Memory Foam VS Pillow Top: Which One Is Better?

If you are after a new mattress that is both comfortable and supportive, you have come to the right place. Both memory foam and pillow top beds are plush and have just the right amount of give, so you can experience pressure relief without sinking. The top layer of both pillow top and memory foam mattresses feels quite similar, but the support systems underneath really set these beds apart from each other.

Most memory foam mattresses feature a high-density poly-foam core. It provides longevity, stability, and support. This dense foam is firm and is always the thickest layer in the mattress. By supporting the memory foam layers above, the base foam ensures long-lasting pressure point support and pain relief.

When it comes to pillow top mattresses, the support system we find inside is usually innerspring coils. Occasionally, the core of pillow top beds can feature a transition layer made with latex or even memory foam, but that’s rare. Most often, it’s just a spring support system inside that offers targeted pressure point relief and keeps the spine aligned as you sleep.

Now that we’ve discussed the key difference between memory foam and pillow top beds, let’s have a look at both mattress types in more detail. 

Memory Foam Mattresses

Memory foam is made from polyurethane foam, which is combined with certain chemicals for extra viscoelasticity. It responds to body heat and pressure as it contours and supports the sleeper. Memory foam bounces back to its original shape slowly so it can contour closely to the body.

The comfort layer of all-foam mattresses is usually memory foam. Underneath, there is either an additional layer of memory foam in a different firmness or the previously mentioned high-density poly-foam base. Of course, there are plenty of design and layer variations, and many brands use different types of memory foam, too. 

Types of Memory Foam

There are three main types of memory foam on the market today:

  • Traditional memory foam
  • Partially plant-based memory foam
  • Infused memory foam (gel, copper, graphite)

Each type has unique features that affect the overall feel and function of the mattress.

Traditional Memory Foam

The traditional memory foam used today is the closest example to the original design that was introduced to the mattress industry in the 90s. Since then, this type of foam was upgraded slightly, but the overall function, advantages, and disadvantages stayed almost the same. 

The original memory foam featured closed-cell design, which used to trap heat within the mattress. Now, most traditional memory foam beds have an open-cell design, which improved this issue a little but did not get rid of it overall. 

Traditional memory foam mattresses are the most budget-friendly of the three types. They are cost-effective to manufacture and affordable to purchase, but they don’t always provide a good night’s sleep because they trap heat. 

Plant-Based Memory Foam

To improve the breathability and minimize the chances of off-gassing, some mattress brands began replacing a portion of petroleum-based chemicals with plant-based substitutes. This, in turn, created a partially plant-based memory foam that’s more eco-friendly and features even larger open-cells. 

Overall, plant-based memory foam is a lot more breathable than traditional memory foam. It doesn’t trap heat as much, it’s more buoyant, and it produces less off-gassing. 

Infused Memory Foam

The third type of memory foam available on the market today is infused memory foam. It was invented with one goal—to improve temperature control.

Because traditional memory foam tends to trap heat, mattress companies began infusing it with various cooling agents. The most common ones are gel, graphite, and copper.

Gel can be added as a layer on top of the memory foam. It can also be swirled into the foam or inserted in the form of gel beads. Whichever the method, gel memory foam works by absorbing excess body heat and slowly dissipating it into the mattress. 

Copper and graphite also effectively absorb and dissipate heat. Both are natural elements that are heat-conductive and anti-microbial, making them an excellent cooling agent for a mattress. They get injected into the memory foam in small particles during the manufacturing process. This then creates a cool, responsive, and clean bed. 

Advantages of a Memory Foam Mattress

Pressure and Pain Relief

Because of its natural conforming abilities, memory foam provides excellent pressure point support and pain relief. It contours to the body, allowing the hips and the shoulders to sink down while keeping the legs and head evenly supported. This naturally aligns the spine, making memory foam beds perfect for sleepers with back pain and hip pain

Durability

Memory foam beds last longer than innerspring mattresses. The higher quality foam, the longer the mattress will serve you. Durability also heavily depends on the density of the memory foam. Higher density equals a more sturdy foam, which automatically increases the mattress’s longevity. 

Firmness

Because memory foam beds have been around for so long, they are available in many firmness levels. This ensures that no matter what type of sleeper you are, you can find a memory foam mattress suited to your needs.

Disadvantages of a Memory Foam Mattress

Heat Retention

As discussed above, memory foam tends to trap heat. Plant-based memory foam and infused memory foam tackle this issue quite effectively, but they still don’t compare to other more breathable mattress types, such as the innerspring. 

Off-Gassing

Because of its part petroleum-based chemicals, memory foam does release a certain smell when it’s first unpacked. The cooling agents and plant-based chemical replacements can dissipate the odor faster, but traditional memory foam may have a chemical smell for quite some time.

Poor Edge Support

Because this type of mattress is made from foam only, there is usually no reinforced edge support within. This means that most all-foam mattresses will not excel in edge support, making getting in and out of the bed more difficult. 

Pillow Top Mattresses

A pillow top is essentially a layer of plush padding sewn on top of a mattress. Most commonly, it’s found on top of innerspring beds, but it can sometimes be seen on latex and even memory foam mattresses too. 

Pillow top padding can be made from a variety of different materials, such as cotton, wool, down, memory foam, latex foam, or fiberfill. It acts as a comfort layer and provides extra cushioning and pressure point relief. 

The difference between a regular pillow top and Euro top is that a pillow top goes visibly on top of the bed, while the Euro top goes under the cover. However, both paddings provide the same advantages—improved pressure point support, spinal alignment, and pain relief.

Advantages of a Pillow Top Mattress

Pressure and Pain Relief

The pillow top layer offers extra contouring and plushness. This improves pressure point relief and keeps the spine aligned as you sleep. Innerspring pillow top mattresses are especially effective at pressure point and pain relief. The coils allow the mattress to adapt to the sleeper’s body, contouring each pressure point individually, while the padding on top provides plush comfort, relieving back, hip, and shoulder pain

Temperature Control and Breathability

Innerspring pillow tops are better at temperature control compared to memory foam. The breathability of the coil core is a lot more effective, which ensures heat won’t get trapped inside the mattress. However, if the pillow top is made with memory foam, some heat could still get trapped there.  

Good Edge Support

Innerspring mattresses usually feature reinforced edge support within the pocketed coil structure. This makes getting in and out of the bed easier, and it ensures that you won’t roll off the bed if you are a restless sleeper or sharing your bed with a partner. 

Disadvantages of a Pillow Top Mattress

Durability

Pillow tops typically only last 3-5 years. After this time, they tend to sag and lose their effectiveness in providing pressure point support and pain relief. Fortunately, you can always purchase a pillow top mattress topper as a replacement. However, this means investing extra money into a mattress you already invested in.  

Motion Transfer

Although pocketed coils are not bad at motion isolation, they still cannot be compared to any type of memory foam. So if you will be sharing your bed with a restless sleeper, you may want to skip the innerspring and go for the memory foam instead.

What’s Better: Memory Foam or Pillow Top?

As you can see, memory foam and pillow top mattresses are very similar in their functions. They’re both plush and provide plenty of comfort and pressure point support. They do have a number of differences too. To find out which mattress option would serve you better, look at your personal preferences and requirements. Only then will you be able to find the best mattress that will suit your needs.

This article is for informational purposes and should not replace advice from your doctor or other medical professional.

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