What is Motion Transfer and Why Does it Matter for Your Mattress?

Motion transfer is one of the most important aspects of a mattress if you share your bed with a partner, child, or pet.

By Nicole Gleichmann

Aug 8th, 2022

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Do you wake up when your spouse gets up to go to the bathroom? Or does their tossing and turning leave you counting the minutes until you finally drift back to sleep?

If you find yourself waking up frequently during the night because someone you share the bed with stirs or gets out of bed, it might be a sign that you’re sleeping on the wrong mattress. Certain mattresses are well-known for spreading motion throughout when there is a shift on any part of the mattress.

For light sleepers or those who struggle to fall back to sleep once they have been woken up, these small disturbances can add up to something much bigger. Having trouble sleeping night after night can impact your quality of life, and eventually, your health.

But there are some mattresses that isolate movement, making it nearly undetectable when your mattress partner shifts here and there. The difference between these mattresses and those that alert you to every movement of your partner is known as motion transfer.

What Is Motion Transfer?

Motion transfer is the measure of how much movement is shared from one part of the mattress to another. A mattress that has high motion transfer is going to move all over when there is movement on any part of the mattress. A mattress with low motion transfer will somewhat isolate movements.

A mattress that has low motion transfer, also referred to as a motion isolating mattress, may have an image of a glass of red wine on it with a person or bowling ball not far away. These pictures demonstrate how pressure on one part of the mattress barely impacts the rest of the mattress.

You will see some companies claim to have a zero-motion transfer mattress. One word of caution here—there is no mattress that actually has zero motion transfer. When there is movement in one place, there will always be some type of energy spread to the other parts of the mattress. That said, the idea behind these claims is simply that you will not be able to feel when your partner moves.

Who Should Look for a Motion Isolating Mattress?

You need a mattress that’s great at reducing motion transfer if you currently share your bed or if you plan to share your bed in the future with kids, a partner, or animals. However, some people who share their mattress need a motion isolating mattress more than others.

1. Light Sleepers

If you or your partner wakes up at the slightest noise, change in light, or movement, one way to find some relief is through a mattress with good motion isolation.

When a mattress is bouncy and spreads energy from movement, light sleepers will wake up whenever their partner shifts. Not only this, but the partner of a light sleeper may themselves begin to show signs of being a light sleeper due to movement spread their way every time their partner shifts about when they’re awakened by noise or movement.

2. Couples with Different Sleep Schedules

In a perfect world, everyone under one roof would go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. This would reduce sleep interruptions and allow for a healthy sleep schedule for you and all of your loved ones.

Unfortunately, this is not the case for many of us. If you and your partner go to bed or wake up at different times, one goal should be to minimize the risk of the other person experiencing disturbed sleep when their partner comes to bed later or gets up earlier than they do.

Noise, light, and movement are the three biggest factors that you want to control here. If your mattress moves whenever anyone gets in or out, it will be almost impossible not to disturb the other’s slumber. This can lead to daytime fatigue, moodiness, and poor work performance.

3. Those Who Toss and Turn

Ever since I was a little kid, I would wake up with my pillows and blankets all over the place. This was the case even when I felt like I slept peacefully through the night and woke up well rested. Some people, like myself, just move around during the night.

Without a mattress that’s good at motion isolation, a restless partner can kick even the best sleeper out of slumber from time-to-time. Switch to a mattress that absorbs your movements to help minimize the impact. You may also want to try a king-size mattress and separate blankets for each side of the bed so that your partner isn’t annoyed by your nighttime fitness routine.

4. Those with Insomnia

Setting up an ideal sleep environment, which is one part of proper sleep hygiene, is particularly important for those who already struggle to get the sleep that they need to feel healthy and happy.

Insomnia can make it incredibly difficult to get a good night’s sleep. Whether your insomnia presents itself when you’re trying to fall asleep or in the middle of the night when you wake up and cannot get back to bed, sleeping on a mattress with high motion transfer can make your insomnia worse. If you experience insomnia and sleep with a partner, try switching to a motion isolating mattress to help you sleep better.


Different Mattress Types and Motion Isolation

Sleep Like the Dead had 25,519 consumers rate their mattress on motion isolation based on mattress type. According to these mattress reviews, the following is the order, from best to worst, of motion isolation in mattresses.

1. Memory Foam Mattresses

Memory foam provides great motion isolation, making it the best material if you are sensitive to movement during sleep. This is because foam does a great job at absorbing motion and contouring to your body. Mattresses with thicker foam tend to isolate the best, but even thin memory foam mattresses score high in this performance category.

2. Hybrid Mattresses

Hybrid mattresses in this survey were those with coils like an innerspring mattress and 2 or more inches of memory foam. They are another good option when it comes to motion isolation since they get the same benefit all-foam mattresses get with absorbing movement. The added coil system also helps to minimize motion transfer.

3. Latex Mattresses

Latex mattresses can be good or mediocre at motion isolation depending on how they were constructed. Dunlop latex is better at isolating motion than Talalay latex. A latex mattress’s ability to isolate motion also depends on how firm and thick it is.

4. Air Mattresses

Some airbeds, such as dual chambers with a chamber on each side, are better at motion isolation than others. Single chamber airbeds, however, are not as good. Airbeds with added memory foam layers also perform very well.

5. Innerspring Mattresses

Innerspring mattresses are generally poor to fair in motion isolation. Pocketed coils, which are coils that are individually wrapped, can result in better motion isolation than traditional innerspring mattresses where the coils are connected to one another. Coils are naturally bouncy, but those surrounded by fabric do a good job of isolating motion.

Are There Downsides to a Mattress That Isolates Motion?

Motion transfer stands contrary to bounciness, meaning that a bouncy mattress will not isolate movements well while a non-bouncy mattress will isolate movements much better.

Innerspring mattresses are the prime example of a mattress that has high bounciness and high motion transfer. Some people enjoy the spring-back that this type of mattress offers. It can feel extra-supportive, and it is a good base for adults who have sex on their beds.

Memory foam mattresses are the opposite. They tend to have very low bounciness and little motion transfer. The downside here is that some people will feel as if they are sinking into the foam. The negatives of this type of mattress include:

  • Feeling less firm: The bounce-back that comes from spring mattresses yields a very supportive, firm feel that is not matched by even the firmest memory foam.
  • Not much bounce: Mattresses with high motion isolation will have low bounciness. Some people enjoy a bouncy mattress for sex.
  • Tough to move: Memory foam mattresses can make it feel like you’ve sunk in, which makes it harder to reposition at night.
  • Hard to get out: Some people will have trouble getting out of mattresses that isolate motion. This is particularly troublesome for the elderly or those with injuries as it makes it hard for them to get out of bed.

Closing Thoughts

Mattresses with good motion transfer can help couples who share the bed sleep soundly. If you are someone who is easily woken up at night, memory foam mattresses offer the greatest motion isolation and may help you and your partner get a good night’s rest.