With the popularity of the whole foam mattress, the question has become “which is better, spring or foam based mattresses?”.  As I have worked on the design of a luxury brand orthopedic mattress myself, it became imperative to research this topic and best understand the differences.  I encourage you to do the same before making a significant purchase on an item you will spend 1/3 of your life laying on. 

The spring mattress has been around for many years and has sustained the market presence of waterbeds, air chamber beds and many other gimmicks that have come and gone.  The advantages of this system is that the springs tend to last a long time and maintain some level of support when paired with the right topper (more on this support issue later).  The top of these mattresses can be made of many different materials including memory foam, goose down, latex and shredded or corrugated foams.  This can determine the plush feel that the mattress will offer.  When studying how a spring mattress adjusts to the human frame when considering normal spinal curvatures, width and weight bearing of the shoulders and hips, the spring mattress has some significant shortcomings.  Using the most simple common sense approach to how a spring reacts to pressure, when you push down on the spring, it wants to push back.  With the shoulders and hips being both the heaviest and widest segments of the frame, ideal pressure relief would allow these segments to absorb into the mattress rather than being pushed or “sprung” back.  This effect leads to many of the sleep issues that cause numbness and tingling in the hands and arms and cramps and restlessness in the legs.  This effect also reduces the balance of weight distribution across the body frame.  For these reasons, this is why I lean toward a well designed foam mattress for overall orthopedic health and comfort.

The foam mattress has come a long way in design and popularity.  Before purchasing one of these forms of bed, some research and understanding also should be studied.  The 2 most popular foams used in these mattresses are visco-elastic memory foam and latex.  The first most important thing to understand is that not all of these foams are the same.  The foams used in mattresses have varying densities that determine the softness and also the lifespan before they begin to flatten and lose shape.  This is why some foam mattresses don’t last very long before they start to show flat spots in the areas of heaviest weight bearing and others show little or no wear for years.  The type of chemical materials used in the construction of foams can be very important in your choice of a foam mattress.  The most commonly used foams are petroleum based and can lead to off-gassing of hazardous fumes that can be very harmful to your health over prolonged exposure.  The foams that I chose when designing our system used mostly botanical (plant based) derivatives to manufacture the foam leading to a significant reduction in the release of these toxic gas.  Typically if you can smell the foam and it smells like chemicals, you should avoid it.

The design of the foam mattress began and still is most commonly one large block of foam on a base of heavier polyurethane.  I never understood this concept as the body will tend to sink into the mattress in the heavy areas and float in the lighter ones.  This effect is similar to a waterbed and is not ideal for support or orthopedic benefit.  The best foam mattresses utilize different densities of foams over several layers to allow the human frame to contour into the bed supporting the imperfect shape of the body and balancing weight bearing over the entire frame.  Many of the memory foams also rely on body heat to perform the unique quality of contouring and shaping to the user which can lead to an uncomfortable retention of heat when lying on it for long periods.  Heat retention is one of the most common reasons for returns of foam based mattresses.  My recommendation in this aspect is to pick a bed that has a heat resistant barrier in it’s cover such as bamboo which offers this effect.  Foams with cooling gels integrated into the manufacturing have also become popular and are a good choice when considering this pitfall.

In conclusion we have determined that spring mattresses are not ideal because of the recoil effect of the springs and that foam mattresses can be better if the mattress has quality foams with appropriate density, the mattress contains varying layers of different foams to contour and support the body, that it uses botanically based materials in manufacturing and that is has some form of barrier to heat retention.  With most foam sleep systems, you get what you pay for, but be careful because many of the popular brands have heavy margins built into the price to pay for their expensive marketing campaigns.  Some of the smaller brand names and boutique designed foam mattresses come at a better price point with higher quality materials. It is my hope that this outline assists you if finding the best fit for your budget and healthy sleep cycle.

Rob Schroeder

Dr. Rob Schroeder is President and CEO of Innate Sleep Orthopedic Sleep Systems and designed the premier orthopedic mattress in the industry with sales primarily in health professional office settings. This mattress has been chosen by PGA Tour professionals, athletes and top physicians as their choice in sleep systems.

He is also CEO of Indy Health and Fitness, a multi-service sports performance and rehabilitation center in Indianapolis, Indiana.

In addition, he continues to maintain a thriving Chiropractic practice with a patient list of some of the most recognizable names in professional athletics and motor sports. Indy Health and Fitness Center is a destination for motor sports performance and fitness and serves as a staple for athletic development at all levels.

Educational background is a bachelor in Kinesiology,Masters level work in exercise physiology and Chiropractic Doctorate from Palmer-West.

He is a sought after speaker in the seminar circuits and has several published trade related articles in the topics of sleep health and exercise physiology. He also serves on many advisory and executive boards for his knowledge and experience in health care and sports performance.

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