There was once a time when only two types of people in this world existed: those who make their bed every morning and those who don’t. However, thanks to millennials, there’s now another divide when it comes to bedding: those who use a top sheet (aka a flat sheet) and those who don’t.
The top sheet has been rendered unwanted by younger generations who have even been spotted calling the humble traditional sheet “archaic” on Twitter. In a GQ op-ed, writer Maggie Lange called them “a scam” because they’re fiddly, ripe for tangling, flawed in design and overall a pure nuisance.
“Unless every element is perfectly aligned, making a bed with a top sheet will always look messier than if there were no top sheet. There are more ways to be disorderly than there are to be orderly,” Lange wrote.
Why aren't Millennials using top sheets on beds?
The case against top sheets are as follows:
- It’s an unnecessary step that costs money to purchase and clean
- It complicates bed-making
- It’s claustrophobic
- It’s easy to get tangled in, which is worsened if you don’t sleep alone
But the case in support of the top sheet stands strong, too. Not only do traditionalists appreciate the extra sheet as a layer of bedding that keeps their quilt cover clean, but they also claim it helps them sleep better.
Why is a top sheet necessary?
The case for top sheets are as follows:
- It provides added warmth during the cooler months (and can be used to replace your doona during the warmer months)
- It protects your expensive doona and doona cover
- It’s hygienic
- It provides textural satisfaction and makes a bed look (and feel) cosier
So, who’s right? To settle this great top sheet debate, it’s useful to delve into the history of bed linens first.
The history of a well-made bed
According to traditional European-style bedding, a duvet and a fitted bottom sheet are all that is needed to classify as a well-made bed. However, American-style bedding disagrees and says a top sheet is needed in between.
In saying this, Europeans are known to flip their duvets in the mornings and let their beds “breathe” by hanging their comforters and duvets in fresh air and sunlight (sunshine is known to be a great disinfectant), before re-making their bed at night. This is an uncommon practice in the US, hence why the top sheet is historically a staple for Americans.
When only a fitted sheet is used, it’s traditional to use a quilt as a topper because the cover can be washed regularly. But when a top sheet is added into the mix, comforters, blankets and duvet covers that are harder to clean can be used because that handy flat sheet acts as a hygienic barrier.
It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s unhygienic if you decide to ditch the top sheet - it simply depends on how frequently someone washes their sheets. Microbiologist and pathologist at the New York University School of Medicine Ingrid Johnson explained to Tech Insider that top sheet or no, a bed is a hotspot for a slew of living things that’ll be sure to make you squirm.
“You have spores of fungi, bacteria, animal dander, pollen, soil, lint, finishing agents of whatever the sheets are made from, colouring material, all sorts of excrements from the body including sweat, sputum, vaginal, and anal excretions, urine milieu, skin cells…” (something to keep in mind if you’re an especially sweaty sleeper.)
Most experts recommend washing your sheets at least once every two weeks, with once a week being the ideal timeframe.
Mary-Louise McLaws, a researcher at Australia’s University of New South Wales, told Huffington Post: “Change and wash the doona cover weekly if you don’t use a top sheet, otherwise change it less often based on smells and visual cleanliness.”
But all this information still doesn’t settle the great top sheet debate, so we asked five different people of various ages and occupations, for their opinion.
5 people on whether a top sheet is necessary
Simone Haag, Interior Designer
“In my approach to styling, I am always seeking an opportunity to layer. That might be in the way of layering a home with books or sculptures, or layering an outfit with a bag or scarf.
Layering beds is much the same; it’s an opportunity for extra colour or texture to be introduced to the scheme, which is always a good thing in my book”.
Emma Rosham & Michelle Rubi, founders of professional organisational company TIDEE
"In the interests of minimalism and avoiding clutter, the top sheet is not a necessity. But for ultimate luxury and comfort (who doesn’t love the snuggly feeling of being tucked in by a top sheet at a swanky hotel) the top sheet is essential.
Using one does come with benefits and while some see it as a way of avoiding having to wash a doona cover, it’s actually not entirely the case.
If you move around in your sleep, the top sheet often ends up tangled around your feet and if you’re anything like us, then every time you change the sheets (which we do every week), you’ll wash everything regardless.
Scrapping the top sheet altogether means greater freedom, no more wrestling with another layer, no more midnight tangles and best of all, one less thing to wash, dry and fold - and let’s face it, we want to try and make life as simple as possible.
However, whatever you decide, it really comes down to personal choice and comfort. Just ensure your decision is helping you sleep better."
Madeline Calfas, Registered Nurse and Naturopath
“I look at it from a hygienic perspective, so yes, I think a top sheet is necessary. Are you able to remember the last time you actually washed your doona cover? The fact of the matter is that while we may wash our sheets on a weekly basis, we don’t tend to wash our doonas anywhere near as frequently, which makes them a veritable treasure trove for bedbugs. On top of that, think of how much you might sweat, especially in the summer months. Not having a top sheet means your doona cover is going to absorb that sweat, rather than the top sheet.
Having said that, I understand why some people prefer to not have a flat sheet. Not only is it much easier to make the bed but there are a lot of people who find it to be quite claustrophobic when tucked into bed.
I’d just make sure that if you choose to sleep without one, wash your doona cover more frequently!”
Emily MacAlpine, Interior Designer
“I firmly sit on the top sheet side of the fence, however, I can understand why some would go without one.
The reason I love a top sheet is because I love the softness of tucking the sheet back over the doona when it’s up around my face and because it means I don’t have to wrestle with my doona cover every single week when I wash it.
On the flip side, I think not having a top sheet means your bed is effortlessly made in seconds and doesn’t start to look seriously messy because you don’t have a sheet to tuck in.
From a design point of view, I think a top sheet gives a more formal and traditional look whereas using just a doona (particularly with a linen cover) can create a relaxed and homely feel.”
Verdict: Is a top sheet necessary?
While all the above people voted in favour of the top sheet, it’s ultimately a personal preference. Whatever you decide, just ensure you’re washing your bed sheets regularly.