Summary: Cool sheets can especially help menopausal women. Natural sheets such as cotton and linen are a reliable choice. But not all sheets made of "Egyptian cotton" sheets, bamboo or high-performance synthetics can justify their marketing claims. Look for cotton percale in moderate thread count. To keep your sheets soft and smooth, don't launder your sheets with other clothes, and don't over dry them.
Here's a quick quiz - answer yes or no:
- Have you ever tossed and turned in bed because you were too hot?
- Have you ever awakened at night drenched in night sweats?
- Do you fiddle with the thermostat at night for the right temperature?
- Have you unsuccessfully changed bed sheets hoping to stay cooler?
Read on if you answered "yes" to any of these. You'll discover:
- in what situations it's worth trying out cooling sheets
- which is better - cotton or synthetic sheets
- the marketing gimmicks behind branded sheets you should ignore
- what you really need to know when buying a cool sheet, and
- how you can keep your cool sheets cool
If instead, you are looking for a sheet that will keep you warm, read our guide to finding a flannel sheet that will help you sleep better on winter nights
Night sweats, especially during menopause, are the #1 reason to buy a cool sheet
Night sweats are indeed the most common reason to look for a cool sheet. And they are more common than you would think - one survey reported that 41% of people visiting a doctor experienced night sweats at least once in the past month.
Specifically, menopausal women experience the worst kind of night sweats. And their options are limited - treatment choices are expensive and could have dangerous side effects. So their safest path of action for women in menopause is to make lifestyle changes that includes using cooling bed sheets.
But there are also other reasons to consider a cool bed sheet
Sometimes, changing sheets with the season just feels like the right way to welcome a new season. For instance, replace your percale sheets with flannel and announce to yourself that it's now officially time to snuggle up in bed with a cup of hot chocolate!
Then there are couples who fight over the AC remote. It's not as uncommon as you think - reportedly, 25% of married couples argue about temperature control. If you and your partner have "thermal incompatibility" (to use the technical term), you need to find the right kind of sheets before, well, things get heated up.
Lastly, if you're a parent, then you've seen nights when you walk in to your child's room at night to check on him/ her only to find him drenched in sweat. The right sheets will make sure your child is well-rested the next day.
How do you find a cool bed sheet that's right for you?
There are two types of cool bed sheets:
- Breathable sheets: they prevent perspiration in the first place by letting your skin breathe
- Absorbent sheets: if you do perspire, these wick away sweat quickly before you get all muggy and wake up
We've seen cool bed sheets of each kind, neither kind is superior to the other.
Natural or Synthetic? Which is better for a cool sheet?
Natural fibers like cotton were traditionally recommended for cool sheets. And to be fair, natural fibers do have a lot going for them - they're a safe choice because they've stood the test of time.
But there are plenty of new synthetics that perform much better. Some of these synthetics are even used to make high performance running apparel. For instance, our No Sweat! sheet has come out at the top of the charts in our coolness tests.
What are the pluses and minuses of some of these fabrics?
You can't go wrong with cotton sheets
Cotton is a safe and traditional choice for coolness. This is because cotton fiber absorbs sweat immediately. Cotton is also more durable and affordable than most alternatives. It can be blended with other fabrics to produce sheets.
Cotton has 2 drawbacks:
- Doesn't hold color well. In standard tests called dry crocking tests, cotton generally tends to rub off color. It also becomes stiff and cardboard-y when dyed with dark colors.
- Wrinkles easily, especially if it's pure cotton. Treatments to reduce wrinkles wash out after a few laundering cycles. If it's pure cotton, expect some wrinkles.
But beware of 'superior cotton'
Egyptian cotton was traditionally considered the gold standard for cotton sheets. But "Egyptian cotton" has become a much-abused term. A lot of manufacturers claim to make sheets from Egyptian cotton. There is no policing system to check if their claims are real so you end up with dissatisfied customers who thought they were buying high thread count Egyptian cotton.
Pima cotton has a similar issue. Grown in a handful of countries, genuine Pima cotton is a good choice for a cool sheet. But again, it is hard to tell if a sheet is truly made of Pima cotton.
So it's pointless buying "branded" cotton sheets if you can't be sure of the quality of the actual cotton.
Supima cotton sheets are your best bet if you are looking for the absolute best quality of cotton sheets. Supima cotton sheets have the longest staple fibers used in sheets. Long fibers mean fewer fibers are needed to make the yarns. (Imagine the opposite: short grass cuttings made into yarns -- ugh!) Supima yarns are finer, smoother and lighter than other cotton yarns. Supima yarns have fewer loose 'hairs' that form into small fiber balls (pills) which are ugly and uncomfortable for sleep.
The best part about Supima is that its production and handling is tightly regulated from the cotton farm to the finished sheet. For example, inspectors visit Supima factories to make sure Supima is not mixed with other fibers, or that it is not being woven on the same machines that weave non-Supima products, etc. Factories using Supima cotton are granted hard-won certificates that can be revoked for any infractions.
To ensure Supima sheets are not adulterated with any other kinds of cotton, Supima cotton is tagged with DNA markers. This means if a manufacturer decides to make a sheet with 10% Supima and 90% inferior cotton and pass it off as a genuine Supima sheet, he can be found out and penalized by the Supima organization.
Lastly, Supima cotton is 100% grown in America.
The only downside of Supima is that it's expensive, and has few producers. Buyers also feel that Supima is better suited for say, towels, where you can feel the yarn much better. Still, if you can afford it and are looking for the best, Supima is what you're looking at.
Bamboo sheets are not what they seem:
Bamboo sheets suffer from the same condition as Egyptian cotton. Bamboo sheets were popular because they were considered quick-drying, soft, breathable and anti-microbial. But the FTC found that "bamboo sheets" are made of rayon, a material that can be made from the cellulose of any plant or tree. So you can't be sure if a bamboo sheet is truly made from bamboo.
Further, the manufacturing process itself uses harsh chemicals. "It takes harsh chemicals and lots of energy to turn stiff bamboo stalks into fibers that can be woven into silky fabrics" says The Wall Street Journal. So bamboo sheets are neither eco-friendly nor anti-microbial.
Tencel sheets are probably a better recommendation if you're looking for a cool natural sheet. Produced by an Austrian company called Lenzing Fibers, Tencel sheets are made from Eucalyptus trees. Tencel sheets also have anti-microbial benefits.
Linen is a good option, if you like a textured feel:
Are linen sheets cool? There is a type of linen called tissue linen that does well in coolness tests but is too expensive to be used in sheets.
Regular linen is a good option for coolness but with one difference: texture. Linen has a coarse texture that is popular with some people. So if you like the casual lived-in look, perhaps iron your pillowcases but you don't need to iron your linen sheets.
Linen has a hollow core so its the best natural breathable fabric holding 50% more moisture than cotton. It is often more durable because it's a heavy fabric, although that depends on the quality of yarn. If your linen sheets shed lint, you can be sure they're made with poor quality linen yarns -- good linen sheets will never clog your dryer.
Stay away from silk sheets
Silk is definitely not a good choice if you're looking for cool bed sheets. While having an instant touch that feels cool, silk is finely woven and the fabric tends to trap heat. Fancy winter gloves have liners made of silk!
Microfiber sheets are perfect for some
Microfiber sheets have many advantages over other fabrics:
- Inexpensive compared to most fabrics
- Wick moisture well
- Hold color well even when dyed or printed with the darkest of colors
- Rugged and can be washed and dried without a lot of precautions
- Don't wrinkle easily, unlike cotton
Microfiber is stretchy and clingy, though. It is not popular with some people because it feels like the sheet is "melting" on them, making them feel claustrophobic.
Cotton flannel sheets are a good breathable option for winter
Flannel sheets are great to keep the bed instantly warm for you in the winter. But they don't have to make you hot and sweaty. If you choose a high-quality cotton flannel sheet, it will keep the bed warm for you all night but will wick away moisture and prevent you from heating up at night. Read our guide on flannel sheets for the winter to learn more.
Should you buy that high-tech NASA-powered cool sheet?
Besides these, there also some high-tech fabrics that claim to be cool sheets.
For instance, Nano-tex claims to use "nanotechnology to transform the molecular structure of fabrics." It also supposedly has an "advanced moisture-wicking system." Outlast claims to balance skin temperature using embedded microcapsules that absorb heat and prevent moisture from even making an appearance.
Do high-tech sheets work? We have had mixed experiences with them. Some of them work but are not chart-toppers in our coolness tests.
Some high tech sheets perform very well before their first wash. But after a few washes, the chemical finish wears out and the sheets lose their coolness. That's why you sometimes see rave reviews from customers one night after they have tried out the sheet only to get disillusioned a month later.
There are other high-tech treatments that are permanent. The treatments don't wash out because they make mechanical enhancements to the yarn such as introducing heat-absorbing particles. These sheets feel cool for a short time but can absorb only a tiny amount of heat. The parts of the sheet in contact with your skin gets heated up quickly. These sheets only work if you keep shuffling around at night.
The bottom-line on high-tech sheets: the only way to really decide if a high tech sheet is cool is by testing it after many washes, which is what we do.
Here's what you really need to know before buying a cool sheet:
If you've decided that you want to go with an all-cotton cool sheet, here are some rules of thumb:
- High thread count sheets (greater than a thread count of 500) are not cool because they trap heat. High thread count sheets have a lot of threads packed into a small space. The gaps between the threads is not enough for heat to pass through.
- Low-medium thread count (say 200-400) are often a good choice
- It's more important to look for percale than for a "100% cotton" sheet. They also generally last longer. Percale sheets have fewer interlocking between the yarns, so the fabric is stiffer and doesn't drape too closely to your body. This gives more space for air to circulate around your body to evaporate moisture.
We believe it's important to feel a sheet before you buy it, or buy from a store that lets you return it within a few weeks if you don't like how it feels.
But more importantly, here's how you keep your cool sheets soft:
- Don't over dry your sheets. We can't emphasize this enough. Most problems with sheets come not from the wash, but from over-drying. As they get dry, fibers start becoming vulnerable to pilling. Most problems with cool sheets come from drying, not from the wash temperature.
- Don’t wash cotton sheets with non-cotton or even cotton fabrics (such as blue jeans). Jeans and towels use rougher yarns, which abrade the softer yarns in high quality cotton sheets, causing them to pill. Pilling occurs because abrasion pulls fibers away from the base fabric, and those exposed fibers start to cluster into tiny fiber balls called pills.
- Dry them in sunshine to get that familiar smell and feel of a fresh dried sheet
What are our personal favorite cool bed sheets?
We have found a couple of cool sheets that have performed well in our coolness tests. Depending on whether you prefer cotton or prefer a more new-age fabric, these are two cool sheets to consider:
- Easy Breezy - Most breathable sheet we’ve tested. Your bed is cool with a sheet you barely feel. 300 thread count. Combed cotton.
- No Sweat! - this is the driest sheet we tested. It provides relief from night-sweats, and the itchiness and scratchiness that accompanies sweaty sleep. The triple-patented fibers are designed in Japan to shed moisture. 185 thread count. Synthetic fabric.
Night sweats still bothering you? Tell us why. We'd love to help.
If you have any questions or want to share your experience buying or living with cool sheets, we'd love to hear from you in the comment section below.
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