Yes, Millennials, Science Says You Should Probably Use a Top Sheet

There are good people and people who don't use top sheets.


Those damn millennials have struck again, and this time those filthy animals are supposedly destroying proper bedding by getting rid of the top sheet. This habit is “icky” at best, but the science behind your bedding’s bacteria means that using and washing a top sheet regularly is better than the alternative.

The long-standing debate between to top sheet or not to top sheet resurfaced last week courtesy of USA Today as the next item on the growing list of things that millennials are killing with our newfangled way of living. This ethos is totally in line with the free-spirited stereotype of millennials caring more about avocado toast than they do buying houses.

Sure, top sheets seem like a lot more work, and they add an extra layer of fabric that literally smothers you in your sleep. For some millennials, this probably feels more oppressive than our mounting student loan debt.

Millennials can call top sheets “archaic” all they want, but they’re probably your most hygienic way to sleep. Much like arguing about what direction the toilet paper faces (Editor’s note: It’s over, not under.), whether or not a person uses a top sheet hardly matters — as long as you wash your bedding — but people get very intense about it. In April 2016, GQ published back-to-back articles called “F@*# Top Sheets” and “A Polite Rebuttal: Not Having a Top Sheet Is Disgusting”, which just about sums up how passionate people get.

Shigella bacteria common to human feces, which can totally get on your comforter.

James Joel/Flickr

The thing is, not having a top sheet is disgusting. Microbiologist and pathologist at the New York University School of Medicine Ingrid Johnson once explained to Tech Insider that top sheet or no, your bed is a literal hotbed ripe for the growth of microscopic life. Johnson rattled off a list of nauseating reasons why washing your bed sheets is important: “You have spores of fungi, bacteria, animal dander, pollen, soil, lint, finishing agents of whatever the sheets are made from, coloring material, all sorts of excrements from the body including sweat, sputum, vaginal, and anal excretions, urine milieu, skin cells …”

No matter how clean your body is — or how clean you think it is — these things build up over time. Consider that studies have shown that the average person sweats 23 gallons of moisture (barf!) per year, creating an “ideal fungal culture medium.” If left unchecked, these spores get pulled by gravity into your mattress or your pillows. That’s why you should wash your bedding around once a week. Every time you roll over in bed, these nasty fumes are just blasting right up into your face and body.

As Mary-Louise McLaws, a researcher at Australia’s University of New South Wales, told Huffington Post in 2016: “Change and wash the doona (quilt) cover weekly if you don’t use a top sheet, otherwise change it less often based on smells and visual cleanliness.” You still need to wash whatever blanket lies on top, even if it doesn’t directly touch your body.

If you don’t use a top sheet, then you’re sort of obliged to use a duvet cover instead. “The duvet cover is heavier and not as soft or flexible as the top sheet,” Ingrid Johnson, Fashion Institute of Technology Professor and Assistant Chairperson also told Huffington Post. “[And] it is not intended to be laundered as frequently.”

John Henry Fuseli's 'The Nightmare' depicts a night hag on a sleeping woman's chest, or maybe it's bacterial growth from not using a top sheet?


But therein lies a potential issue. Anecdotally, the anti-top sheet millennial camp doesn’t like the top sheet because it adds yet another thing to wash and also adds more work to the whole bed-making process. So whether or not they use a duvet cover, they’re not washing whatever blanket touches their body the most.

To put it simply: Not using a top sheet is the lazy man’s fast track to bacterial infection. It’s worth noting that in Europe, the bedding standard is a duvet cover without a top sheet, which is basically like putting your comforter in a giant pillowcase, one that ought to get regularly washed with the rest of your bedding.

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