Read labels. Sheets are always labeled with their thread count, a number that refers to the total number of threads per square inch of fabric. For example, sheets with a thread count of 600 have 600 threads in each square inch of fabric.
Thread count does not take the quality of the fabric into account, however, meaning sheets made from burlap could have the same thread count as those manufactured from cashmere.
"Thread count is not a good measure of quality because every manufacturer treats the fabric differently," says Pamela Diaconis, co-owner of , an upscale linen boutique in Philadelphia. "Some 200-thread-count sheets are much nicer than 1,000-thread-count sheets."
Instead of relying solely on thread count when choosing sheets, consider the fabric content, which directly impacts the look and feel.
According to research conducted by Consumer Reports, supima, pima, and Egyptian cottons have longer fibers, making them stronger and less likely to pill. The same report found that sheets made from cotton/polyester blends are more resistant to wrinkling, but aren't as absorbent so they may trap body heat. In contrast, percale has a tighter weave that makes it feel crisp and starched to keep you feeling cool.
The perfect pillows
"Pillows are designed for different sleep styles," explains Wendy Thayer, public relations manager for . "Side sleepers will want different pillows than back sleepers or stomach sleepers." Most manufacturers label their pillows to let consumers know which styles are best for their favorite sleeping positions.
Michael Breus, PhD, a clinical psychologist and author of suggests thicker pillows for side sleepers, thin pillows for back sleepers, and ultra-thin pillows (or no pillow at all) for stomach sleepers.
In all cases, the volume of the pillow helps keep the neck and shoulders in alignment. It's the thickness, not the fill that is most important for accommodating various sleeping positions. According to Breus, memory-foam pillows are a good bet for all kinds of sleeping positions because the pliable material adjusts to the shape of your body throughout the night. But, he warns, the foam tends to make some sleepers hot.
After deciding on the right density, consider the fill. Pillows are filled with everything from feather and foam, to wool and latex. Each fill has its own benefits and drawbacks.
Feathers or synthetic down are breathable, making them good choices for sleepers who get hot during the night. The wicking properties of latex pillows also prevent overheating. Foam pillows are available in various degrees of thickness and tend to last longer than other fills.
If allergies are a concern, choose pillows made from hypoallergenic materials such as cotton, wool, or synthetic down. Latex won't trigger allergies and it resists mold and dust mites.
No matter which pillows you choose, Breus offers a word of advice: "You should replace your pillows every 12 to 18 months," he says. "The filling deteriorates over time and that will impact the quality of your sleep."
A duvet can often be the most expensive piece on a bed, and because it can directly affect the quality of your sleep, Thayer urges shoppers to "consider it an investment piece." But how do you know which duvet is right for you? It depends on personal factors like body temperature while sleeping and allergies.
Duvets with natural fillings like duck or goose down, cotton, and silk are lightweight but offer maximum warmth. Like all natural materials, down is breathable and longer lasting than synthetic fillers.
Dan Schecter, vice president of sales and marketing for , recommends natural fillings or synthetic down (labeled down alternative) for sleepers who tend to be cold at night. "These fills are insulators and will hold heat, keeping the sleeper warm and cozy," he says.
To determine the quality of a down duvet, it's essential to know the fill power and tog rating. Fill power refers to the number of cubic inches filled by one ounce of down. The higher the fill power, the warmer and fluffier the duvet. A duvet with a fill power over 550 is considered good quality; a fill power over 750 is top of- the line. The fill power may not be listed on the label; if in doubt, ask the retailer.
Tog ratings refer to the ability to trap warm air. The lower the tog rating, the less warmth the duvet provides. A summer-weight duvet may have a tog rating of 3 while the tog rating on a winter-weight duvet could top 13. "You may want to have different duvets for different seasons," notes Thayer.
Although down is the most popular duvet fill, it's not the best choice for everyone. Synthetic fillings, including polyester and polyester blends, are a better choice for sleepers who tend to overheat in bed. "Lightweight is the key," Schecter explains. "Polyester fiber is mostly air and won't hold heat; it does not make you cool but it will not add to the heat problem."
"You have to do a little bit of research before making an investment, especially if allergies are a concern," Diaconis notes. The feathers used in down pillows and duvets can trigger allergic reactions; wool might also cause allergies to flare. When choosing products made from down, check the label to see if the filling was sterilized. According to Diaconis, sterilizing the feathers helps make down-filled bedding more hypoallergenic. Silk, an antimicrobial fabric that is resistant to dust mites, and cotton are also good choices if you're worried about allergies.
To get the feel of down without the allergens, look for bedding listing "down alternative" on the label. According to Schecter, the synthetic material offers all the benefits of down, including the softness and loft, without the allergens. Bonus: down alternative is a fraction of the cost of natural down.
Different fabrics have different qualities of warmth and softness. Bedding made from cotton and other natural materials such as bamboo, cashmere, silk, and linen tend to be more breathable, comfortable, and durable than those made from manmade fabrics.
Deciding which fabric is best for your bed is also a matter of taste: the crisp appearance of percale creates a formal, tailored appearance; the light sheen of sateen creates either a relaxed or elegant look; and bamboo offers an eco-friendly option that looks like silk but washes like cotton.
The type of fabric not only influences its appearance and durability, but also has an impact on the cost. Fabrics that are rare or require specialty processing such as Mongolian cashmere (made from the undercoating of a rare goat breed) and hand-dyed silks will have higher price tags—and will last much longer—than mass-produced materials like polyester or cotton.
With bedding, as with all things, Breus notes, "You get what you pay for."