Bedding 101

Martha Stewart Living Television

The right bedding can mean the difference between a restful or restless night's sleep. But with so many kinds of mattresses, sheets, and pillows on the market, it can be difficult to know which ones to choose. Below, the virtues and drawbacks of various types of bedding and demystifying the oft-perplexing process of properly making a bed.

Mattress
Begin by selecting a good-quality mattress and box spring, as well as a protective cotton cover or mattress pad. A fleece-wool pad will safeguard the mattress from stains, while 100 percent wool mattress pads are hypoallergenic and won't absorb odors. In addition, a pad will help keep your sheets in place, particularly if, like most mattresses, yours is covered with a synthetic fabric that makes it scratchy or slippery. Although some people argue that you don't need a mattress pad for a feather bed, Martha recommends always using a pad for added protection as well as the enhanced comfort provided by an extra layer of cushioning.

According to Ted Marschke, of Charles H. Beckley, a New York City custom mattress maker, you can prolong your mattress's life by following a few basic rules of thumb. First, don't let your shoes rub, knock, or rest against the mattress or box spring, as repeated contact can damage the sides. Be sure to rotate your mattress once a month, flipping it over so that the side that was the top becomes the bottom. If you're going away for the weekend, strip your bed of linens beforehand, to give the mattress a chance to "breathe." And most important, never jump on a bed; the sudden pressure can be disastrous to the springs!

Sheets
After the mattress pad comes the fitted sheet, which will help keep the pad in place, even if you're a fitful sleeper. When selecting sheets, there are many factors to consider, including the fabric, the weave, the thread count, and, of course, your personal taste. One important consideration -- the thread count -- refers to the number of threads woven per inch. In general, sheets with a higher thread count are softer and more durable. A thread count of 200 is a good standard, but if you upgrade to 300, the difference will be noticeable.

Two popular choices for sheets are percale and sateen, but few people are aware of the differences between the two. To distinguish between them, carefully inspect the weave. Percale is a plain weave fabric, meaning that the warp and weft threads cross each other one at a time. Because percale threads are tightly woven, these sheets have a fine texture and finish. Sateen sheets, which look and feel a bit more luxurious, are made in a satin weave, meaning that the warp threads, which run lengthwise, are interlaced with filling threads. The result is a lustrous, smooth-faced yet surprisingly durable fabric.

If you're not using a fitted sheet, you can use a flat sheet as the bottom sheet and make hospital corners, starting at the bed's head: Drape the sheet evenly over the bed, leaving about 1 foot of fabric hanging beyond the head. Stand beside the bed, toward its center, and pick up a side hem. Pull the hem toward you into a taut crease, then raise the creased section over the mattress so that the sheet makes a triangular tent over the bed. With your other hand, smooth the sheet flat along the mattress's side. Then, fold the creased section down over the side, and tuck the sheet snugly under the mattress. Repeat this process at the foot and other side of the bed. When placing the remaining flat sheet on top, keep in mind that the top sheet always goes wrong side up. That way, when you fold it back over the blanket, the right side -- the decorative, printed side -- will show.

Pillows
When selecting pillows -- whether soft, medium, or firm -- the most important consideration is the position in which you sleep. Soft pillows are ideal for stomach sleepers, who need pillows that slope gently in order not to strain the muscles in their necks. Medium pillows, which gently cradle and support the head, are a great choice for back sleepers. And for side sleepers, firm pillows are a perfect choice, as they hold their shape and thus support the neck and spine.

For those seeking a little more comfort, Japanese-style buckwheat pillows might be the answer. The small buckwheat hulls shift inside the case to match the contour of the neck and head, and the even support helps to relieve cramps and muscle tension. Plus, they're great for traveling. Another option is the Eurosquare pillow, which is filled with 600-fill-power goose down and provides good support for all sleepers. In addition, this hypoallergenic pillow makes a great accessory for generously sized couches and chairs, and it's ideal for reading in bed. Typically, a queen-size bed requires two pillows and a king-size bed requires three. To create a faux headboard, place Eurosquare pillows at the back of your regular pillows; alternately, you can place the pillows in front of your regular pillows.

Comforters and Blankets
Your decision to buy an all-season down comforter or a traditional blanket will depend largely on your personal taste, but there are a few distinct advantages to choosing the former. First, an all-season down comforter has just the right amount of down to keep you comfortable year-round in most climates. (Bear in mind that you should always protect your comfortable with a duvet cover.) And then, of course, there's the advantage of minimal care: Comforters only need to be cleaned every three to five years.

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