The Ultimate Guide to Mattress Layers

Written by: Andjela Kastratovic
Updated: 10/06/2023

Mattresses seem simple, but they’re made of many components that can make your sleep super (un)comfortable. 

Multiple layers of materials work beneath the surface to make your bed. And certain materials can be better for you than others. 

This guide will uncover everything you need about mattress construction, from the soft surface to the robust support core. 

Let’s get into it! 

General Mattress Construction

There are four main groups of mattress layers. 

Top Comfort Layers

The very top of the mattress is covered with comfort layers, which collectively make up the comfort system of your bed. They use soft materials to  contour your body and relieve pressure.

An average mattress has one or two comfort layers, while taller ones have more. Also, firmer mattresses have thinner comfort layers, but thicker comfort layers can be found in soft mattresses.

Transitional Layers

The transitioal layer connects the comfort layer to the support layer underneath. 

This layer uses firmer materials, usually one to three inches thick, to contour and prevent sinking. Transitional layers generally use medium- to high-density polyfoam, latex, or micro coils.

Support Core

Next is the support core, which is at the heart of the mattress and is made from firm and dense materials. It helps promote proper spinal alignment and significantly impacts the bed’s durability. 

This layer is usually the thickest, ranging from six to ten inches. The support core of an innerspring or a hybrid mattress has steel coils; all-foam mattresses have high-density polyfoam; and natural latex mattresses have Dunlop latex or Talalay latex.

Cover and Other Comfort Layers

Finally, a cotton, wool, polyester, or Tencel cover completes the mattress. Innovative designs like pillow tops, quilt foam, or fiber layers are sewn directly into the cover for plush padding, creating another comfort layer.  

Mattress Comfort Layers

Nested at the top of the mattress, we have comfort layers. 

The comfort layer is usually one to four inches thick and has everything you need for comfortable sleep. A thinner comfort layer is generally reserved for firmer mattresses, while thicker ones are softer. 

These layers are all about enhancing your sleep in various ways:

  • Cushioning: Mattress comfort layers prevent you from feeling the firmness of the layers below. 
  • Pressure relief: These layers are designed to contour around your body’s natural curves, spreading your weight evenly across the bed. They relieve pressure, especially in areas like your shoulders, hips, and back.
  • Motion isolation: If you share your bed with a partner or a pet, the comfort layer is there to absorb and dampen movements, so you can sleep peacefully without disruptions.
  • Cooling: Some mattresses have comfort layers that are made to keep you cool. These cooling mattresses have features like gel-infused memory foam or unique materials that regulate temperature. 
  • Noise control: Comfort layers can muffle those creaky sounds that older mattresses start making over time, especially if your bed has noisy innerspring coils.

It’s also important to note that these materials are only comfort system components, and other layers add to comfort too. 

Now, look at some of the different materials used in comfort layers and how they work. 

Memory Foam

Memory foam is the most popular choice for the comfort layer material, known for its cushiony, conforming feel. 

When you lay on a memory foam mattress, it cradles your pressure points, providing exceptional pressure relief, which can be a game-changer for joint pain. The foam layer is also great at isolating motion and muffling noise, making it an excellent option for couples.

Memory foam is very budget-friendly but notorious for trapping heat, which is terrible for hot sleepers. However, gel-infused memory foam could be the solution for that. 


  • Exceptional pressure relief, great for joint pain.
  • Outstanding motion isolation.
  • A budget-friendly option for the comfort layer.
  • Memory foam is virtually silent.


  • Traditional memory foam traps heat, making it uncomfortable for hot sleepers.
  • Possible initial off-gassing.
  • On the softer side of the spectrum.
  • The slow response can make people feel trapped. 

Poly Foam

Polyurethane foam, commonly known as polyfoam, has been a mattress material since the 1950s. It’s known for its budget-friendly nature, offering a comfortable night’s sleep without breaking the bank. 

Polyfoam comfort layers are less soft and less pressure-relieving than memory foam, but they work well. Unfortunately, it retains body heat and is less durable than similar foams. 


  • An affordable choice for comfort layers.
  • Effectively absorbs movement and minimizes noise.
  • Body cushioning without excessive conformity, suitable for those who prefer a bit of firmness.


  • May show signs of wear more quickly compared to denser materials.
  • It provides less pressure relief compared to memory foam or latex.
  • Could emit initial off-gassing odors.


Latex foam offers a blend of eco-friendliness, comfort, and it’s a great choice if you’re looking for a durable mattress.

Derived from rubber trees, natural latex is known for its temperature-neutral properties and hypoallergenic nature. The latex comfort layer provides a bouncy feel, and it relieves pressure without too much sinking.

While natural latex can be a premium choice, budget-friendly synthetic latex options are available. However, synthetic latex is less durable and less pressure relieving.


  • It’s breathable, making it a refreshing choice for hot sleepers.
  • Natural latex is environmentally friendly.
  • Robust support is suitable for all body types.
  • Consistent and uniform contouring.
  • Latex has minimal off-gassing odors.
  • One of the most durable materials.


  • Above-average price point.
  • Heavier than other mattresses and harder to move. 
  • Some sleepers may have latex allergies, so caution is advised for sensitive individuals.

Minicoils, micro coils, and Nanocoils

Manufacturers now incorporate mini, micro, and nanocoils into comfort layers, offering unique benefits. These steel coils, significantly smaller than those in traditional innerspring models, range from one to four inches in height, with nanocoils being even shorter.


  • Better airflow makes the mattresses with micro coils better at temperature regulation.
  • Minimal motion transfer due to smaller height.
  • Balances contouring and responsiveness, offering a comfortable yet supportive feel.


  • Extra coils result in a taller mattress, which may not suit those seeking low-profile designs.
  • There is a possibility of creaking as the mattress ages, although this is less common.

Natural Fibers

Comfort layers have diversified with the inclusion of natural fibers like wool, cotton, silk, hemp, horsehair, and coconut coir. These fibers contribute to the mattress’s feel, offering options from plush to firm. They can help relieve pressure, control temperature, and adjust the firmness of your mattress. 


  • It has exceptional breathability and is excellent at wicking away moisture.
  • Ability to adjust the firmness level of the mattress, catering to various preferences.
  • Impressive durability, outlasting many synthetic alternatives.
  • Sustainability, as they can be manufactured using eco-friendly processes.


  • Some natural fibers may come at a higher price point than synthetic alternatives.
  • Potential for natural odors, depending on materials.

Buckling Column Gel

Buckling column gel is a relatively new addition to comfort layers. Derived from mineral oil, it’s a dry-polymer substance applied to a grid of columns (square, hexagonal, round, or H-shaped). These elastic polymer columns react to pressure well.

Comfort layers made from this material offer exceptional pressure relief, breathability, and durability. 


  • Responds to weight distribution, providing targeted pressure relief.
  • Temperature regulation and ample airflow.
  • Motion isolation with minimal disturbance for sleep partners.
  • Resists sagging and signs of wear over time.


  • Expensive due to their innovative technology.
  • Hard to find (you can add: in nearby stores).  
  • Some users may initially experience a crackling sensation, which may improve with time.

Comfort Layers Material Comparison Table

Memory foamPolyfoam LatexMicrocoils Natural fibersBuckling column gel
Price $-$$$$$$$-$$$$$$-$$$$$$$$$$-$$$$
Availability Very commonVery commonVery commonCommon Less common Rare
Durability Good Fair Great GoodGreatGreat
Contouring GreatGoodGreatGreat GoodGreat 
Pressure relief GreatGoodGood to GreatGood to GreatGoodGreat
Motion isolation GreatGoodGoodFairGoodGood
Off-gassing PoorPoorGreatGreatGreatGood
Noise GreatGreatGreatGoodGreatGood

Mattress Support Core

The support core layer is the thickest and arguably the most critical mattress layer. 

 It’s designed to keep your body well-aligned, ensuring a comfortable night of sleep. 

Typically consisting of either coils, foam, or a blend of both, the support core forms the sturdy foundation on which the comfort layers rest. Its integrity and firmness are critical factors in providing the support your body needs. 

Here’s what you should know about the support layer and the material it can be made from. 


A lot of mattresses use coils in their support layers. These metal springs are strategically placed to provide stability while adding a subtle bounce to your bed. 

Not all coils are the same, so it’s crucial to understand the different types.

  • Bonnel coils: also known as “open coils,” These classic hourglass-shaped coils are often wired together, making them budget-friendly but wear out and become creaky quickly. 
  • Offset coils: an hourglass shape, but with square bases. This unique feature allows them to flex and absorb pressure, improving noise control, motion isolation, and durability.
  • Continuous coils: formed from a single long wire in an “S” shape, bring exceptional durability and stability to the mattress. However, they may not relieve pressure or isolate motion.
  • Pocketed coils: also known as individually wrapped coils. Each coil operates independently, delivering less noise, better pressure relief, and reduced motion transfer. While they have added benefits, they can be pricier due to their intricate design.

Also, if you’re looking for a coil-based mattress, it’s crucial to factor in both the coil gauge, which signifies the spring thickness, and the coil count, which indicates the number of springs in the mattress. 

Mattresses with higher gauges and counts typically deliver better support, responsiveness, and flexibility.

Mattresses with coil support cores are usually innerspring or hybrid ones. 

High-density Foam

Mattresses can also use high-density foam in their support layers. It comes in two main types: latex and polyfoam. 

These firm foams, often used as the mattress’s base, contribute to support and overall durability. 

Latex high-density foam, derived from natural or synthetic sources, is known for its durability and eco-friendliness. On the other hand, high-density polyurethane foam offers consistent firmness without excessive sinking, giving you more responsiveness and bounce.

These qualities help keep your spine aligned.

Foam is used in the support cores of foam, memory foam, latex, and hybrid mattresses. 

Other Mattress Components

As mentioned, the support cores and comfort layers are essential, but other layers make your mattress comfortable. Here’s what you should know about them. 


Your mattress comes wrapped in a cover, a protective shield for the layers beneath. 

This cover is crucial for regulating temperature, repelling allergens, wicking away moisture, and adding extra padding for comfort. Mattress covers can be removable for easy cleaning or sewn into the bed, depending on the design.

Most mattresses use one of these two materials for mattress covers: 

  • Damask, also known as ticking, is a woven fabric known for its durability and flexibility. On a loom, weaving threads results in a crisscross pattern. Some ticking fabrics also feature decorative stitching, adding both style and support. While breathable and sturdy, knitted fabric may offer less stretch than ticking.
  • Knitted fabrics are soft, stretchy, and moisture-wicking due to their looped thread construction. They provide a plush feel, particularly suitable for foam and latex beds. However, knitted covers may be slightly less durable than their woven counterparts.

The choice of cover material significantly impacts a mattress’s temperature regulation, comfort, longevity, flexibility, and airflow.


You’ll often find quilting when you look at the top of a mattress. This involves stitching across the surface, ensuring the comfort layers remain evenly distributed and firmly in place.

It also adds a textured surface with subtle indentations, enhancing softness and contouring for a more comfortable sleep. 

Quality quilting contributes to the mattress’s durability, extending its lifespan before needing replacement. Handcrafted mattresses, in particular, tend to excel in quilting, often using all-natural materials like 100% cotton for this purpose.


The padding underneath the quilting is designed for comfort and support. 

The top layer, closest to your body, can consist of cotton, wool, foam, or soft latex. Its primary purpose is to enhance comfort and adequately support your body’s pressure points.

It usually contains memory foam, latex, eggshell foam, cotton, or wool. Cushioning provides gentle pressure relief to fit your body’s natural contours. 

Most mattresses have insulated padding layers below the cushioning to keep it separate from the innerspring coils or other comfort layers, providing a supportive and comfortable sleep surface.

Extra Support

A mattress’s edge support is vital to prevent sagging, enhance durability, and simplify getting in and out of bed. 

To create better support layers on the edges, many mattresses feature additional structural elements, such as memory foam encasements or high-density springs along the perimeter. This ensures your bed remains supportive and comfortable right to the edge, minimizing the risk of rolling off.

While coil or spring mattresses naturally offer edge support, memory foam and latex mattresses may require these additional features to maintain them.

Transitional Layers

Situated between the plush comfort layer and the firm support core is the transitional layer.

Transitional layers act as a buffer, preventing you from sinking too deeply into the firmer layer below. 

These layers enhance durability and provide stability and support for your body. They are crafted from various mattress materials, including polyfoam, latex, memory, and micro coils.

Some transition layers are zoned, offering an extra support layer to maintain spinal alignment. Typically measuring one to three inches thick, these layers ensure a balanced and supportive sleep surface.


This isn’t a mattress layer, but knowing that a solid foundation can’t be overstated regarding mattress longevity and performance is essential. Choosing the proper foundation is about providing sturdy support and ensuring your warranty remains valid. 

Here’s a breakdown of the various mattress foundations:

  • Box spring: Rectangular frames filled with coils that sit beneath your mattress, elevating it off the ground and absorbing the impact of your body weight. A box spring can extend your mattress’s lifespan.
  • Slatted bases: Made of horizontal wooden planks, slatted bases offer support while maintaining your mattress’s original firmness. They enhance breathability, helping you sleep cooler.
  • Bed frames: Elevated platforms with legs that raise your mattress or mattress and box spring off the floor. Bed frames allow air circulation, protecting your mattress from dust and offering aesthetic versatility.
  • Adjustable bases: These remote-controlled bed bases provide customizable positions, aiding people with mobility issues. Elevate your legs, sit up, or find the perfect angle for your comfort.

Other Mattress Layer Designs

That was the generic mattress construction, but different mattress types have different materials and constructions.

Flippable Mattress

Flippable mattresses offer a unique solution to varying firmness preferences. With a support layer between two sets of comfort layers, these mattresses can be flipped to provide different firmness levels. Flippable mattresses are excellent for guest rooms, indecisive sleepers, or children whose preferences may change.

Two-Sided Mattress

When you and your partner can’t agree on mattress firmness, dual-firmness mattresses come to the rescue. With varying materials or adjustable air chambers on each side, these beds cater to individual preferences, ensuring mattress comfort for both of you.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Are the Layers in a Memory Foam Mattress?

A memory foam mattress usually consists of support layers, transition layers, and comfort layers, all encased in a snug cover.

How Many Layers Are There in a Bed?

The number of layers in a bed varies, influenced by factors like mattress type and design. Beds typically include a support layer, a comfort layer, and a mattress cover, though the specific arrangement can differ.

How Thick Should a Comfort Layer Be?

The thickness of a comfort layer generally ranges from one to four inches. Firmer mattresses often feature thinner comfort layers, while softer ones tend to have thicker ones. This layer, closest to your body, offers pressure relief and contouring. The perfect comfort layer thickness for you depends on your personal preferences. 

Final Thoughts

The support layer and comfort layer are the essential parts of a mattress, but there are more layers to this story than meets the eye.

Some other layers and additions make your bed comfortable, like the cover, edge support, and transition layers. Knowing what they are and how they work can help you choose the perfect mattress for your sleep. 

Good luck finding your new mattress! 

Reviews written by:

Andjela Kastratovic - Co-editor

Anđela is a content writer by the day and an Illustrator by night. She loves anything creative, but sleep takes the cake – that’s why she enjoys writing for Anatomy of Sleep so much!

While in high school, she got accepted for her dream job – a ‘professional sleeper’. Her job was to test new mattresses from a local mattress brand and write reports on the quality of sleep. Ever since then, she’s been in love with reviewing mattresses and putting her compelling research into ultimate buyer’s guides. While not exploring the latest brands, she likes to illustrate and spend time with her dog and friends.