Mattresses typically use a layered construction to provide pressure relief and support. Arrangements vary based on mattress type and manufacturer, but most combine comfort, transitional, and support layers. Each component serves a specific function and affects the way a mattress feels.
Comfort layers make up the top section of a mattress and are usually between 1 and 4 inches thick. A minimal design might have just one comfort layer, while other designs might have multiple layers. A design incorporating more than one layer is sometimes referred to as a comfort system.
Manufacturers have different methods for constructing comfort layers, but they are all designed to cushion the body and relieve tension. Material type and quality also impact performance features like noise, temperature control, and motion isolation.
We discuss the pros and cons of various comfort layer materials and arrangements to help you find the best mattress for your needs.
How Is a Mattress Constructed?
Manufacturers commonly use a multi-layered approach to mattress construction.
Most combine different layers to achieve certain effects. Comfort layers make up the top section of a mattress, while a support core forms the base. A transitional layer is often used as a buffer between the softer comfort system and the denser support core.
Comfort layers form the uppermost portion of a mattress. Firm models typically have comfort systems that are just 1 to 2 inches thick. Plusher mattresses often use thicker materials or additional layers to create a total height of 4 inches or more.
Given the name, it’s not surprising that these layers are designed to maximize comfort. Soft materials like memory foam, polyfoam, and latex cushion the body and ease pressure points. These layers buffer a sleeper from the solid support core, which would be very uncomfortable to sleep on directly.
Comfort layers are designed to alleviate tension by conforming to the body, but they also need to be responsive enough to keep you from sinking too deeply into the mattress.
Transitional layers are sandwiched between the comfort and support layers and combine characteristics of both systems. They offer mild to moderate contouring and act as an additional buffer between you and the solid support core.
Transitional layers use medium- to high-density materials like latex and polyfoam to minimize sagging. Some feature a zoned layout to help reinforce good spinal alignment by providing extra support in certain areas of the body. Transitional layers are typically 1 to 3 inches thick.
A support core stabilizes the entire mattress while ensuring that the upper layers do their job well. This part of the bed uses solid materials like steel coils and high-density polyfoam to increase durability. Most support cores are between 6 and 10 inches thick, so they take up the largest portion of a mattress. Sometimes the perimeter is reinforced with sturdier materials to enhance edge support, making it easier to get into and out of bed.
What About Flippable Mattresses?
A flippable mattress is an exception to the standard layout. A single support core bridges two different comfort systems, so you can sleep on either side of the mattress. Some models have two distinct firmness levels, giving sleepers greater versatility. Sleeping on alternating sides can also extend your mattress’ lifespan by preventing deep surface impressions from forming.
Why Are Mattress Comfort Layers Important?
Comfort systems vary widely based on the manufacturer and model, but the goal is always the same: to make sleep more enjoyable. Material type and quality influence performance areas like contouring, pressure relief, and motion isolation. These features and more impact comfort and sleep quality.
For Pressure Relief
Poor spinal alignment can lead to painful pressure buildup, making it more difficult to sleep comfortably. Softer comfort layers are designed to contour the body and ease pressure points at the hips, shoulders, and spine. Firmer comfort layers alleviate tension by spreading body weight more evenly across the mattress.
While comfort is a top priority, a mattress also needs to sustain the weight and pressure you put on it every night. Support cores use dense materials to provide that stability, which means softer comfort layers are needed to protect sleepers from the solid base.
Feeling uncomfortably warm can lower sleep quality, so manufacturers use different cooling technologies to reduce heat buildup. Open-cell foams, gel infusions, and breathable materials are designed to help keep sleepers cool by dissipating excess heat.
A noisy mattress can awaken even the soundest sleeper, and frequent interruptions interfere with deep, restorative sleep cycles. Foam and latex comfort layers can minimize disturbances by dampening sounds, such as the movement of creaky springs.
For Motion Isolation
Comfort layers are typically made out of materials that absorb motion well, such as foam, latex, and cotton. People who share a bed benefit from strong motion isolation, as movement is less likely to travel from side to side.
What Are Mattress Comfort Layers Made Of?
Comfort layers are made from a variety of materials, each with a unique feel and function. Understanding the relationship between materials and mattress performance can help you choose the right mattress for you.
Polyfoam is an umbrella term for an array of polyurethane foams. The synthetic material is derived from petrochemicals and comes in varying densities, so mattresses can incorporate it in many different ways.
Until recently, comfort systems relied primarily on polyfoam. These days, more mattresses feature memory foam, latex, and alternative materials. However, polyfoam remains a popular choice for comfort layers.
Polyfoam comfort layers are usually either uniform or convoluted. Uniform varieties have a smooth surface that works well for quilting and middle upholstery layers. Convoluted polyfoam, or egg crate foam, has ridges and is occasionally used in transitional layers. Mattress toppers are also occasionally made with convoluted polyfoam.
Polyfoam doesn’t conform as closely to the body as memory foam or latex, and it’s usually not as durable. However, polyfoam mattresses tend to be more economical.Shop the Best Mattresses of 2023
Viscoelastic foam, or memory foam, was developed by NASA scientists and later popularized by the bedding industry. The foam is engineered to soften in the presence of heat, allowing it to mold to your body as you sleep. Memory foam also has a high point of elasticity, meaning it slowly returns to shape after weight and pressure is removed. As a result, memory foam comfort layers retain a “memory” of your body’s unique imprint.
Luxury mattresses commonly feature memory foam comfort layers because of the material’s superior cradling and durability. However, some sleepers find the body hug too intense and prefer comfort layers with less sinkage.
Memory foam is also known for trapping heat, but newer versions often incorporate cooling features like gel infusions or open-cell designs to offset this tendency.
Both natural and synthetic latex are used in comfort and support systems because of their resilience and breathability. Natural latex is made from the sap of rubber trees and is more common in high-end mattresses. Synthetic latex is petroleum-based and has similar qualities, though it’s sometimes less durable.
Latex is produced using the Dunlop or Talalay methods, each producing unique characteristics. Talalay has a lighter, springier feel, so it’s more common in comfort and transitional layers. If you find memory foam too body-conforming, you may prefer latex’s extra bounce.
Dunlop latex is denser and less responsive than Talalay latex, so it’s also used in support layers.
Wool is sourced from sheep and is sometimes used in comfort layers for its softness and insulation. Because the fibers wick away heat and moisture, top wool layers help regulate surface temperature. Wool is also a natural flame retardant.
Harvested from cotton plants, this natural fiber adds softness and breathability to comfort systems. If you experience night sweats or hot flashes, you may want to look for a mattress with a cotton comfort layer since cotton is generally good at drawing out moisture.
Microcoils, minicoils, and nanocoils are becoming more common in comfort systems because they boost responsiveness without trapping too much heat. They are much smaller than the coils used in support cores, allowing them to gently cradle the body.
Zoned microcoils are sometimes used to promote better spinal alignment. Thicker coils are placed below the lumbar area for extra support, while thinner coils are used beneath the shoulders and legs. The variable support enhances pressure relief by redistributing body weight more evenly.
How Do Different Types of Comfort Layers Feel?
Knowing how different materials feel and perform can help you determine the best mattress for your needs. Each type of material used in a comfort layer has its benefits and drawbacks, including variations in feel, durability, temperature regulation, and price.
Polyfoam moderately contours the body without permitting notable sink. Some varieties are designed to mimic the bouncier feel of latex.
Poor to Fair
Memory foam closely cradles the body and offers little to no bounce. Some sleepers describe the feeling as being “hugged” by the mattress.
Fair to Good
Fair to Good
Latex offers even contouring and considerable responsiveness. Sleepers should feel like they’re on top of the mattress rather than inside of it.
Good to Very Good
Cotton or Wool
Both natural fibers are exceptionally soft and breathable, helping sleepers stay cool and dry.
Varies by mattress type
Microcoils combine moderate contouring with subtle bounce.
Varies by mattress type