Should You Sleep with a Top Sheet?

It’s a seemingly innocuous question that spurs serious debate.

Buff Coles Cottage Guest Bedroom
To maximize space for guests, Coles chose twin beds for this bedroom. She also made strategic use of a single ticking-stripe pattern by Braemore to dress up the space, matching the Roman shades with the headboards and bed skirts. To add an extra dose of fun and pattern without spending a mint on bed linens, she created each duvet cover using two twin-size, gingham-printed flat sheets to make the top and a plain white cotton lining for the bottom. Photo: Hector Manuel Sanchez

What Is a Top Sheet?

First things first, let's clear up any possible confusion. A top sheet, also called a flat sheet, is the additional sheet that rests between your comforter and your fitted sheet (the one that makes you sweat when you struggle to wrap its elastic hem around all four corners of your bed). Some people swear by sleeping with a top sheet, while others absolutely loathe them.

Should You Use a Top Sheet?

As someone who was taught to make my bed by flipping the top sheet upside down to create a decorative pop when folded over my coverlet, it never occurred to me that some people choose not to sleep with one at all.

According to Sleep Junkie, a site that covers sleep research and reviews sleep-related products, only 61% of Americans opt to use a top sheet, while the other 39% do not. (More puzzling: Their survey suggests that 18% of Americans don't use fitted sheets at all. I have a lot of questions for those people, but that's a story for another day.)

The arguments in favor of a top sheet typically boil down to hygiene and comfort: Some say it prevents them from having to wash the comforter or duvet cover as frequently, while others say it just feels cozier to have the extra layer on the bed.

Those who are against using a top sheet often cite the inconvenience: It's one more piece to deal with when making a bed; or it ends up tangled around your legs or at your feet. Those who are against using one also assert that it's just as easy to wash a duvet cover as it is a flat sheet.

Many of our editors have strong pro-top-sheet opinions—namely, that using one is about as Southern as buttermilk and cornbread. "Hot summer night, a whirling ceiling fan, and a cool, cotton top sheet," says one. "Can't get more Southern than that." A second editor is a little more willing to compromise… sort of. "I'm pro top sheet but my fiancé is against it, so I sleep under ours and he sleeps on top of it."

Another still, though, confesses that she's skipped the top sheet in the past as a matter of convenience: "For a hot minute I did away with the top sheet and didn't bother putting a slip on my comforter either because I was lazy and moving soon."

Of course, for the sake of science and a slightly larger sample size, I also polled a group of Southern interiors experts, from decorators to bedding designers, to see where they stood on the grand debate. Here's what they had to say.

Sleep Comfort Is Subjective

"Everyone has a strong opinion about the layers they want and don't want. That's why this debate is so heated—literally! Many people find the extra layer of a top sheet hot and restricting. When we started Red Land Cotton, we initially sold sheet sets [which included a top sheet] and that was the only choice. It wasn't long before we heard the public outcry for options," says Anna Brakefield, founder of Moulton, Alabama's Red Land Cotton, which uses her family's cotton to create heirloom-quality bedding and bath towels. Now, she notes, they offer build-your-own sets, so you can choose to ditch the top sheet if you wish.

A Top Sheet Might Save You Money Along the Way

"I believe it's absolutely necessary, not just for comfort, but to protect your duvet, comforter, or quilt from wear and tear [from washing]. It's much easier to care for and replace a sheet than it is a beautiful outer layer of bedding," says Niki McNeill Brown, a Raleigh, North Carolina-based interior designer.

You Can Ditch the Comforter Come Summer

"The top sheet functions as a lighter cover for warmer nights when the thicker layers just won't do. If you're like me, you already have to remove twenty-seven decorative pillows before jumping in bed, so the more the merrier with your top sheet!" says Tracy Woodard, co-founder of Covered in Cotton, a South Carolina maker of throw blankets.

Consider the Design Appeal

"I am pro top sheets! For me, nothing says bedtime like folding down a crisp sheet and a cozy comforter… I love a top sheet with beautiful detailing. A go-to is Matouk's Callista. It's like the ribbon on the present; it just feels complete and pretty with that final touch," says Katherine B. Melvin, a Birmingham, Alabama-based interior designer.

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  1. Riley M. America undercover: What do Americans put in their beds? Sleep Junkie. Published January 16, 2023.

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