typical Bedding Store

The average life span for a mattress set is between 8 and 10 years. This is based on normal ware. Statistics also tell us that our comfort level changes around the same time. Mix this with someone that has back pain and we have a complicated situation. Read further and I will explain What Are The Different Mattress Types.

I have been in the mattress business for over 20 years. My knowledge of sleep habits and solutions for various comfort levels makes me a qualified person to write this article. Much of my knowledge on this subject comes from years of research.

In this article I will explain the mechanics of sleep. It is not about a particular brand name. I will though educate you to the type and construction you should look for when purchasing your next mattress. With this information you will eliminate issues with sleep you didn’t know before.

How Do We Sleep?

Before we get into What Are The Different Mattress Types it is important to understand some of the facts about how we sleep.

Most people have a particular position they sleep in. This correlates with sleep research studies that show statistics for the three positions of sleep. Look at the statistics below and find out where you are on the list.

  • Side Sleepers - the preferred sleep position for most people at 74%.
  • Back Sleepers - approximately 18% of people prefer this position.
  • Stomach Sleepers - a small number of people sleep in this position at 8%.

As we get older our comfort levels change as do our sleep positions. The predominant sleep position for adults is side sleeping.

Manufacturers of mattresses produce their products according to the following criteria:

  • Innerspring, All Foam, Hybrid
  • Sizes - Twin, Twin XL, Full, Full XL, Queen, King, Cal King
  • Comfort Levels - Firm, Plush, Pillowtop

Because of our sleep habits, mattresses are produced in either firm, plush or pillowtop versions. For side-sleepers, manufacturers categorize these choices into two levels of comfort called plush or pillow top. For back sleepers, companies produce firm mattresses in smaller amounts to accommodate 18% of the market.

The major difference between a plush and a pillow top is the amount of 'fill' put into the pillow top. Most pillow-top mattresses will tend to be on the softer end of the comfort spectrum.

You may be wondering why there's such a large number of choices. This is because every person has a different comfort level and the different materials that can be put into the top of the mattress give the consumer a greater amount of choices.


Support vs Comfort

Over the years I wish I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard this expression: “I need a firm mattress because I have back pain.” This saying has grown to be the most widely used misconception observed by the bedding industry.
What I find most often when people say this expression is that they are confused between the two words “Support” and “Comfort.”

The support in a mattress comes from the bottom. Just like the foundation of a house. The materials used in this part of a mattress range from:

  • Steel coil system
  • Solid foam core
  • Rubber bladder filled with air or water

The comfort in a mattress comes from the materials used on top of the support system. The materials range from cotton, wool, latex, high-density foam, latex, and memory foam. Manufacturers are always mixing it up when it comes to the comfort levels of a mattress.

Innerspring or Coil System Mattress

Every manufacturer produces mattresses with an innerspring or coil system. This is because the steel coil is the most popular. Like most things that you buy today, there are some good as well as bad innerspring systems.

The important thing to remember here is a mattress with a coil system is rated by the quality of the coil. There are four coil systems used in manufacturing mattresses:

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  • Marshall Coil
  • Bonnell Coil
  • Open Coil
  • Continuous Coil

The Marshall Unit

The most popular of all coil systems today is the Marshall or ‘Pocketed Coil’. This is because of its ability to flex and bend with an adjustable base. The pocketed coil is a steel coil wrapped in a fabric which is sewn together in rows. This allows the coils to move with you as you move. It also give the body better spinal alignment.

Bonnell Coil

The Bonnell unit is an old ‘work horse’ system identified by its heavier steel and being knotted together. This coil is made by a machine the ties (knotted) itself and connected in rows by a smaller helical wire.

The significance of the knotted coil is in fact that it does not separate and produce sizable depressions in the center.

The Open Coil

The Open Coil is the reason why the bonnell unit works so well. It is just a coil that is open at both ends and after a short period of time stretches producing large depressions in the mattress. The open coil is used in the very inexpensive mattresses found in your big box stores.

Continuous Coil

The Continuous Coil is a system that uses one wire to produce a row of coils. The design of this coil was very popular a few years back but not used in todays market.

Because of the affordability and popularity of the adjustable base makes the Pocketed Coil the number one coil system produce by manufacturers.


All Foam Mattresses

Memory Foam

Advancements in science technology usually find there way into the market place. Viscoelastic foam was developed back in the 1970s through NASA technology. Better known by its marketing name as Memory Foam is an important element in the mattress industry today. Its pressure-relieving qualities and long-lasting effect make it a trendy material to sleep on. Memory foam contours to you as you will feel as if you are sleeping in the bed instead of sleeping on the bed. It also has several firmness and softness levels for side sleepers.

Latex Foam

Another type that is good for pressure relief is latex foam. This foam has two separate characteristics – natural latex and synthetic latex. Natural latex comes from the rubber tree, whereas synthetic latex is a human-made product. This type of foam, unlike memory foam, will give you the feeling of sleeping on the bed as opposed to sleeping in the bed.

Good natural latex will be on the more expensive side, but if you like that feel for comfort, it is well worth the price because it will last for years and years.

High-Density Foam or Poly Foam

Before the popularity of memory foam and latex, mattresses were (and still are) made with Poly Foam. This is an polyethylene oil based material found in several home products. It is less expensive and without the higher qualities of memory foam or latex but still a very reliable sleep product.

As an alternative to the coil system mattresses today the ‘All-Foam‘ mattress is quite popular. As I refer to it, an All-foam mattress is a different way to sleep. There are many companies that promote this sleep surface:

  • Tempurpedic
  • Seta iComfort
  • Casper
  • Nectar
  • Helix

This doesn’t mean that they are the best mattress. It does mean though that there is a market for them.

Good Support + Good Comfort = Great Sleep

The Hybrid Mattress

As we answer the question What Are The Different Mattress Types, remember the Hybrid Mattress. In my opinion, this is the best of both worlds. A good hybrid mattress will have memory foam and or latex on the top for comfort and a pocketed coil system on the bottom for support.

If you go to a chiropractor, they usually work to adjust your spine. A pocketed coil works in much the same manner in that it will adjust to your spine as you move in the bed. It also serves to give you correct spinal alignment.

Working with either latex foam or memory foam truly gives you the best of both worlds. Again, the best mattress for any position in a hybrid mattress will be determined by how it feels to you.

Air Mattress

A few air mattress companies around today offer their unique approach to comfort and support for sleep. These beds have an air chamber that is filled with air that you can adjust as you wish.

Not as popular as the others on the list because of the expense and the possibility of its mechanics breaking down sooner than later. The comfort levels are modeled after the Hybrid mattress. Many do have good comfort with the added adjustability in comfort.


This is the least popular of all types. Back in the 1970s, the waterbed mattress was a trendy sleep surface. It was new, different, and innovative. Due to the new technology and strides in the mattress industry, the waterbed is not as popular as it once was. Good support and many have good comfort but are expensive to operate, and many places have restrictions.

How to Determine Your Preferred Mattress Comfort Level?

There are a few simple ways to determine your comfort level when selecting the best comfort level.

  1. Most side sleepers prefer a mattress with a bit of contour to it. Avoid the mattresses that feel too firm.
  2. You must do the lay-down test, or what I call the 'Goldilocks' test.
  3. Because we spend 1/3 of our lives sleeping, you will want to spend time on this project to make the right choice. Make sure you are trying these with your sleep partner. You are wasting your time if you do this without him or her.
  4. Your body will accept or reject a mattress in a matter of 10 to 45 seconds. This doesn't mean that you have found the right one. It means that if your body accepts a particular model, then you are on the right track. When you find one that you like, you are half of the way there. Stay with that type of comfort and tweak your comfort level until your body says, "Ahhh."
  5. If you are a back sleeper, you need to try mattresses with a firm comfort level. Again, your body will tell you if it is close or not.
  6. If you are considering a mattress with an adjustable base make sure that you are testing your comfort level on an adjustable base.

Mattress Protector

I don't want to forget this item about a mattress protector. It is very important and should not be ignored.

Years ago, a mattress cover was used to cover the mattress before the bottom sheet was put on. There was no guarantee that your mattress would be protected from anything outside of "dust".

Today, a mattress cover is replaced by a mattress protector and does exactly that. It protects your mattress from spills, stains, and dust mite protection. If you are looking for a new mattress I highly recommend this item.

In Closing

If you are thinking about a new mattress it is important to answer the question What Are The Different Mattress Types? By reading this article you now understand the difference between Support and Comfort. You also learned about our sleep positions and how they can help you choose a mattress.

All of this information contributes to you having a complete and restful sleep.

Pleasant Dreams!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Reginald Thomas

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