Do you wonder if thread counts really make a difference? You’re not alone. The topic is a confusing one, with thread counts on sheets ranging from 180 to 1000. Add in misleading labels, plus the fact that quality depends on much more than the thread count. You’ll end up scratching your head.
What does thread count mean and how does it affect the quality of the sheets and duvet covers you buy.
What Is Thread Count?
The thread count on the sheets you are looking at refers to the number of threads per square inch, both vertically and horizontally. The vertical is called the warp and the horizontal is called the weft. Sometimes extra threads, called picks, are added to the weft to augment the thread count.Picks are what put thread counts on some sheets into the thousands. But it isn’t accurate. Weavers insist that the most you can have in a square inch is 500 to 600 thread count.
The best quality sheets, made from 100% Egyptian cotton, use long, single-ply strands for their thread. But many standard sheets use shorter strands that are wrapped together to form a single, longer thread. If it uses two strands, or two-ply, the manufacturer often will label it as having twice the thread count. This means a sheet with a 400 thread count that uses double ply might be labeled as 800 count.
This is simply a misleading method of making the sheets sound better than they are. And it gets worse. If four-ply strands are used, makers often inflate the count by a factor of four. So a 250 thread count becomes a 1000 thread count. That’s quite a jump, making poor quality sheets sound like a superior grade.
What Makes Sheets High Quality?
It is important to remember that just having more doesn’t mean you are getting a better sheet. There are three important features that determine the overall quality of your sheet. Here is a look at them.
Egyptian cotton: Egyptian cotton, grown from the species gossypium barbadense, is considered by experts to have the highest quality. It is stronger, more durable and softer. Professionals in the field feel that Italians are the best weavers of Egyptian cotton.
When you shop, look for labels that say “Pure Egyptian Cotton” or “100% Egyptian Cotton.”
Ply: Beware of labels that use the word multi-ply, 2-ply or 4-ply. It means that they are using lower quality cotton that needs to be blended together in order to get the right length of thread. It is rougher, doesn’t last as long, tends to pill and isn’t as rich looking as 100% Egyptian cotton made with long fibers.
Thread count: Choose sheets with at least a thread count of 200 and up to 600.
Weave: If you like a crisp feel to your sheets, choose Egyptian cotton with a percale weave, which is more supple than sateen. However, if you prefer softness, go with a sateen weave. This information should be on the label.
Finish: Most cotton sheets are mercerized, a finishing process that helps to plump up each of the fibers. This adds to the natural luster of Egyptian cotton. It also makes it feel softer and make the colors richer looking. Overall, it enhances the look and the quality of the fabric and the weave. If your sheet set has been mercerized, this information will be on the label.
We surveyed many sleep experts and asked them a few pointed questions regarding sleep. We highlighted some of these answers below, and discussed what seemed to be the consensus answers. You can find the names and websites of a few of the sleep experts in the reference section below.
What are the most common causes of sleep deprivation?
Sleep deprivation is a serious thing, which is the condition of not getting enough sleep. Depending on the level, sleep deprivation can cause severe cognitive impairment, fatigue, weight loss or gain, achiness irritability, headaches, and possibly hallucinations. We asked our sleep experts to list 3 of the most common reasons behind sleep deprivation. The bulk of the answers referenced mental aspects of why people have trouble falling asleep at night, with stress and busy lives being the main factor. External factors do have a role, but ultimately it was the mental aspect which causes the root of sleep deprivation. And even though a stressful day can sometimes be unavoidable, it is ideal for one to try and create time and space between stressful events and sleep. This is why a downtime of 1-2 hours is ideal before heading to bed.
- Debbie – Use of electronics too close before bed. Improper sleep environment. Poor sleep habits & bedtime routine.
- James – Pain, anxiety, and bad habits.
- Jenn – Our lives are too busy. Sleep isn’t made a priority. Too many electronics in the bedroom.
- Jordan – Social/work/family pressures — the difficult balance of a long work day, tending to family, and trying to juggle social demands can lead to people staying up late while still having to set their alarm early for work in the morning.
- Inell – Caffeine, screen time, shift work, sleep apnea, insomnia, sleep hygiene.
How many hours before bed should one stop drinking coffee?
Coffee is said to be the most popular drug in the world, with the reason for this being that caffeine is a major stimulant found in coffee. Unsurprisingly, sleep experts were fairly cautious here and recommended not drinking coffee anywhere near bedtime. This is because caffeine can stay in one’s body for up to 16 hours after consumption (depending on the amount ingested), and although one can fall asleep before that, the sleep will be disrupted and is not ideal. The smallest time frame offered by two sleep experts was 4 hours before bed, with the majority of them recommending to wait at least 8 hours, with some going as high as 12 hours. The exact average was 6:40 before bed.
- Jenn – Depends on how it affects you, but should stop drinking coffee after lunch (8 hrs).
- Jordan – Caffeine has a half-life of about 4 hours, meaning it takes 4 hours for half of the caffeine you ingest to metabolize. So even 12 hours after a cup of coffee, you’ve still got some caffeine pumping through your veins. It varies from person-to-person, but limiting coffee to before lunchtime (if you go to bed at night) is best.
- Inell – No coffee or caffeine after lunch.
- Shannon – For adults, usually 6 hours, but for people who are really sensitive to caffeine, nothing after 12pm.
How many hours before bed should one stop eating?
Eating before bed is an obvious weight gain issue, as nutritionists across the board advise meals to be finished at least 3 hours prior to bedtime. However, sleep experts advice against pre-bedtime food for different reasons. Eating a lot of food will increase blood flow to one’s digestive tract, causing the stomach to secrete extra gastric acid which makes the intestinal muscles work harder. This will stimulate one’s metabolism at a point when it should be slowing down. Experts tended to agree on this one; 2 or 3 hours before bed was the recommended time between eating a meal and sleeping. Laura pointed out that children have no issue, and can eat just before bed. Experts also allowed pre-bedtime snacks, so long as the portions were not huge.
- Helene – Large dinners late at night interfere with sleep, but a light snack at bedtime might be necessary for some people.
- Laura – I’ve never seen a child sleep poorly based on when their last meal is. Many children need to go to bed very early, which means they eat dinner and go to bed immediately. I have never seen this negatively impact their sleep.
What are the worst foods to eat before going to sleep?
Eating before bedtime, depending on when you partake, can have an immense effect on one’s ability to fall asleep as well as quality. The most consistent answer from all experts was a combination of spicy, sugar, and caffeinated foods. There were a few experts who also recommended avoiding meat and chicken, which takes longer for the digestive system to break down. One expert recommended avoiding celery.
- Andrea – Meat, chocolate, heavy foods.
- Angelique – Spicy food, alcohol, caffeine, foods that are difficult to digest.
- Hannah – Anything with caffeine (chocolate, tea coffee, coke) or high sugar foods which can cause a surge in blood sugar. Also high protein foods such as meat or cheese.
- James – Spice and caffeinated.
- Jenn – Heavy, fatty foods like steak dinner. Makes the digestive system work harder right before bed and can cause heartburn.
Can a full moon affect one’s sleep?
Scientifically speaking, few of the experts wished to state unequivocally that a full moon can affect sleep, though many were quick to qualify that information, by offering anecdotal information. The sleep experts sang a familiar tune: a full moon should not affect sleep (according to scientific research), however, from both patients and continued anecdotal evidence, it seems to experts that a full moon certainly does disrupt sleep. Only two experts stated clear no’s, but even then they seemed to qualify their responses: “no definitive proof” and “not that I’m aware of”, thereby indicating some level of doubt as to fully ruling it out.
- Andrea – Yes. We do at times get extra complaints of child sleep disruptions on a full moon.
- Hannah – Yes most definitely- from working with families for years I always know when the full moon is as the babies suddenly wake up much more!
- Jordan – Likely not in the sense that it makes people “crazy,” but if the extra light is shining through your bedroom window, it has potential to disrupt your ability to fall asleep.
- Laura – Yes, I’ve seen this many times with my own children and with my clients!
- Niamh – My head says no, but I know lots of people who feel this way.
- Shannon – People often report poorer sleep on full moon nights and parents will say the same about their children. Research seems to be a bit inconclusive on the topic.
Does not wearing socks make it harder to fall asleep?
Wearing socks to sleep has been the source of debate between people who maintain that it is an absolutely necessity, to those who claim that the question doesn’t even hold weight. That’s why we asked the sleep experts, and they gave conflicting reports here. Some reported that patients often feel hot (perhaps due to the stress of not being able to fall asleep), in which case socks would not be recommended. Other experts reported patients preferring socks as it keeps them warm. A few experts abstained from this question, as they noted that it completely depends on the patient. There were also a few experts who did touch on the scientific reasons, in that socks keep the blood circulating, perhaps lowering the chances of waking up in the night. Ultimately, however, this really came down to personal preference.
- Bea – Not necessarily, but research does suggest that wearing socks can make it easier for people to fall asleep in that blood is better circulated this way; you can also get a similar effect by putting a hot water bottle by your feet.
- Helene – Not specifically, but finding a comfortable temperature is important for sleep and temperature can affect different people in different ways.
- Kathryn – People who sleep poorly report feeling hotter so in my opinion socks would make you more likely to get hot and have disturbed sleep.
- Shannon – That completely matters on the person however it is something recommended for adults who are having difficulty falling asleep.
Can bedding material affect one’s sleep? (Cotton, satin, & silk)
The type of bedding one uses for sleep can definitely have an effect. The most important element to sleeping well is having soft sheets- abrasive or itchy sheets will cause one to remain awake. Satin sheets are considered the baseline for any soft and comfortable sheets, as they give off a silk-like soft and smooth feel. Silk is a preferred option though, as it allows air to travel through, and won’t cause one to wake up hot and sweaty. Sleep experts across the board agreed that breathability was the biggest factor for having the right bedding to sleep. In that case, cotton and silk are the two recommended sheets.
- Andrea – Yes of course, particularly for children who snuggle in to the sheets as part of self-soothing.
- Bea – Yes – materials affect heat (e.g. Cotton can keep us cooler, which can help us sleep better).
- Kathryn –The more comfortable and cool your bed can be, the better your chances of sleeping well.
- Laura – Definitely. Materials that don’t breathe leave moisture on the skin from sweat (which we do in certain stages of sleep).
- Niamh – Of course. Comfort is key to good quality sleep. But it’s down to preferences. I’m a cotton girl!
Pre-Bedtime Activities & Sleep Disruption
We asked experts to rank the following activities in order of least conducive to most conducive toward falling asleep. One point was given for least disruptive, and 7 points were given for most disruptive.
Analysis: There were some interesting results: cigarettes were ranked as more disruptive than alcohol. Generally alcohol is considered a big no-no in terms of getting a proper night’s sleep, but it seems that experts judged the nicotine content of to be more damaging than the potential caffeine and sugars found in alcohol. Most shocking was that email and Facebook (social media) scored as more disruptive than exercise, alcohol, and TV. This is a sign that experts understand that the never-ending train of social media truly never sleeps, and will affect one’s ability to fall asleep. Some experts also made sure to differentiate between falling asleep and staying asleep.
- Bea – (Regarding exercise) yoga is okay, aerobic is probably higher on the list than logging into email.
- Jordan – It depends on the person (i.e. how their body handles exercise close to bedtime, how much they typically drink/smoke, etc). Also note that while something like reading e-mail will make you fall asleep later, something like alcohol will help you fall asleep faster, but will also disrupt your sleep halfway through the night, so all of these things have different mechanisms.
- Hannah – Newspaper/TV/Email depends on content and stress levels.
Sleep Expert References:
Below are the names of a portion of the sleep experts that participated in the study (in alphabetical order), as well as Twitter handles and website names:
|Bea von Watzdorf||lessonsforthejourney.com|
|Jordan Gaines Lewis||gainesonbrains.com|
Snuggling under warm comforter at night is one of the true pleasures of winter. The right bed topper also makes a focal point for your bedroom. The two most popular types are the duvet and a quilt. Which works best?
Each has its pros and cons. You decide which works best for your needs:
How It Is Made
Quilts are made using three layers of fabric material. The topmost layer is woven cloth, followed by a middle layer of batting and finished with a third woven layer. All three layers are stitched securely together.
Duvets are flat bags made of fabric and filled with synthetic material, feathers or down. The bag is then slipped inside an outer casing called the duvet cover. This makes it simple to wash the cover, much like a pillowcase. The cover acts as a sheet, so you can use them alone on the bed. The best type are constructed so that the filling inside can’t shift.
Quilts are made with a variety of fabric. For modern quilts, the most popular is quilter’s weight cotton. It is 100% high quality cotton so it usually shrinks less than other types. It also bleeds less than other cottons, so it looks good even after washing.
A slightly heavier choice is home décor cotton which usually has a sateen finish. Though most often used in quilted throw pillows or bags, it is also used for making bedding.
Voile cotton is very lightweight and soft, making it an attractive choice for bedding. It is often combined with quilter’s weight cotton. When the quilt has voile used as the backing, it has a silky finish, a good choice for snuggling.
Quilts are also made with a combination of cotton and linen. For example, Essex linen is 55% linen and 45% cotton, which gives it a soft texture. Another choice, called quilter’s linen, is all cotton, but looks and feels like a mix of linen and cotton.
Duvet covers are usually made from cotton or cotton-polyester, but also come in linen or a mix of linen and cotton. The fabric needs to be washable since the cover takes the place of sheets.
A quilt is as warm as the batting inside. As a rule, the warmer it is, the heavier it is. For some people, a heavy covering at night makes it hard to sleep.
A duvet is warmer and lighter than a quilt. The filling, made from down, feathers or synthetic material, weighs less but keeps the sleeper warm.
Quilts need special care. You might be able to put a modern day quilt into the washer and hang it up to dry, but it is safer to hand wash it. Heirloom quality quilts must be hand washed to prevent unraveling and deterioration. Quilts do best if they are washed no more than once a year. This means it is a bad idea to let your pet lounge on one.
Duvet covers are easy to clean. Simply throw them in the wash, just like a sheet. The duvet itself, whether filled with down or feathers, should be cleaned once a year to keep them fresh. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations. As a rule, you can put them in the washer on gentle setting. Dry them in the dryer, which keeps them fluffed up. Some are so large that is it easier to use the big washers and dryers in a Laundromat.
Styles and Colors
There are an infinite number of quilt patterns available online and in books. Old-fashioned designs can be updated for modern bedrooms. Heirloom quilts can give your room a rustic charm. Modern quilts can be artistic, surreal, geometric and cartoonish. They come in any color you want, from pastels to neon.
Duvet covers come in any style and color you want. Just like sheets, they come in an astounding range of patterns and colors. You can easily coordinate the look of your bed to that of your room colors and style.
A quilt makes an attractive bed covering. Because they come in such a wide range of styles, they go with any décor. Heirloom quilts are usually rustic and often one-of-a-kind. However, you can’t change the look of the quilt because the covering stays the same.
Buying a new duvet covering is a low-cost way to change the look of your bedding for a low price. Simply pull the duvet out of the old covering and insert it into the new one.
Comfort has a lot to do with getting a good night’s sleep. That’s why many consumers are happy to pay the higher cost of real Egyptian cotton sheets and duvet covers. They have a softer feel on your body than other cottons and fabrics used in sheets and duvet covers.
True Egyptian cotton is considered the gold standard for bedding. Not only are the sheets softer, they are also stronger, more durable and don’t pill as easily.
If you are looking for a $40 to $50 set of sheets, then buy standard cotton or polyester brands. Real Egyptian cotton sheets cost several times that amount, often several hundred dollars for a set.
Only 4% of the world’s supply of cotton is true Egyptian cotton with the Extra-Long Staple, or ELS. It is rare, which has led to false labeling by makers in an effort to deceive shoppers. Due to the fact that so little of the world’s cotton crop is high-quality Egyptian and because it has so many superior qualities, you will pay a high price for them.
The kind of comfort Egyptian cotton provides makes it easier to sleep on. You pay more—and you get more. Here is a look at why you might want to consider spending more for the quality of superior Egyptian cotton sheets and duvet covers.
The Length of the Fiber
Superior Egyptian cotton uses fibers that are about one-and-three-eighths of an inch long. Officially known as Extra-Long Staples, or ELS, they can be formed into extra-fine strands, which are woven into sheets with very high thread counts. This makes your sheets long-lasting and extremely soft.
Pride of Egyptian Growers
Certified Egyptian cotton, grown from the species gossypium barbadense, is actually grown in other countries, including the U.S. This type of cotton was brought to Egypt in the 1800s by its ruler in an effort to improve the output of this crop.
But most of the best sheets use cotton that is actually grown in Egypt. You can spot them by the logo, which has a black triangle with a white cotton blossom and the words “Egyptian cotton.” Cotton farmers in Egypt work hard to protect the name and quality of true high-end Egyptian cotton. Only growers that use superior plants and process them using advanced methods are allowed to use the logo.
The long strands and high quality of the materials lets them absorb liquid color easily. They take in more of the dye so the color is stronger. This explains the vibrant colors on true Egyptian cotton sheets.
Lint is actually the tiny hairs that naturally grow on the seeds of cotton plants. Egyptian plants produce very little lint, so the sheets and covers you buy pill much less than standard sheets. That lets the bedding keep its luster for many years.
When you pay the high price for 100% Egyptian cotton sheets, you are investing in bedding that will last for decades. Standard cotton sheets often wear out in just a year. That means choosing Egyptian cotton is the more cost-effective choice.
It can be tempting to choose less expensive sets of sheets. Often you can purchase three or four for the cost of a single set of 100% Egyptian cotton. But consider the fact that each set will last years longer than the cheaper sheets.
Softness that Lasts
Egyptian cotton sheets are actually a bit stiff before their first washing. But with each successive laundering, they get softer and softer. These sheets will last for decades, so over time they become the softest sheets you can buy.
Will you be more comfortable if you pay more for a higher thread count in your sheets and duvet covers? The quick answer is, it may help, but your comfort depends on several factors.
Advertisements from manufacturers have tried to convince shoppers that if they will pay more for a higher thread count, they will have superior sheets and a more restful sleep. That way they can charge more. But it is much more complex than that.
Here is a look at what actually determines the comfort level of your sheets and duvet covers.
An Honest Look at Thread Count
Up into the 1960s, a superior sheet had a thread count of 180. Standard sheets had a count around 120, with 60 running horizontally and 60 vertically. But today, high quality sheets claim a thread count of 1000 or more.
Weavers say that actually isn’t possible. Technically, the thread count refers to the number that take up each square inch of your sheet. And 1000 or more threads simply can’t be crammed onto a loom into that little space.
Manufacturers come up with this number by misleading shoppers. It can be due to extra threads, called picks, added into the sheet horizontally. Makers also routinely double the count if they use two-ply thread or quadruple it if they use four-ply thread. Multi-ply is actually a sign that the cotton is a lower grade.
What is the best thread count for comfort? Experts say to aim for about 400 threads per square inch. But even fewer will produce a quality sheet. Tests done by Consumer Reports showed that a sheet with a thread count of just 280 was both comfortable and durable.
Buy Egyptian Cotton
The quality of the cotton used in your sheets is a big factor in how comfortable it is. True Egyptian cotton is the highest grade. This type of cotton produces a long strand for threads. It is strong, soft and durable.
Because the fibers are longer, they require fewer splices. This means the threads make a very fine yarn, which is naturally softer, better looking and more durable.
The Right Weave
The weave that is used in your sheets has a great deal with how they feel. Do you like soft sheets? Or do you prefer a crisper feel?
Percale sheets use a weave that is often compared to white, button-down shirts. They have a crisp finish that becomes softer with each wash. This is the one to choose if “crisp” is how you define comfort.
Sateen sheets use a weaving pattern called “four over, one under” that produces a naturally softer product. It is often compared to the drape and feel of satin. Choose this type if you like a silky feel to your sheets.
Check the Label
Read the label carefully on the sheets you are considering. Here are two things to look out for:
Ply. The word ply on the sheet means it is probably made from multi-ply fabric strands that are blended together to produce threads that are long enough for weaving. Real 100% Egyptian sheets are made from single-ply strands. Don’t choose a sheet that talks about two- or four-ply threads on the label.
Very high thread counts. If the label mentions extremely high thread counts like 800, 1000 or more, it is most likely made with multi-ply threads or the addition of picks. Avoid these sheets. Instead look for thread counts of 200 to 400 that say made with pure, 100% Egyptian cotton.