Memory foam mattress vs memory foam bed topper: Which should you buy?

A woman with dark curly hair sleeps on her side in a pink nightdress
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Memory foam mattresses and bed toppers can provide outstanding pressure relief and comfort, but which should you buy? In this memory foam mattress vs memory foam bed topper piece, we'll explore the benefits and drawbacks of the two, and which one is better for your sleep.

Memory foam is found in a lot of this year's best mattresses and bed toppers thanks to its soothing, body-contouring feel. Mattresses often use the material as a comfort layer while the best mattress toppers use it to add extra softness to a firm bed. 

Here, we'll explore the key differences between memory foam mattresses vs mattress toppers in terms of pressure relief, motion isolation, and support. Plus, we'll take a look at which suits your budget more and the best memory foam mattresses and bed toppers to buy in the extended Memorial Day mattress sales.

What is a memory foam mattress? 

The layers of the Nectar Memory Foam Mattress featuring gel memory foam

(Image credit: Nectar Sleep)

A memory foam mattress is any mattress that has an all-foam design which features memory foam and does not include springs or coils. The best memory foam mattresses usually feature multiple layers of foam, including a top layer gel-infused memory foam for a cooler, comfier sleep. High-density foam usually sits at the bottom for more stability, while a breathable, soft cover usually sits at the top. 

What is a memory foam mattress topper? 

A memory foam mattress topper is a thin pad of memory foam (usually around 2" to 4" thick) that's placed on top of mattresses to add extra cushioning. The best memory foam mattress toppers not only add softness to firm beds, but can also prolong the life of older mattresses and deliver temperature regulation to beds that sleep too warm through cooling gel infusions and heat-dissipating fabrics. 

Memory foam mattress vs memory foam bed topper: Price

As they do not provided a stand-alone sleep surface, memory foam bed toppers are much cheaper than memory foam mattresses. In fact, there are plenty of best cheap mattress toppers under $50, with some priced below $40 for a twin size. However, if you want a top-quality memory foam mattress topper, you may have to pay a lot more than $50, with a typical MSRP price range of $150 for a twin to $300 for a king.

The Puffy Deluxe Mattress Topper on plain background.

(Image credit: Puffy)

While the best memory foam bed toppers will usually cost over $100, they're much more affordable than splurging on a full-fledged memory foam mattress or a mattress topper made of premium materials such as Talalay latex and organic wool. In fact, memory foam mattress toppers are often used as a good stopgap when you're saving up for a new mattress. 

However, plenty of the best cheap mattresses match the price of a memory foam mattress topper. For example, the Siena Memory Foam Mattress (the top budget pick in our best mattresses for stomach sleepers guide) is regularly priced at $199 for a twin, only $40 more than a twin Puffy Deluxe Mattress Topper (our best pick for memory foam mattress topper). 

Memory foam mattress vs memory foam bed topper: Pressure relief

Woman sleeping on her side

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Memory foam mattress often provide the better pressure relief than hybrid, innerspring, and latex mattresses thanks to their multiple comfort layers of body-contouring memory foam. They're often recommended to those who sleep on their side, as the best mattresses for side sleepers need to provide cushioning relief along the three key side-sleeping pressure points: shoulders, hips, and knees. 

Meanwhile, most memory foam mattress toppers are designed to specifically add cloud-like pressure relief to a hard bed, and usually have lower firmness ratings. Also, while memory foam bed toppers tend to have a medium, medium-firm, or medium-firm feel, there are plenty of firm memory foam mattress that don't have the traditional "hug" of memory foam. 

Memory foam mattress vs memory foam bed topper: Motion isolation

Woman looks at her sleeping partner in bed

(Image credit: Getty/Maskot)

Motion isolation is how well your mattress can absorb the restless movements of someone you share a bed with. Memory foam mattresses are praised for their ability to limit motion transfer as the slow-moving memory foam absorbs movements remarkably well. However, gel-infused memory foam can be a bit bouncier, but it still offers better motion isolation that latex, hybrid, and innerspring beds. 

The same goes for memory foam mattress toppers, but some bed toppers do have a tendency to shift around on the mattress, even if they have an anti-shift bottom cover or anchor straps to keep in place. 

Memory foam mattress vs memory foam bed topper: Comfort & support

Both memory foam mattresses and toppers are great for adding comfort, as memory foam provides a body-cradling, cushioning surface. You can find plush, medium, and firm memory foam mattress toppers and mattresses, as they come in different firmness levels. 

Memory foam has a tendency to trap heat, but there are plenty of memory foam beds and toppers that use cooling features to offset the effect. For example, memory foam toppers and mattress are often infused with cooling substances such as polymer gel, copper, charcoal, and graphite and have covers made from breathable materials such as soft knit, cotton, and wool. In fact some of the best cooling mattresses and toppers feature memory foam. 

A woman with long dark hair sleeps under a white duvet with her bare arms on show

(Image credit: Getty Images)

In terms of support, both memory foam toppers and mattresses lack springs and coils (which are great for adding sturdy support especially for back pain). However, many memory foam mattresses do use a bottom layer of high-density foam for a strong, sturdy base. 

Memory foam mattress toppers, meanwhile, are only as supportive as the mattress beneath them. Mattress toppers should only be paired with mattresses that are still supportive, and should not be placed on a mattress that's more than 10 years old and has significant sagging and damage. 

For a memory foam mattress to provide decent comfort and support, it needs to be at least 10" tall, while a memory foam topper should be between 2" and 4" thick. 

Memory foam mattress vs memory foam bed topper: Which should you choose?

Buy a memory foam mattress if...

 Your mattress is over 10 years old and damaged. No memory foam mattress topper will fix a sagging, aging mattress that's lost its support.

✅ You share a bed with a restless partner. If you need motion isolation, then a memory foam bed will do a better job at providing this as toppers tend to shift. 

✅ You need more support. Memory foam toppers are usually designed to add comfort not support, so a memory foam bed is the better option here.

Buy a memory foam mattress topper if...

✅ Your mattress is too firm. Memory foam mattress toppers are perfect for breaking in a new mattress or adding softness and pressure relief to a hard bed.

✅ You're on a tight budget. Memory foam mattress toppers are much cheaper than memory foam beds, and are a perfect cost-effective stopgap if you're saving up for a new bed.

 Your mattress is still supportive and under 10 years old. If your mattress is under 10 years old and still provides enough support, there's no need to fork out for a new full-fledged bed - instead, add a memory foam topper to give it a refresh. 

The top 5 memory foam mattresses and toppers to buy in today’s sales

1. Puffy Deluxe Mattress Topper: $179$152 at Puffy

1. Puffy Deluxe Mattress Topper: from $179 $152 at Puffy
Our Puffy Deluxe Mattress Topper review found the 2.5-inch thick memory foam mattress topper to be perfect for adding a body-contouring feel to any mattress, and is available in both Soft and Firm. The 15% off sale brings the queen-size topper to $195, and you can enjoy a 101-night trial and lifetime warranty.

2. Lucid Gel Memory Foam Topper: $49.99 $39.99 at Lucid Mattress
Reviewers for our

2. Lucid Gel Memory Foam Topper:from $49.99 $39.99 at Lucid Mattress
Reviewers for our Lucid Gel Memory Foam Mattress Topper review were impressed with its gel-infused foam and ventilated design that added some great temperature regulation. It comes in three different height options (2", 3", or 4") and is best for side sleepers in need of cushioning pressure relief. Right now there's an extended Memorial Day sale at Lucid which knocks 20% off, bringing a queen to $55.99. Sometimes, there's even a flash one-day sale that knocks 30% off, too, but this deal can't be predicted. 

3. Bear Original Mattress: $786$511 at Bear

3. Bear Original Mattress: from $786 $511 at Bear
Our Bear Original mattress review loved this bed's excellent price, motion isolation, and edge support. There was a flash Bear mattress sale for Memorial Day that knocked 40% off, but the standard 35% off deal  plus sleep bundle is still a great deal. Right now a queen size is $649. 

4. Siena Memory Foam Mattress: $499 $199 at Siena Sleep

4. Siena Memory Foam Mattress: from $499 $199 at Siena Sleep
Our testers for our thorough Siena Memory Foam Mattress review loved the edge support and firm support this bed delivered, and were impressed with its temperature regulation, too. Thanks to an evergreen Siena mattress sale, you can get up to 60% off all sizes, with a queen size down from $799 to $399. 

5.Nectar Memory Foam Mattress: 699 $349 at Nectar Sleep

5. Nectar Memory Foam Mattress: from 699 $349 at Nectar Sleep
In our Nectar Memory Foam mattress review, our expert testers loved how cool it slept for a an all-foam bed and the pressure relief it provided to all sleep positions. An evergreen Nectar mattress sale means you can always get 40% off this bed, so a queen will cost you $649.

Frances Daniels
Sleep Staff Writer

Frances Daniels is a Sleep Staff Writer at Tom's Guide and her role includes covering all mattress and sleep news, in addition to mattress reviews and buyer's guides, plus sleep accessories such as pillows and mattress toppers. Frances is a PPA-accredited journalist and is hugely interested in the relationship between good sleep and overall health. When not writing about mattresses and sleep for Tom's Guide, Frances enjoys writing about women's issues, health and wellbeing, the environment, and her native Wales.