It’s very “entitled millennial” of me to blame poor sleep on my mattress. It’s possible I toss and turn and night-sweat because I eat ice cream at 11 p.m., have a full-sized bed and a queen-sized boyfriend, or essentially inject blue light into my pupils as a good-night story. But I’m pretty sure it’s my mattress; it was very cheap. I paid $100 for it online. I was sold on the reviews that said it was quite comfortable for the price, which I suppose is true given $100 for a mattress is by some measures free and it is a sleeping surface. I did the same thing with my sheets: They were $10, also online, and pretty soft according to Joan from Cincinnati.
I thought I’d really beat the system! As my roommate hemmed and hawed over spending $1,000 on a nice mattress and $200 on Egyptian cotton sheets, I smugly announced the price of mine, told him to give my bed a feel, then proceeded to sleep poorly for a year and a half.
This is a pattern for me. As a generally thrifty person, I’ve built an entire section of my personality around side-eyeing products for which I couldn’t “see” the value. If I could get a sweater from a fast-fashion brand that looked just like its designer analog, why pay 10 times the price? Ethics did not play into this ethos; it was all economics and entry-level paychecks. As I’ve gotten older, though, I’ve started to appreciate the value — definition? — of quality. This realization is not unique to me; it’s why articles are published every day by people my age announcing they’d like to have fewer, better things. Purposeful minimalism is one of those ideas you eschew as pretentious until you stumble upon it yourself, at which point you feel like a genius: Holy shit, buying quality things actually SAVES you money, and it’s better for the planet! As if a million people hadn’t already told you that!
Damn, we’re all the same, huh?
Anyway, my bedding sucked. And the more my roommate slept soundly on his $1,200 money pit, I began to wonder if I hadn’t ultimately paid more for mine with the sanity I’d sacrificed by sleeping on a human-sized Brillo pad, or perhaps with the extra 50 cents I’d started spending on medium coffees instead of small. That’s when I began to wonder: Could nicer sheets fix my sleep? If I’m not looking to invest in a real mattress right now (that’s code for “it’s too expensive”), could higher-quality bedding do some of the legwork instead?
I tested three new bedding setups to find out. Before I tell you how it went, here were the four measures by which I evaluated their effectiveness:
1. Go-the-fuck-to-bed encouragement
My cheaper bedding had no come hither quality to it. It looked and felt drab as hell and was not overly inviting. I became convinced that fluffy, cloud-like bedding would make me get in bed earlier and thus sleep longer.
I. am. too. fucking. HOT AT NIGHT!!!! Some people just kick off the sheets when they’re hot, but I refuse to sleep without being fully covered lest I be ghost-murdered, and that means I need to be tucked in at all times (and also possibly spooning). Are there sheets that enable me to do this without sweating out all my fluids and waking up constantly as a result?
3. Toss-and-turn prevention
This strikes me as more of a mattress problem and is possibly related to the aforementioned heat issue, but I’m constantly readjusting at night. Every new position I snuggle into is heavenly levels of comfortable until I’ve been doing it for 20 seconds, at which point it becomes a punishment. Maybe this is because I’m the patty of a burger with sheets of sandpaper for buns.
This one’s less about a problem, more about the little bells and whistles that I hoped would come with nicer bedding: Do the duvet cover corners have those little ties? (God help me if my comforter bunches up in its duvet, thus creating what I call “loose skin.”) Are the buttons hard to close or too few? Does it feel nicer in general than what I have now?
The setups I tried happened to be by three different popular bedding brands, but the below reviews are more about comparing materials (i.e., linen vs. Supima vs. percale) than the brands themselves (as most carry all three types). The brands/their PR companies generously sent me these sheets for free to try. Here’s what I found out.
1.Linen sheets and duvet cover + down mattress topper, by Parachute
My sister is a linen sheet pusher. She swears it is the softest of all sheet materials. I’ve been less convinced, for reasons that range from “they feel like burlap” to “they think they’re better than me,” but this time I was excited. Out of the package, they felt like a complete 180 from my $10 rain-slicker sheets. These are made of 100% European flax — “long the fabric of choice in hot and humid climates,” according to Parachute’s blog, which sounded promising for my temperature problem.
My first mistake was not washing them first. This was actually a step I skipped twice (with the Supima sheets too) despite the instructions clearly stating otherwise. Pre-wash, my boyfriend noted he felt like he’d just slumbered in a potato sack (linen) and then a blue IKEA shopping bag (Supima), which I thought sounded kind of fun, if uncomfortable. Either way, post-wash, we were back in business. The linen became really soft — much softer than I expected, but still not jersey-sheet levels of soft (which you can’t buy after college; I believe it’s a misdemeanor).
Overall, I woke up sweating and tossing less than usual but didn’t stop by any means. I don’t have anything particularly noteworthy to share on this setup except that it made my bed more appealing to climb into. It scored “good” all the way down (hence, 3s), but I can see that improving as I wear the sheets in a bit, which I’ve heard is key with linen.
I gave this setup low points for getting me into bed because the feel of the sheets was still a bit thin and paper-y, even after a wash. I imagine a few more cycles will do it good. (“Grown in California’s Central Valley, our premium extra-long staple Supima® cotton is one of the finest and longest fibers in the world,” reads Casper’s site. “It won’t pill or wear thin — it will only get softer with every wash.” Hopefully true!) On the upside, these sheets and duvet were the most breathable. I did not sweat profusely nor curse my parents’ genetics for making me run hot at 2 a.m. Still tossed and turned a bit, though. Beginning to think this is not something sheets can fix. This is not your fault, Casper!
3.Percale sheets and duvet cover + lightweight down comforter, by Brooklinen
By the time I got to Brooklinen’s percale sheets, duvet and cover — “woven from 100% long-staple cotton, [these] sheets are crisp, airy and cool, for the ultimate night’s sleep,” per the site — I’d wised up and washed them right away. Out of the gate, I could tell these were going to be my favorite. They were the softest to the touch and felt so luxe. I tried to take a photo of my bed after making it to brag to someone, but the photo looked horrible because I don’t have a headboard or any natural light in my dungeon of a bedroom.
Either way, I dove into that bed early for the pure novelty of it, and I must say, I slept great. It wasn’t quite as cool as Casper (I mean in terms of temperature, but I suppose I mean figuratively, too, because nothing beats that button-loop contraption) but was a little comfier overall, which helped me stay asleep. This set definitely won.
Now for my big, disappointing conclusion: Although Brooklinen’s percale sheets, at a score of 15, barely beat out Casper’s Supima, at 13, and Parachute’s linen at 12, I really think my restless sleep is a mattress problem more than a bedding problem. There is a reason my mattress was $100, and that reason is it was made by stacking several cardboard boxes on top of one another. It may feel like your standard good-enough mattress when you bounce on it for a moment, but any kind of sustained use throws a wrench in its façade.
That said, I do think nice bedding helps! Or better put: Bad sheets can make things worse. The softness, breathability and general feeling of quality in all three of these brands were far beyond what I experienced with my $10 doozies, which feel soft to the touch but don’t stand up to any practical measures over time. Aside from making it harder for me to get up in the morning because I feel like I’m stuffed in a cloud, better bedding has only done good things for me. If you haven’t been sleeping well and can’t afford a brand-new mattress, I think saving up for higher-quality bedding is a worthy investment. And next time I’m mattress shopping, it’s not where I’ll choose to save.
I’m sorry my conclusion is the very simple “don’t skimp on quality if you can avoid it,” but I never said I wasn’t a basic aging millennial. In fact, I told you that right off the bat!
Feature collage & designs by Emily Zirimis.