Looking to buy a new mattress?
Then knowing the differences and similarities between memory foam and latex is crucial.
Because many modern innerspring mattresses are actually hybrid beds that have a spring support core with a top ‘comfort’ layer that includes memory foam, latex, or a blend of the two.
And sometimes, you’ll even come across mattresses that are made of proprietary blends such as TEMPUR® foam – which feature in Tempur-Pedic’s beds and share many of the properties of memory foam mattresses.
So in this guide, I’m going to explain what memory foam and latex mattresses are, their pros, cons, and which one you should choose based on your needs.
Here we go!
What is a Memory Foam Mattress?
Memory foam layers – stock image used with permission.
Crucially, a memory foam mattress is not made from a single material and typically refers to a range of foams that have similar ‘viscoelastic’ properties.
More specifically, a memory foam mattress is comprised of several layers of foam.
Where the top ‘comfort’ layers are typically made from polyurethane and other materials to yield ‘memory foam’ that’s capable of softening in response to your body heat – so that it can contour to your exact shape and provide maximum comfort by reducing pressure on areas such as your hips, shoulders, and back.
Whilst the lower layers of a memory foam mattress (as opposed to a hybrid bed that may use coils) is typically made from foam with a greater density in order to provide support for your spine.
But as I’ve explained below, this general structure it open to variation and individualisation depending on the brand.
Are All Memory Foam Mattresses the Same?
In addition to many mattress brands having their own proprietary blends of memory foam, the various layers of a memory foam mattress may also be made from different types of foam.
For example, the ‘original’ memory foam mattresses that launched in the early 1990’s typically ‘slept hot’ and caused many people to overheat during the night because of the heat absorbing properties of the foam.
And to combat this, most modern memory foam mattresses typically incorporate a cooling top layer infused with gel beads or graphite to enhance cooling and wick away moisture.
Quite often, underneath the upper layer sits a section of open cell memory foam that’s designed to increase airflow and enhance the breathability of the mattress to prevent night sweats.
In nearly all cases, the thicker base layers of the mattress are made from high density foam to provide support – with some mattresses also having a transition layer to provide further support to the upper layers.
Memory foam layers may be aerated with holes, have convoluted channels cut into them, or moulded and cut in other ways.
But the bottom line here is that even though most present day memory foam mattresses follow this general architecture, the exact composition and structure may vary from brand to brand – often so that each company can profess that their memory foam mattresses are ‘the best’ thanks to their ‘unique’ design.
What Does a Memory Foam Mattress Feel Like?
I’ve slept on innerspring mattresses with a thin upholstered top layer most of my life.
And when I slept on a memory foam mattress for the first time, I couldn’t believe how well the material moulded to my exact body shape.
But I also found it much harder to move around and sit up in the bed when compared to a regular innerspring mattress due to the softer top layers.
How a memory foam mattress will feel to you will depend on your body weight, your primary sleeping position, the firmness of the mattress, the support layers and their thickness, plus the responsiveness of the foam.
Here’s a brief description of each.
Firmness describes the amount of pressure relief that you feel when lying down on the mattress.
For example, a ‘soft’ memory foam mattress will feel like it’s hugging your body more closely and completely than a ‘firm’ memory foam mattress – although the exact feel will also depend on your body weight and your sleeping position.
The bulk of the memory foam mattresses on the market fall within the soft, medium, or firm range – with intermediary firmnesses such as medium-soft and medium-firm.
Mattress support is NOT the same thing as the mattress firmness.
The firmness is how ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ the mattress feels when you lie on it – whilst the level of support refers specifically to the mattress’ ability to support your spine correctly.
For example, a memory foam mattress with ‘good’ or adequate support won’t cause you to feel any back pain having slept on it.
The thickness of your memory foam mattress can influence the overall feel.
For example if you’re over 200 lbs and your mattress is less than 10 inches in thickness – with a comfort layer less than 4 inches in total – then there’s a chance that you may sink too far into the mattress and touch the support core below.
This phenomenon might make the mattress feel firmer and possibly very uncomfortable.
Your primary sleeping position will influence how your memory foam mattress feels to you.
For example, sleeping on your side may increase the amount of pressure on your hips and shoulders – which would mean that you’d probably be better off with a medium or medium-soft memory foam mattress depending on your body weight to increase the amount of pressure relief.
(Check out the best mattresses for side sleepers here).
Conversely, if you sleep mainly on your back or front, then you’ll want your memory foam mattress to feel a bit firmer and have good support in order to keep your hips and spine correctly aligned and avoid back pain.
The heavier you are, then the more ‘give’ your memory foam mattress will feel like it has.
This means that you’d probably be better off with a medium-firm or firm mattress to increase the surface tension and stop you from feeling like you’re ‘stuck’ in the material.
Whilst the lighter you are, then the more you’ll feel like you’re ‘on top’ of the mattress.
This means that you’ll probably require a medium-soft or soft level of firmness depending on your body weight to relieve the pressure on your hips, back, and shoulders.
Responsiveness refers to how quickly the foam adjusts to your body as you move around.
Memory foam typically has a slow to average response time.
This means that you may find it harder to switch positions during the night or even go from lying to sitting in the morning.
Why Choose a Memory Foam Mattress?
If you’re a side-sleeper or suffer from pain that increases when you lie down – a memory foam mattress could be perfect for you because the pressure relieving qualities of the foam can remove discomfort from your hips, shoulders, and back.
Many hypoallergenic mattresses are made from memory foam to help reduce the symptoms of dust mite, pollen, and pet dander allergies because the outer layers are more resistant to allergen uptake when compared to innerspring mattresses.
Memory foam mattresses are also very good at absorbing any movements made by your bed partner during the night – which can result in a sounder night’s rest for you.
If you’re a lighter-weight sleeper that typically gets aches and pains when sleeping on innerspring mattresses, then a memory foam top layer can allow you to sink into the mattress more to experience pressure relief – the degree of which will be influenced by the mattress firmness, your exact body weight, and sleeping position.
What Are the Drawbacks to Memory Foam?
The biggest drawback with memory foam it its tendency to retain heat and make you feel uncomfortable.
However, most mattress companies go to great lengths to ensure that their brand offers ‘superior’ cooling properties – typically through the addition of gel or graphite, convoluted foam layers, open cell foam, cooling fabric covers, separate gel layers, and other cooling features.
It’s also worth noting that even though memory foam mattress can have excellent pain relieving qualities, if you get the wrong firmness – or the support core isn’t dense enough – you could actually end up with aches and pains (this happened to me when I slept on a memory foam mattress that was too soft).
Low quality memory foam mattresses are also prone to indentation and sagging – so getting a mattress that’s made from high quality materials is paramount.
Lastly, memory foam mattresses are sometimes subject to off-gassing – meaning that they may smell ‘new’ for a few days or weeks.
Look for CertiPUR-US® foams – since they are low in VOC’s (Volatile Organic Compounds) and do not include harmful substances such as formaldehyde, mercury, lead, and other heavy metals .
Who Makes the Best Memory Foam Mattresses?
I like the AS range from Amerisleep.
Because their mattresses are made from high quality materials, can help you sleep cool, and cover a range of firmnesses making them suitable for a huge array of sleepers.
Click the button below to read my in-depth Amerisleep mattress reviews.
What is a Latex Mattress?
A latex mattress contains latex foam.
Latex mattresses are similar to memory foam mattresses in that they both provide custom pressure relief and support.
But a latex mattress typically responds faster than memory foam; has more ‘bounce’, better airflow, and is naturally hypoallergenic, but doesn’t provide as much motion isolation.
What Are the Different Types of Latex Mattresses?
As listed below, latex mattresses can be made from different types of latex and may be subject to different manufacturing processes.
Latex foam – stock image used with permission.
Natural latex mattresses are made from Hevea milk harvested from the sap of rubber trees.
Such mattresses will typically be the most expensive because natural latex is very durable, limits off-gassing, has eco appeal, and is good for people who are allergic to synthetic latex.
Often, mattress companies will say that their latex mattress is ‘natural’ but in reality, may only include a 100% natural top layer with the rest of the layers being synthetic – watch out for companies that don’t clearly state the percentage of natural latex included in their mattress as a whole.
Synthetic latex mattresses are often made from SBR (styrene-butadiene rubber).
Such mattresses have the same general feel as natural latex but may have less bounce and lack the same level of durability.
Some people might be allergic to synthetic latex.
Mattresses with blended latex typically combine natural and synthetic materials at a 70:30 ratio – with synthetic latex being the dominant component.
Talalay Latex (Process)
Talalay latex is a type of blended latex (and never 100% natural) that’s processed in a way that results in a softer feeling foam by filling the mould with air during manufacturing.
Talalay latex is often favoured for its lighter feel and arguably better cooling properties when compared to the Dunlop process – making it a primary component of the upper ‘comfort’ layers of many latex mattresses.
Dunlop Latex (Process)
Dunlop latex is a type of blended latex that’s crafted in a complete mould without the addition of air.
This means that Dunlop latex is typically preferred over Talalay latex if a denser material is required – making it more suitable for the lower support layers of a latex mattress and can help to guard against sagging too.
What Does a Latex Mattress Feel Like?
A latex mattress typically feels more ‘springy’ than a memory foam mattress and has less ‘hug’ due to latex’s reduced ability to mould to your exact body shape.
This means that you’ll typically find it easier to move around in the mattress and sit up – potentially somewhat similar to that of an innerspring mattress.
And whilst latex mattresses do come in a range of firmnesses, they tend to have a ‘firmer’ feel to them overall.
Latex also tends to be naturally more breathable than memory foam and is thus probably better for you if you tend to sleep hot.
What Are the Drawbacks to Latex?
The main downside to latex is that it’s motion isolation properties aren’t as good as what memory foam can offer – making latex a potentially inferior choice if you have to deal with a wriggly bed partner.
Latex mattresses can also be subject to off-gassing as with memory foam mattresses.
And lastly, latex mattresses might be more expensive than memory foam in many cases.
Why Choose a Latex Mattress?
A latex mattress might be better than a memory foam mattress if you are a ‘combo sleeper’ that changes positions often during the night because the added ‘bounce’ can help you transition more easily between positions without getting stuck in the materials.
If you have allergies that are brought on by dust mites, pollen, mould, or pet dander then a natural latex mattress might be the way to go because the material can stop these allergens accumulating in the materials.
If you’re a heavier side sleeper, a latex mattress might be the better option because it can provide enough firmness to stop you sinking too far into the bed whilst simultaneously relieving pressure on your hips and shoulders.
Memory Foam vs Latex Mattresses
So which is better – memory foam or a latex mattress?
Well, I don’t think there’s one clear ‘winner’ here since it comes down to your preferences.
Check out the table below to see how memory foam compares with latex head-to-head.
What’s the Best Choice For You?
I’ve already covered many of the similarities and differences throughout this post, but here’s a tabulated summary for you for easy reference.
|Pressure/Pain Relief:||Good||Average – good|
|Sleeping Cool:||Poor – good||Good|
|Motion Isolation:||Good||Average – poor|
|Changing Position:||More effort||Easier|
|Average Lifespan:||7 – 10 years||10 – 12+ years|
Need Help Choosing Your Mattress?
If you’re still struggling to find your ideal mattress – click the button below.
Where I’ll show you how to pick out the right kind of mattress for you based on the key factors such as your sleeping position, body weight, and special requirements such as allergies and sleeping with a partner.
It’s only 6 steps long and it will simplify the entire buying process for you.
Sources and References
 CertiPUR-US® – CertiPUR-US Certified Foams. Accessed 5/1/19.
No part of this post or website should be interpreted as medical advice – always consult with a qualified professional when buying a mattress or other product based on your health needs.
Dan is the founder and head content creator at Bedroom Style Reviews.
He has been working as a professional online product reviewer since 2015 and was inspired to start this website when he ended up sleeping on a memory foam mattress that was too soft and gave him backache.
Through in-depth research and analysis, Dan’s goal with this website is to help others avoid such pitfalls by creating the best online resource for helping you find your ideal mattress, bedding, and bedroom furniture.
Dan is a qualified NVQ Level 2 Fitness Instructor with 6 years’ experience helping clients improve their health through diet, exercise, and proper sleep hygiene.
He also holds several college and university-level qualifications in health sciences, psychology, mathematics, art, and digital media creation – which helps him to publish well researched and informative product reviews as well as articles on sleep, health, wellbeing, and home decor.
Dan also has direct personal experience with insomnia, anxiety, misophonia (hypersensitivity to sounds), and pain from both acute and long-standing sporting injuries – he enjoys writing insightful articles around these subjects to help fellow sufferers of such conditions.
Learn more about Dan here.