You can’t underestimate the importance of bedding. You spend a third of your life wrapped up in it, after all. High-quality bedding can make or break a good night’s sleep, as well as make or break the design of your bedroom.
If you think of bedding as a recipe, there are a few basic— and very important!— ingredients you must have. Add these items to your shopping list: sheets, pillowcases, shams, and a duvet or comforter. (Yes, those are two different things, though they have the same purpose.) Depending on the season and your sleeping style, you can mix and match various fabrics with different weights to keep you snoozing soundly all year long.
With the help of Missy Tannen, founder and chief designer of Boll & Branch, we’ve broken down each element of bedding, from shams to sheets. Read on for the ultimate bedding guide, then create your ideal haven to cozy up into and escape the day’s madness.
What Are Shams?
It can be tempting to use the terms “shams” and “pillowcases” interchangeably, but they’re not the same. Shams are decorative pillow covers, while pillowcases are covers for your standard sleeping pillows.
“Shams are one of my favorite ways to customize the look of your bed,” Tannen says. “They come in so many styles, from simple solids to unique patterns and textures.” Whether you choose a shade that matches your bedding or create a color contrast that elevates the entire look is up to you. Decorative pillows can be layered in front or behind your standard pillows; either adds a dimensional element to the look of your bed.
Pillowcases, on the other hand, are what your head actually rests on each night, so it’s imperative to choose a fabric that matches your sleep preference. If you’re a hot sleeper, Tannen recommends percale, which will keep you cool and comfortable throughout the night. “No switching to the ‘cool side’ of the pillow!” she says. For a cozy night’s sleep, opt for a velvety flannel, which offers the perfect level of warmth without retaining body heat.
What Is a Duvet?
“A duvet is a fluffy, blanket-like layer that’s designed to keep you at the best, most comfortable temperature,” Tannen says. Duvets are made with down feathers or down alternative fibers for a lofty, cloud-like feel, then wrapped in a shell with a baffle box construction. This design feature is super important to look for because it keeps the fill from shifting from one end of the duvet to the other, keeping you warm from head to toe.
“The versatility of a duvet is unmatched,” Tannen says. Not only can you mix and match colors, patterns, and textures with a duvet, swapping out your duvet cover to create a whole new bedroom look for each season, but you can switch out the weight of the insert depending on the season too.
What Is the Difference Between a Duvet and a Comforter?
If you get confused between the two terms, remember the difference this way: a comforter is a single piece of bedding, with a decorative outer fabric, and a duvet consists of two pieces, a duvet insert, and a duvet cover.
“Both are great top-of-bed options with their own unique benefits,” Tannen says. “Comforters offer a beautiful look and feel all in one piece, but aren’t as versatile as a duvet. With a duvet, you can easily change your cover to give your bed an entirely different look, but you would need to buy a new comforter to accomplish the same.”
Comforters typically come in an all-season weight, so if you want to sleep at a specific temperature, a duvet is the route to go. That way you can switch out your lightweight summer duvet for a heavier one come the colder months.
What Are Sheets?
If you’re upgrading your bedding, start with fresh (soft, high-quality, temperature-regulating) sheets. While sheets may seem like the simplest part of bedding, Tannen warns not to overlook their importance, as they can be the deciding factor between a restful night of sleep and one where you’re tossing and turning.
“Think of sheets as the foundation for a better, more luxurious night’s sleep,” Tannen says. “It’s the one layer you’re guaranteed to sleep in every night.”
That’s why it’s imperative to choose a high-quality fabric for your sheets. Don’t get too caught up in thread count though. “Thread count is the biggest myth in the bedding industry, and it’s been perpetuated for decades,” Tannen says. Put simply, thread count is a measure of fabric density— the number of vertical and horizontal threads in one square inch of fabric. The higher the thread count, the denser the fabric.
“The thing is, denser sheets do not feel better to sleep in,” Tannen says. “Your sheets should feel both soft and breathable, and the way to achieve that is to prioritize thread quality, not thread count. Long-staple threads in a light, buttery weave feel vastly superior to fabrics with ultra-high thread counts which, more often than not, feel heavy, scratchy, and don’t hold up nearly as well,” she says.
What Should You Consider As You're Shopping for Bedding?
As you’re shopping for bedding, Tannen has some unconventional advice. “When you’re shopping for bedding, you want to get bogged down in the details,” she says. “On top of choosing bedding that matches your sleep habits and style preferences, you’ll want to consider the quality and craftsmanship that went into making it.”
Take a close look at the material, as well as how and where it was made, before clicking “add to cart.” Tannen recommends ethically produced, 100 percent organic cotton for more than one reason. Not only is it breathable and durable, but it makes for a super-soft, heirloom-quality product that’s free of harsh chemicals too. You can also rest easy knowing the people behind the scenes in creating your bedding were compensated fairly. It’s much kinder to the environment than conventional cotton production too.
“Whether you’re shopping in-store or online, make sure you choose an option that’s better for you, the workforce, and the planet alike,” she says.
How Do You Choose the Best Bedding Fabric for You?
“Everyone sleeps differently, and if you take a few minutes to think about your preferences, then finding the right fabric is quite simple,” Tannen says. If you’re a hot sleeper, regardless of the season or climate, you’ll sleep best in percale sheets, she says. For those who can’t seem to keep warm at night, consider flannel.
“Most people fall somewhere in the middle, though, and prefer lightweight sheets that are both soft and breathable,” Tannen says. The perfect all-season sheets, paired with warm covers in the winter and a single blanket or duvet in the summer make for a dreamy scenario for, well, sweet dreams.
How Do You Determine the Best Pillow for You?
When it comes to pillows, you first need to consider which type of sleeper you are. Back sleepers should opt for a firmer pillow, while stomach sleepers require a softer one. Sleep on your side? You’ll want something in between. “The idea is to keep your neck in line with your spine during the night,” Tannen says. “With a pillow that’s specially designed for your sleeping position, you’ll get the exact level of support you need.” Once you’ve found your perfect pillow, replace it every one to two years.
Ultimately, customizing your bed— choosing layers that match your sleep preference and a design that reflects your personal style— makes a big difference in both your zzzs and the feeling you get every time you step into your bedroom. Create a bed that feels cozy, cohesive, and worthy of crawling into each night.