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So, what is the secret of a good night’s sleep? You may be surprised

Softness and density of bed linen is equally important to a good sleep as pillows and mattresses

PUBLISHED : Friday, 05 December, 2014, 9:16am
UPDATED : Friday, 18 March, 2016, 5:31pm

It’s no surprise that nine out of 10 people surveyed by the National Sleep Foundation, an American non-profit organisation, cite a comfortable mattress and pillows as factors for ensuring a good night’s rest. But more than three-quarters also rate  sheets and bedding as equally important. So, how does one choose from the plethora of products out there?

For example, is a high thread count always desirable in sheeting? Not necessarily, says Robin Beaumont, Director of Sleep Naked, an online bedding store.

In simple terms, thread count is the number of threads woven into one square inch of fabric, horizontally and vertically. For instance, a sheet made with a 400 thread count will have 400 threads per square inch.

“The higher the thread count, usually the better the hand-feel of the cloth, and the heavier the sheet will feel,” Beaumont explains. However, when it comes to thread count the highest isn’t always the best, he says, because with superhigh thread counts the fabric can become too dense and less durable with increased pilling and creasing.

“Depending on your needs and preference, always look for a happy medium when it comes to thread count, but we recommend a minimum percale of 200 thread count,” Beaumont says. “Percale is any cotton woven with a 200 thread count or higher. A 200 percale sheet will give you the nice crisp feel of a cotton button-down shirt with great durability. If you prefer a softer silkier sheet that is still breathable and very durable, go for a 300 to 400 percale for the perfect balance.”

Many luxury hotels prefer 400 percale sheets because they offer the best balance between soft hand-feel and durability, he adds. “These sheets are durable enough to be repeatedly washed at high temperatures in industrial washing machines, yet silky enough to please discerning housekeepers.”

If hot summer nights trouble your sleeping pattern, sheets made from natural materials are the most breathable, and great for promoting ventilation and airflow in the bedroom. Cotton sheets are comfortable and durable, and help wick moisture away from your body as you’re sleeping, says Beaumont. “Silk is also a great choice but is generally more expensive than cotton and, while linen sheets breathe well, they tend to wrinkle much more easily. Avoid polyester in sheets, as it is oil based and will not allow your body to breathe well throughout the night. Printed bed linen can also reduce breathability.”

Edith McCosker, founder of Butterfly Dreams luxury bed linens,  says the way the fabric is treated after weaving (the combing and dyeing processes) also determines its lustre, colour and feel.

“Too many buyers assume that a higher thread count means higher quality, which is not true at all. It is merely one parameter,”  McCosker says. Her advice is to read the fine print.

“Some brands take advantage of this thread count misconception and post  labels like ‘1,000 thread count’ in big, bold print, and almost hide ‘per 10 square centimetres’ [or square inch] in very small print,” she says. Some genuine 1,000 thread count cotton fabric can be extremely thick and stiff. “Definitely not bed sheet material,” says McCosker, who agrees that the luxury-feeling sheets in most five-star hotels are in the 300 to 400 thread count range.

Weight is another factor to consider, she says. “Some like to be draped in silky softness; others like stiff, starched linen. Some like to layer (flat sheet, duvet, even a throw on top of the duvet), while others prefer the simplicity of just a duvet. It is really a matter of personal preference.”

McCosker also warns of “nasty chemicals” to be found in some fabrics. “Aromatic Amines (Azo dyes) and formaldehyde are the main culprits,” she says.  Formaldehyde is used to prevent wrinkling, staining and static electricity,  the so-called “easy care” properties, while Azo dyes produce lightfast, vivid colours, especially reds, oranges and yellows. “Basically, these chemicals are both carcinogens on one end of the scale, and may cause skin rashes and eye irritation on the other,” McCosker says.

The debate between natural down and microfibre poses another issue when choosing pillows and duvets. Sleep Naked’s Beaumont says both have their pros and cons.

“Natural down is the fluffy undercoating that provides warmth for geese, ducks and other waterfowl. Ounce for ounce, down is warmer than synthetic insulation, which means in general down duvets and pillows will be lighter in weight than their synthetic counterparts,” he says.

Down also retains its shape well, and with proper care, it can last for decades. However, with down, there is a potential for sensitive people to have an allergic reaction caused by trapped dust particles. This can be made worse when a duvet or pillow is filled with lower-quality down that has not been treated properly at high temperatures.

A hypoallergenic alternative to down is synthetic insulation such as microfibre, which is made of polyester threading and can mimic the drape and softness of natural down. 

According to Beaumont, microfibre products are easier to care for because they are often machine washable, but the synthetic fibres will gradually break down regardless of how well you care for them. “So you might find that you need to replace microfibre bedding more often than down-filled bedding.”

Some men need a little help in the bedroom – certainly the average single British male who, according to a survey by a British mattress company, only changes his sheets every three months. But when it comes to choosing bed linen, it turns out that blokes are just big softies.

“First off, it's about comfort,” says Antonio Centeno, founder of Real Men Real Style, when asked what men want in their linen. “We spend one-third of our lives sleeping in sheets so why not make it comfortable?”

In Centeno’s experience, a really nice set of sheets makes a bloke want to get into bed. It’s about a partner’s enjoyment too, he says. “It's a nice thing when they comment on how they love sleeping in your bed.” Besides, he adds, when you sleep better, you're healthier.

When choosing sheets with the man of the house in mind, Centeno offers this advice: “When it comes down to it, we like simplicity and function. You don't need to go with anything supercomplex - simply upgrading the quality of the sheets, what they're made of, the stitching and so on really does make a difference.”