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I was aghast. In the span of a few short minutes, not one but two of my friends had revealed that they, in an effort to simplify their lives, had sworn off using top sheets. Their beds are composed of one less layer than mine, with no airy sheet separating their bodies from their duvets. That was, simply put, a lifestyle I never dared to think about—until I realized that this simple piece of fabric was far more controversial than I had ever imagined.

My personal reasons for using a top sheet are pretty simple: I like having a separate layer that makes me feel like I can get away with washing my duvet cover less often than my sheets. It’s also a bedding component that I’ve never not used—and anytime I stay in a hotel that chooses not to include a top sheet with its standard bedspread, I find myself oddly missing that thin layer of fabric. I’m not alone in my allegiance to the top sheet, but there are plenty of people who would heartily disagree with me.

The Top Sheet Origin Story

Photography by Michael Wiltbank

Before diving into the pros and cons of this controversial sheet, though, let’s consider how top sheets even came to be. “The classic need for a top sheet in America is to give a smooth, easily washed layer between tickly woolen blankets and your body,” explains Rough Linen founder Tricia Rose. “But now that European duvet covers are more popular than blankets, the cover protects the infill and becomes the top bedding layer.” If you’re sleeping under a knit or wool quilt, a nice, smooth top sheet will likely make your sleeping experience more comfortable. If you opt for a duvet, it all comes down to personal preference. So which side are you on?

The Pros

Ultimately, for many people, the decision to sleep with a top sheet is a seasonal choice. Personally, I prefer to have an extra layer of warmth in the winter, and in the summer, I find myself pushing my duvet cover down and sleeping with just a top sheet on hotter days. This choice, however, can also depend on what kind of sheets you have.

“In the winter, [my husband] Rich and I sleep with a duvet cover and comforter, no top sheet,” says Brooklinen cofounder Vicki Fulop. “But in the summer, we love a top sheet—we’ll use a top sheet and a light blanket. Percale top sheets definitely allow for a bit more airflow, as well as a cooler, crisper feel, while sateens have a smoother hand feel and a higher thread count, which means less airflow and more warmth.”

There’s also the visual effect of having a top sheet neatly folded on over a duvet, which some prefer as a design preference. “Many people like a tidier aesthetic, and a top sheet can create a polished look for your bed,” says Parachute cofounder Ariel Kaye.

The Cons

That said, some people find that top sheets have the opposite effect, making beds look messier or overly extending the bed-making process. “My personal preference has always been to skip the top sheet,” Kaye admits. “Making my bed every morning is a ritual of mine, and doing so with just my duvet and pillows keeps the process quick and easy! When it comes to comfort, I find that the top sheet often ends up tangled at the foot of my bed and feels like an unnecessary layer.”

Not to mention, some people might find top sheets constricting when they sleep. “A duvet cover often liberates your movements by floating over your body. A tucked top sheet defeats this whole purpose by confining your movement, and when the top sheet is untucked, it often winds up around your legs,” says Rose. “It also complicates bed making, as you need to remove the duvet, tuck the top sheet in so it doesn’t show, and then put the duvet back on top. It’s so much easier to stand at the end of the bed and shake the duvet into place with a flick of your wrist.”

The Takeaway

All things considered, the choice to use or not use a top sheet is a wholly personal one, and as Rose notes, “There is no Sheet Police passing judgment on our choices.” If you want to give up your top sheet but feel the need to use a lighter layer in the summer, top sheet–esque duvet replacements like Rough Linen’s Summer Cover make a compelling, aesthetically pleasing alternative—and if you like the smoothness of percale sheets without the fuss of keeping your sheets in place, you can consider opting for a duvet cover instead.

For me, though, my much-beloved linen top sheet makes bedtime all the more luxurious, and—although Kaye notes that most European countries have moved away from using this extra layer—there’s something about it that makes me feel as if I’m falling asleep in an Italian countryside villa. It also gives me a few extra days when I can’t bring myself to wash my duvet cover yet again.

Check out some of our favorite sets, whether you’re a top sheet person or not.