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Sleep Tight: Creating the Perfect Bed

When I first met my boyfriend, he had a lumpy mattress he’d inherited from some long-departed roommate, pilled flannel sheets, pillows with clumps of filling, and a stained denim blanket. For someone who professed to enjoy sleeping, I couldn’t understand how he managed to do it in that bed. 

I savored the day when I took him to pick out some proper, big-boy bed accoutrements. If we humans have to spend a third of our lives in bed, we might as well be comfortable there. Everyone’s ideal bed is different, but with these tips, it’s easy to build the kind of bed that makes it hard to get up in the morning. 

A Bed’s Bedrock
A good mattress and pillows are the foundation of a good bed. The conventional wisdom says that firmer is better, but depending on your sleep style, that’s not always true. The goal of mattresses and pillows is to keep the body in a comfortable, neutral alignment as you sleep, and the wrong combination can exacerbate existing back and neck problems, as well as contribute to new ones. 

For Back Sleepers
A firm, supportive mattress is necessary. Back sleepers spread their weight out over a larger area, so although they don’t have as many pressure points, they still need a mattress that will keep the spine in place. Those who sleep on their back only need a single pillow, preferably a thin one, since too much fluff can throw the neck into an unnatural position. 

For Side Sleepers
Choose a mattress with more give, such as one with a pillow top. The best mattress for side sleepers will be just soft enough to conform to the curves of the body, instead of putting extra pressure on the hips and shoulders. Memory foam is a good choice for side sleepers. Fluffier pillows will keep the head aligned properly with the shoulders. 

For Stomach Sleepers
Most chiropractors and sleep experts don’t recommend sleeping on the stomach, but for people who insist, it’s important to choose a softer mattress, and most experts recommend either foregoing a pillow entirely or only using the thinnest one possible, or else risk twisting and spraining the muscles in the neck. 

Mattresses are good for at least ten years, but pillows don’t last as long as we think they do. According to a 2005 study at the University of Manchester (UK), an average pillow contains up to sixteen different types of fungi, and up to 10 percent of its weight can be dust mites and dead skin. That’s enough to make anyone anxious for a redecoration. Experts recommend replacing pillows at least every two years, if not sooner. 

Some people enjoy down pillows, because they allow the sleeper to arrange the fill in whatever position fits them best. They also tend to accumulate fewer allergens and fungi than synthetic pillows. Memory foam pillows are a popular choice, but the material can cause sleepers to overheat. Many manufacturers carry specialty pillows that promise to ease snoring, prevent hot flashes and night sweats, or promote better circulation, but although some consumers have found them helpful, no studies have definitively proven their efficacy. 

Creature Comforters
The most integral piece in building the ideal bed is the comforter, which insulates and keeps the body warm in the winter yet cool in the summer. Many people choose comforters over traditional quilts and blankets because they tend to be cozier, warmer, and more luxurious. The temperature in your bedroom has an effect on your bed, and regardless of climate, most experts recommend sleeping with the thermostat set between sixty-eight and seventy-two degrees, which helps the body lower its core temperature and bring on REM sleep. Not all comforters provide the same level of warmth, and one that’s too heavy or too light can harm your sleep more than help it. 

For Cold-Weather Sleepers
If you live in a cool climate or prefer to keep your bedroom chilly, choose a heavier comforter with higher fill power, which is the measure of how many cubic centimeters are taken up by one ounce of down. Higher fill power means greater warmth. A comforter with 700 to 800 fill power provides the greatest protection against cold. 

For Temperate Sleepers
In areas that are cold in winter but hot in summer, an all-season comforter of 600 to 700 fill power should be just right year-round. (If you don’t have air conditioning in the summer, taking the comforter off the bed entirely is the best choice.) 

For Hot-Weather Sleepers
Even with air conditioning, people in desert or tropical climates can get by with a lighter comforter with fill power in the 500s. Some are even made to wick moisture and sweat away from the body. 

Down comforters are priced according to the quality of the down, not according to the weight or the thread count of the cover. Thread count isn’t as important for comforters, but a tighter weave will keep more down in and allergens out. Also, look for a comforter that features baffled construction, which keeps the down in its place and evenly distributed. A good-quality comforter should last for up to ten years when properly cleaned and maintained. People with allergies, however, or those who live in damp climates, may want to change sooner. 

Sheets Happen
The right set of sheets puts the finishing touches on every bed, but the quality of the touch depends on the fabric, the thread count, and the weave. 

Fabric choices include cotton, flannel, and natural fibers like bamboo. Cotton sheets are the gold standard in durability and softness, and they circulate the air, keeping the sleeper cool. Egyptian cotton fibers are extra-long, which makes for the silkiest sheets. Pima (or Supima) cotton sheets are made from similar long cotton fibers, but are grown in the United States. Flannel, a blend of wool and cotton, is warmer than other kinds of sheets, but is prone to pilling, wear, and tear. Natural fiber sheets are often soft and comfortable, but the delicateness of the fiber means that they don’t have as long a life as other materials. 

Thread count is the number of fibers in one square inch of material. Sheets are measured by their thread count, and the higher the number, the softer (and more expensive) the sheet. At the low end, children’s bed sheets made from low-grade cotton or muslin are often 140 to 175 thread count, while the thread count of luxury sheets can be well over 1,000. Most sheets vary between 250 and 600. Higher thread counts are more expensive, but they are also far softer and more durable. 

Weave affects the feel of the sheets as well as their durability. Sateen sheets are woven to be extra-silky, but they wear quickly. Twill or percale sheets have a crisper, cooler feel, and they hold up better to repeated washings. Jersey sheets are woven like tee-shirts, but although they’re comfortable, they are more prone to stretching and shrinking. 

Putting together an ideal bed is a highly individual project. A bed that helps one person sleep like a baby could be another person’s nightmare. These tips can help you navigate the dozens of dazzling selections of bedding and create your dream bed, but when it comes to keeping your partner on his or her own side, you’re on your own.

Allison Ford

Allison is a writer and editor who specializes in beauty, style, entertainment, and pop culture. She was part of the editorial team at DivineCaroline (now for more than three years. She loves makeup, sparkly accessories, giraffes, brunch, Matt Damon, New York City, and ice cream.