Sweeter dreams: Making your bed and making it well

It's hard to sleep well at night if the sheets on your unmade bed are wound in knots around your ankles. Mom was right. Make your bed. As long as you're making the bed, you might as well do a really good job. Find sheets that fit. Opt for soft an...

It's hard to sleep well at night if the sheets on your unmade bed are wound in knots around your ankles. Mom was right. Make your bed.

As long as you're making the bed, you might as well do a really good job.

Find sheets that fit. Opt for soft and breathable fabrics. Pick out beautiful bedding. All of those things add up to a bed that feels good and looks good enough to make you want to climb in and relax.

It's not as easy as it sounds.

It's possible to get snagged when shopping for sheets, blankets and comforters. The issue of thread count alone brought federal intervention a few years back.


Here's a guide to not just making your bed, but making it well.

The basic bed

Just in case you've been sleeping in the wild and don't actually know how a bed is made, here are the most basic tips:

n All fitted sheets are not created equal. Measure the thickness of the mattress before you buy fitted sheets. Today's mattresses are thicker than ever, ranging from about 10 to 20 inches deep. If you buy fitted sheets that are too large, they'll be too big and bunch up, making for an uncomfortable night's sleep. If the fitted sheets are too small, they'll pop off.

n Consumer Reports recommends choosing fitted sheets with elastic on all four sides for the best fit.

n A flat sheet is not a mystery. You know what to do.

n Top it with a blanket or a quilt. Cotton or and wool are the best fabrics. They breathe and that keeps sleepers from overheating.

n In winter, toss on a comforter with fluffy down or microfiber filling.


Thread count

The higher the thread count the better the sheet? Not really.

When you buy sheets of more than 500-thread count, you really are buying bragging rights, not comfort.

Thread count is the number of horizontal and vertical threads in 1 square inch of sheeting. Higher thread count is associated with soft sheets, but only up to a point.

Thread counts of 1,000 or higher can be found, but the difference in quality doesn't make up for the extra cost. (Expect to pay about $200 or more -- way more -- for a queen-size 1,000-thread-count sheet.)

Consumer Reports recommends sheets of 200 to 400 thread count.

Even fine sheet-maker Yves Delorme, in Fort Worth, Texas, recommends thread counts only up to 500 on its Web site ( ).

Consumers were being deceived by some exaggerated thread count labels, the American Textile Manufacturers Institute claimed in 2002. Some manufacturers were upping their thread count by counting double-ply instead of single-ply threads, although it is debatable if whether double-ply thread count offers any noticeable difference to the sleeper. In 2005, the Federal Trade Commission in 2005 advised sheet manufacturers to clearly state on labels how the thread count is achieved.


Sweet sheets

Everyone thinks about thread count when sheet buying, but that's only one of the factors factor that makes for comfortable sheets. Here are seven more sheet-things to know:

1. The sheets that feel the softest are the ones that are made with the very long staples of Egyptian cotton, says Joanne Walgren, owner of Sue Bearrie Fine Linen & Fashion Boutique, in Colleyville, Texas.

2. Good-quality sheets are also made out of Supima cotton, a trademark name signifying the fabric is made from the longest fibers of the American-grown pima cotton. Supima is less expensive than Egyptian cotton, although it often is just as comfortable.

3. "Easy-care" sheets are polyester and cotton. They aren't as breathable as plain cotton, which means you are more likely to get too hot at night, wake up, and blame it on the dog when, in fact, it's really the polyester in the sheets.

4. "Permanent Press" or "wrinkle-free" sheets can be 100 percent cotton, but the Environmental Protection Agency says they are treated with formaldehyde to discourage wrinkling. The chemical is associated with breathing difficulties and certain cancers, the EPA says.

5. Percale or sateen sheets describe how the sheet is woven, says Mary Ella Gabler, founder and CEO of Peacock Alley, a Dallas-based fine linen purveyor. Percale is lightweight and crisp, a summertime favorite for many. Sateen sheets are softer than percale and slightly heavier weight.

6. Bamboo/cotton sheets vary in softness but are comparable to good-quality cotton sheets. Another comfy choice: Jersey knit sheets that feel like your favorite old T-shirt.

7. Take the advice of L.L. Bean when buying flannel sheets. They should be brushed on both sides for softness and of 5-ounce-weight cotton to be thick and warm.

Laundry day

Sheets and pillowcases can quickly lose their softness if laundered in harsh laundry products. Here's the method fine linen sellers recommend:

* Machine wash in warm water on gentle cycle.

* Use a mild detergent. Ivory or Dreft, found at grocery stores, are recommended, as is the higher-end Le Blanc Linen Wash at a cost of $30 for 64 ounces in lavender scent, blue violet or unscented.

* Chlorine bleach breaks down fibers. Use an enzyme-based stain remover such as OxiClean instead.

* Don't use fabric softeners. They coat the fabric, which ultimately causes the fabric to lose softness.

* Air drying is ideal, but it's OK to use a low setting and take the sheets out before they are completely dry.

Source: Sue Bearrie Fine Linens and Yves Delorme

Down comfort

Down comforters and pillows are believed by many to cause allergies, but retailers don't always agree that the down itself is the cause.

It isn't the down that causes sneezes, according to Bed Bath & Beyond. It's the dirt and dust carried by the down.

Good-quality down products use down that has been cleaned and sterilized, said Walgren of Sue Bearrie Fine Linens. Look for words such as "hypoallergenic" and "sanitized."

Trusty old down retailers such as L.L. Bean, the Company Store and Land's End carry down comforters with a thread-count of at least 230 to prevent down from escaping.

Go for the softness of 100 percent down, rather than a down/feather blend.

Buy a down comforter that is made with "baffle-box construction." They tend to run about $20 to $50 higher than other down comforters, but the interior baffling construction technique provides the down with more room to loft and prevents it from shifting, the Company Store advises.

Synthetic down normally is polyester that mimics the quality of real down. It tends to cost the same, but often is advertised as being less likely to harbor dust mites that cause allergies.

Assembling an inviting bed

Looks count. A pretty bed sets a relaxing mood. Here are a few tips gleaned from the pros at Yves Delorme.

* Lots of pillows add up to a sense of "pampered elegance," plus they do make for extra comfort while reading in bed.

* A bed looks coordinated if the duvet -- the cover for the comforter -- matches the large European-size pillows propped at the headboard.

* The blanket or quilt should match one or more of the pillow shams, whether it's another layer of large "Euros" or other pillows.

* A printed fitted sheet that matches the pillowcases also helps harmonize the look of a bed.

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