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Memory foam vs latex mattresses: Which one is best for your sleep?

Memory foam vs latex mattresses: image shows the Nectar mattress on the left and the Saatva Latex Hybrid on the right
(Image credit: Nectar / Saatva)

With so many different mattresses on the market, it can be hard to know which type will suit your sleep needs. Two of the most popular options, and both of which you’ll find in our best mattress guide, are memory foam and latex. 

Both mattress types are frequently compared to each other as they’re both layered foam beds designed to adapt to a sleeper’s body. The best memory foam mattresses are normally more affordable than latex models, but you’ll be hard pressed to find a more durable foam than natural latex. 

As with all mattresses, there are pros and cons to each type. Our guide talks you through both materials so that you can make the right choice for your sleep. With the Memorial Day mattress sales approaching, we’ll soon start seeing good savings on both types.

Memory foam vs latex mattresses: What is a latex mattress?

  • Latex mattresses are bouncy and highly responsive
  • Latex mattresses are cooling, durable and long-lasting
  • They can be constructed from natural, synthetic or blended latex

Latex foam in its true sense is made from raw, natural latex harvested from rubber trees. You will also come across synthetic latex, which is constructed from a very scientific-sounding styrene-butadiene rubber (SBR). Natural latex is a very popular material among the best organic mattresses, especially cooling models.

Memory foam vs latex mattresses: Image shows the Saatva Latex Hybrid Mattress on a light coloured bedframe, and covered with a natural colour bed throw

The Saatva Latex Hybrid (pictured) is naturally hypoallergenic and repels dust mites and common allergens (Image credit: Saatva)

There are also a number of ways to manufacture latex, with the two most common being the Dunlop and Talalay processes. Dunlop latex tends to feel a little denser at the bottom of the foam, whereas Talalay latex is less dense but more consistent.

A latex mattress feels bouncy, offers a fast response time and allows for a little body sinkage and compression. This means it’s easier to move around on and prevents you from feeling ‘stuck’ in the mattress, which can occur with some denser types of memory foam - although that's the big appeal for some. 

Latex is naturally cooling and many use aerated latex foams, as found in the best cooling mattresses. These have air pockets integrated into the molding of the foam. Natural latex is also extremely durable (synthetic less so) and it’s not unusual for a high-end latex mattress to last over 20 years. (For more guidance, read our feature on how long does a mattress last).

Memory foam vs latex mattresses: What is a memory foam mattress?

  • Memory foam mattresses provide the best pressure relief
  • They hug and contour the body for excellent, all-over support
  • Memory foam beds are usually far cheaper than latex mattresses

Memory foam is a type of polyurethane foam, a synthetic foam material. Its technical name is viscoelastic polyurethane foam, but we’ll stick with using the more popular term of memory foam for this article.

The Nectar Memory Foam Mattress on a light wooden bed frame and dressed with a white comforter and pillows

The Nectar Original is one of America's most famous memory foam beds, and it comes with a Lifetime Warranty (Image credit: Nectar Sleep)

The material was originally developed by NASA in the 1960s for use in the inside of aircraft seats, and over time it has trickled down to mattresses and other consumer goods. Polyurethane is treated with certain chemicals to increase its density and viscosity, causing the material to react with your body heat and slowly adapt to the shape of your curves. 

So memory foam is not a single material but rather a wide classification for a group of similar foams. This means you’ll find memory foam available in a variety of firmness ratings and with a number of different response times (how long it takes to respond to your body, then to bounce back afterwards). 

It’s also often aerated or cut in various ways to promote airflow and can be infused with a number of cooling materials such as gel, copper or graphite. The feel of memory foam is very distinctive, with deep pressure relief every second you lie on it. This makes it a popular choice with people who have joint pain.

Memory foam vs latex mattresses: Key differences

  • Memory foam is man-made; latex is all-natural (apart from blended latex)
  • Memory foam mattresses offers better motion isolation than latex
  • Latex mattresses are bouncier and responsive, but motion isolation is less

Not all mattresses are created equal and you will find differences depending on the quality of the latex or memory foam within yours, whether you are shopping in store or you are online hunting down the best mattress in a box for your budget.

But there are some key differences between the two types of foam that you’ll find across the board. Here are the four big ones:

Feel – Latex has an extremely bouncy and responsive feel to it, while memory foam doesn't. Latex does compress and adapt to the shape of your body, but it doesn’t offer the distinctive cradling, body-hugging feel that you get with memory foam.

Memory foam slowly adapts to the shape of your body when you lie down and returns to its original form as you move. Latex is more responsive and these mattresses are easier to get out of.

A woman with dark hair sleeps on a memory foam mattress dressed with white pillows and sheets

(Image credit: Getty)

Support – Both types of foam offer excellent support and do a a great job of keeping your spine aligned during relaxation and sleep. Over time though, latex will win out with its superior durability.

That's because memory foam will eventually start to sag and not regain its shape when a sleeper moves, which reduces support. Latex tends to retain its shape and remains supportive throughout its lifespan.

Body type – Because memory foam is designed to allow sleepers to sink into the material its best suited to sleepers who weigh less than 200lbs. Heavier sleepers may find that the foam has too much give and loses support. Latex is ideally suited to heavier sleepers.

Sleep style – Back and side sleepers will find that the body hug of memory foam supports the pressure points they are creating while they sleep. Namely, on their hips, shoulders, back and knees. If you are a dominant side snoozer, take a look at our guide to the best mattress for side sleepers.

Stomach sleepers should find latex buoyant enough to keep their hips lifted and in line with their shoulders. Combination sleepers will also like latex mattresses, as they allow them to easily change position through the night, but memory foam is also a good choice here.

Memory foam vs latex mattresses: Benefits

Motion transfer – If you share a bed with a restless partner who tosses and turns at night, memory foam is your friend. The body-hugging feel of the mattress makes it harder for sleepers to toss and turn at night, but also reduces the impact of any movement on the person sharing the bed.

Pressure relief – Well-mad mattresses help alleviate pain at pressure points (think neck, hips and shoulders). Memory foam is particularly effective here as it adapts directly to the shape of your body and cushions common problem areas. Latex also contours and provides excellent pressure relief, but memory foam trumps it.

A man in a white long sleeve t-shirt places his hand on a mattress

(Image credit: Getty)

Cooling – Memory foam naturally tends to absorb and trap body heat, while latex is far better at remaining at a neutral temperature. 

This doesn’t mean that memory foam is no good if you sleep hot. But you do need to look for memory foam that has either been infused with other cooling materials, such as gel, copper or graphite, or foam that is open-cell and is aerated.

Durability – Latex is far more durable than memory foam, which will sag over time and not regain its shape. Natural latex retains its springiness throughout its lifespan. You’ll often find that latex mattresses have far longer warranties as they’re expected to have a longer lifetime. For more guidance, read on feature on how do mattress warranties work.

Memory foam vs latex mattresses: Prices and deals

  • Latex mattresses are more expensive but last longer
  • Memory foam mattresses are cheaper but not as durable
  • Most months you'll find discounts on both types of mattress

Each month there are plenty of good mattress sales around, with reductions on both memory foam and latex models. Our favorite memory foam bed is still the Nectar mattress, which currently starts at $499 thanks to $100 off plus $399 of free gifts (opens in new tab) at Nectar. For more on this mattress, read our Nectar Memory Foam Mattress review.

Whether you want a pure memory foam or hybrid mattress (foam and coils), there are some brands we'd recommend. These include Saatva, Emma Sleep, DreamCloud, and Helix Sleep. We've included a few of our favorites for you below.

On the latex front, there are usually some good discounts on these mattresses too, though the prices still remain higher. For a more affordable choice, we'd recommend the Awara Natural Luxury Hybrid mattress, priced from $899 thanks to $200 off plus $499 of free gifts (opens in new tab) at Awara.

For some of the most luxurious latex mattresses on the market, look no further than the Saatva Latex Hybrid Mattress, priced from $1,199 at Saatva (opens in new tab). Let's take a closer look at some of these now...

Nectar Memory Foam Mattress: from $499 at Nectar (opens in new tab)
Save up to $499
- We recommend the Nectar Original as an excellent mid-range memory foam boxed mattress for all sleep positions and most body weights. Not only will you save $100 on the mattress, but you'll get up to $399 worth of free bedding too, including includes pillows and sheets.

Saatva Latex Hybrid Mattress: from $1,199 at Saatva (opens in new tab)
Save up to $250
- The Saatva Latex mattress is a luxury, handcrafted bed made in the US. As its naturally hypoallergenic, the latex repels dust mites, mold and other allergens. The discounts vary week by week in the Saatva mattress sale (opens in new tab), but this is one we see quite reguarly.

Awara Natural Hybrid Mattress: from $899 at Awara (opens in new tab)
Save up to $499
- Like the Nectar above, the Awara mattress comes on a 365-night risk-free trial and is covered by a Forever Warranty. It's made with natural latex, organic New Zealand wool and organic cotton for non-toxic sleep.

Tempur-Pedic Tempur Adapt: from $1,899 at Tempur Pedic (opens in new tab)
Tempur-Pedic is famous for its own highly comforting take on memory foam. This magic material is called Tempur, and it contours to your body and relieves all pressure on your pressure points throughout your night's sleep. The Tempur Adapt is one of the best in its range and is often included in the Tempur-Pedic mattress sale (opens in new tab).

If you’re ready to invest in a new mattress but still aren’t quite sure which type to go for, our feature on how to choose a mattress will give you some great tips.

Memory foam vs latex mattresses: Which should you buy?

In the battle of memory foam vs latex mattresses, there are a huge number of excellent options to choose from. If you want a natural mattress that’s also hypoallergenic, natural latex is the one to go for. It's the same with mattress toppers.

Latex is also the better choice for anyone looking for a bouncy and responsive mattress that allows the sleeper to move about with ease. Latex mattresses are also hard to beat for longevity and durability.

If you’re on a small budget, memory foam is cheaper than latex. These mattresses also offer the best pressure relief, with the sinkage of memory foam allowing for body contouring and sinking into the mattress. But if you sleep hot and your heart is set on memory foam, choose one with added cooling materials or aerated foam. 

Whichever type of mattress you opt for, make sure that it comes with a decent trial period and warranty. Trial periods enable you to properly test out the mattress at home to ensure it's right for you. 

Most trials last for around 100 nights, giving you over three months to get used to the bed. If you change your mind during this time, you can return it for a refund. Make sure you use the best mattress protector for your budget to safeguard your bed from stains, spills and germs so that it lasts you longer.

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Jo Plumridge is an experienced mattress reviewer with several years' experience covering all things mattresses and sleep, and who tests memory foam, hybrid and organic mattresses. What Jo doesn't know about a boxed mattress isn't worth knowing, so naturally we tasked her with producing a series of features for Tom's Guide looking at all aspects of mattresses, from how to pick between latex and memory foam (it's a tricky one), to the seven mistakes people make when buying a mattress for the first time. When testing the DreamCloud Luxury Hybrid for Tom's Guide, Jo said: "I loved the back support and pressure relief it offered. Plus, it looks far more expensive than it is."