With all the types of mattresses on the market today, it can feel pretty overwhelming when you first start shopping for a new bed. Even narrowing down the type of new mattress you want doesn’t always feel helpful because there are so many different varieties of each mattress type.
If you sleep hot, you probably want to stay away from traditional memory foam mattresses. But if you don’t want to feel like you’re bouncing around on a bed of springs all night, an innerspring mattress likely isn’t for you either. The good news is there are a couple of middle-of-the-road alternatives that can both keep you cool and isolate motion: hybrids and gel memory foam.
In this post, we’ll talk about the differences between the two, their components, and how to choose the right one for you.
What is a Hybrid Mattress?
Just like a hybrid car combines a gasoline engine with an electric motor, a hybrid mattress combines an innerspring’s coil support layer with a foam comfort layer to make a mattress that both bounces and cushions.
A hybrid mattress fixes a lot of the issues inherent to innerspring and memory foam beds. The coil support core increases the bed’s responsiveness and provides airflow to a mattress that would otherwise have none. And a hybrid’s foam comfort layer helps reduce pressure from the coil support layer and its tendency to transfer motion—two of the biggest issues with an innerspring mattress.
Parts of a Hybrid
All hybrid beds have a pocketed coil support layer and at least two inches of foam in the comfort layer. But hybrids often have more than two inches of foam and/or several different layers of foam.
The comfort layer of a hybrid is made of contouring foam to relieve pressure points and support the body during sleep. A hybrid’s comfort layer can be latex foam, memory foam, gel memory foam, and more.
Not all hybrids have a transition layer, but many do. A hybrid’s transition layer is made with durable foam to improve the bed’s adaptability and reduce pressure from the coils in the support layer.
A hybrid’s pocketed coil system improves airflow and isolates motion. The springy coils also increase the bed’s responsiveness so sleepers can enjoy some bounce from their bed.
Some hybrids are made with a layer of sturdy poly-foam underneath the coil support core. A foam base layer can help protect the bottom of the coils from damage and also further reduce motion transfer.
Pros and Cons of Hybrids
When it comes to comfort and support, hybrids are hard to beat. However, they do have a few drawbacks. Probably the biggest con with a hybrid is the cost. It’s expensive to manufacture and compile all a hybrid’s components, so they’re usually a lot pricier than other mattress types of comparable quality. Another issue is the coils in a hybrid’s support layer tend to lose tension, causing the mattress to wear out faster than a memory foam or latex bed.
- More responsive than memory foam
- Coil support improves airflow
- Foam top layer supports and cushions the body
- Offers better motion isolation than an innerspring
- Comes in a wide variety of materials and configurations
- Heavier than an innerspring
- Not as durable as an all-foam bed
What is a Gel Memory Foam Mattress?
One of the biggest problems with traditional memory foam is it tends to retain heat. Before the advent of open-cell technology (adding tiny air pockets all over the foam to increase airflow), closed-cell memory foams were downright sweltering.
While open-cell technology has made memory foam cooler, some people still find them lacking in the temperature regulation department. Enter gel memory foam. Gel memory foam increases breathability or standard foam varieties.
To make gel memory foam mattresses, manufacturers may inject gel microbeads or swirl liquid gel into the liquid memory foam before baking it, or they might add a layer of pure cooling gel on top of a memory foam comfort layer. Regardless of how the gel is infused within the foam, it helps distribute body heat away from you, making for a cool night’s sleep.
Parts of a Gel Memory Foam Mattress
Memory foam mattresses and gel memory foam beds have several layers of foam stacked on top of one another, with each serving a unique purpose.
The comfort layer of a gel memory foam mattress is where the gel foam gets to work keeping you cool. This layer is made of soft or medium gel foam that offers relief to your pressure points and support to your body.
The transition layer in a memory foam mattress is made of firmer foam than what’s found in the comfort layer, but it’s still softer than the base layer. The transition layer helps protect your pressure points from the more durable support layer.
The support layer of a memory foam mattress is made of firm polyurethane foam. It provides stability to the upper layers and helps the mattress maintain its shape, preventing sagging.
Pros and Cons of Gel Memory Foam
When it comes to contouring, memory foam is like no other. It follows your curves, conforming to your body’s shape and offering both lift and cushioning. Memory foam also doesn’t have coils to break down, meaning it may last a bit longer than a hybrid mattress. Another good thing about memory foam is, as a general rule, mattresses made of it are cheaper than hybrids.
However, gel memory foam does have some issues. For one thing, a memory foam mattress has no coil support core, so airflow through it is restricted. That means even if the gel foam stays cool, the mattress could still retain moisture. Gel also doesn’t fix memory foam’s slow response time. Without a spring support core, memory foam can take a long time to regain its original shape, and this can be annoying if you move around a lot.
- Offers contoured support
- Gel infusions keep you cool
- All-foam beds are more durable than hybrids
- Less expensive than a hybrid
- Reduced air circulation
- Heavy and hard to move
- Least responsive mattress
Which is better if I sleep hot, a gel memory foam mattress or a hybrid?
Either gel memory foam or hybrid mattresses can help keep you cool if you’re a hot sleeper. But the extra air circulation provided by a hybrid’s support core can offer you additional cooling over a straight memory foam mattress. If you want an extra-cool mattress, you could always get a gel memory foam hybrid bed.
What’s the difference between a hybrid and innerspring coil system?
Hybrids always have pocket coils in the support layer. While innerspring coils can also be pocketed, innerspring support systems have a lot more variety than hybrids. Many innersprings come with a network of coils wired together. Bonnel, offset, and continuous coils are cheaper than pocketed coils, but they’re much less durable. Some innersprings with a support core like this last as few as 6 years.
What bed base should I use with my hybrid or gel memory foam mattress?
Both hybrids and gel memory foam mattresses are much too heavy for box springs. However, you have a few options. Both mattress foundations and platform beds have rigid wooden or metal slats, making them good options for a hybrid or memory foam mattress. The type of mattress base you need (whether it’s a platform or a foundation) should have slats that are no more than three inches apart.
Avoid putting your mattress on the floor if you can. Laying it on the floor reduces airflow to the mattress, which may cause it to retain moisture and develop mold or mildew. Using your mattress directly on the floor can also void its warranty.
Does coil count matter in a hybrid?
Coil count is the number of coils inside a hybrid or innerspring’s support layer. While too few coils can lead to an uncomfortable, saggy mattress, an overly high coil count doesn’t make much of a difference in comfort. Manufacturers sometimes stuff tons of coils inside a mattress to justify charging more for it. However, when a coil count reaches a certain threshold, there’s really no difference in feel or support. When you’re looking for a hybrid, look for a coil count of around 800 to 1,000 for a queen.
Does my sleep position or body type impact which type of mattress I need?
Your sleep position and body type impact the mattress firmness you need more than the type of mattress you need.
- Mattresses for side sleepers and more petite sleepers are often soft to medium mattress.
- Combo sleepers will enjoy medium beds, as well.
- Mattresses for back sleepers should be medium to medium-firm.
- Beds for stomach sleepers are often medium-firm or firm.
- Mattresses for plus-size individuals should be medium-firm to firm to prevent excess sinking and spinal misalignment.
Since both gel memory foam and hybrid mattresses come in all firmness levels, you should be able to get either one of these types no matter your sleep style.
Hybrids can come with a gel memory foam layer, so the main difference between a hybrid and a gel foam mattress is the pocket coil support layer. Depending on your personal preference, this coil system can be a pro or a con. If you like bounce and airflow, a hybrid will be the best option for you. If you’re after a cheaper and slightly longer-lasting option, you’re better off going with a gel memory foam mattress.
Chris was a psychiatrist and neurologist with board certification in sleep medicine Clinical Associate Professor at the University of California. For over 10 years, he served and helped patients at Stanford Health Care-Stanford Hospital with their sleeping disorders.
After suffered from sleep disorders for years, Chris has been passionate about sleep health ever since. He wants to help others sleep better and wanted to make the world of sleep easy to understand for everyday people.