Laying Down the Basics
Practicality leads many buyers to reduce the complex affair of bedding down to the basics: sheets, blanket and pillows. Regardless of the desire to keep things simple, however, the reality is that there are all kinds of doodads to add to a mattress to make it more comfortable.
Pillows are a given, of course, but then there are comforters, mattress pads, featherbeds (or fiberbeds), duvets and – last but not least – the linens. Naturally, there are also countless decisions to make within each category, and it is common for people who don’t use buyer’s guides to be rendered bedridden in the very beds they were trying to make more comfy.
Linens are what the hospitality industry calls bed sheets. This includes a fitted sheet, a flat/top sheet and pillowcases. Finding the right size and preferred style is key, but beyond that it’s all about the material and thread count.
Sheets are made with all types of fabric, but cotton (and cotton blends), silk/satin and flannel make up the core options. Personal preference, room temperature and budget will be the ultimate deciding factors, but a significant majority of people are known to enjoy the durability and luxurious feel of Egyptian cotton.
This is especially true of Egyptian cotton sheets with high thread counts. They often cost more and are harder to keep unwrinkled, but people actually sleeping in their decadent embrace tend not to care. That nearly half of one’s life is spent sleeping should give anyone pause when it comes to buying linens.
Personal comfort rules when it comes to pillows. Large or small, full or flat, firm or soft – these are all preferential questions that can only be answered by the user.
Pillows are typically filled with either feathers/down, cotton or a synthetic fiber blend that includes foam and polyester. Feather pillows are known to be cool and can be molded into shape to suit the sleeper, whereas cotton pillow more or less retain their shape. Synthetic pillows will do whatever they’re designed to do thanks to the wonders of bedtime science.
Pillows are made with different outer materials and have thread counts, and this can impact quality and durability, but the prevailing trend is to use a pillowcase that determines the fabric feel.
Comforter vs. Duvet
It’s common for people to get these two bedding items confused. Both are fabric shells containing a blanket of fill that can be sewn in various ways (baffling, sewn-through boxes and channels) to keep the fill in place. The difference is that some comforters are all one piece and are designed to be used with linens, while duvets always have a removable shell and are designed to be used as sheet and blanket in one.
For this reason comforters are often filled with synthetic material or cotton that can be washed. By contrast, duvet fill is almost always down and the removable shell allows for washing without damaging the natural-fill bedding inside.
Both are used to provide warmth as a blanket and come in various materials with differing thread counts. They also differ in their weight. Down comforters and duvets are measured in ounces (the higher, the heavier) while other fill material is measured in “fill power.” Without reducing this amusing term to boring science, it’s best remembered that the higher the fill power, the fluffier the comforter.
Mattress pads or covers ideally make comfy mattresses even comfier, provide added protection between the sheet and mattress, and often have a hypoallergenic component. In hard times, though, the best thing they can do is make a wretched mattress more tolerable.
A featherbed is another type of mattress topper that is designed to provide added comfort, wick away moisture and keep the sleeper warm. Using one in addition to a mattress pad is approaching “The Princess and the Pea” territory, but the practice is not unheard of.
Featherbeds could be described as comforters that are slept on rather than under, being that their construction is very similar and consists of a shell with fill sewn in a way (baffling, sewn-through boxes, channels) that prevents it from shifting around. Fiberbeds may not require as much sewing due to the synthetic nature of the fill.