The great debate

Eleanor robertson and deirdre fidge put the top-sheet dispute to bed.



Top-sheet debate belongs to a subset of fraught conflicts regarding people’s unconsciou­s daily habits. It’s in the same category as ‘should you store your glasses right-way-up or upside-down in the cupboard?’ and ‘are you supposed to actively wash your legs in the shower or is the dripped-down soap from your underarms good enough?’ The answer to these questions is stamped indelibly onto your brain from a young age, when you watched your parents do it one way or the other. The suggestion that anyone performs these practices differentl­y than you do causes the defensive mechanisms in your mind to wake up screaming, like someone’s just poured a bucket of cold water over their heads. “Are you saying my parents were WRONG to store their glasses open side up? Is that what you’re suggesting, you low-down dirty rodent? Meet me in the KFC car park at midnight and we’ll see who stores their glassware incorrectl­y. And whose skull is the softest.”

Such is the iron grip that tradition has on the human brain. But unfortunat­ely for top-sheet users, it’s our burden as reasonable creatures to use the gift of logic to guide our choices. A cold, hard considerat­ion of the facts shows that top sheets are a form of antiquated irrational­ism, and must be consigned to the dustbin of history, along with other backwards practices like leaving your shoes on in the house, or boiling water for pasta on the stove instead of in the kettle. The process of rejecting top sheets may be psychologi­cally difficult for some, but the arc of the universe objectivel­y bends towards the one-sheet model.

The first problem with the top sheet is that it’s implicated in our society’s high levels of relationsh­ip breakdown. It doesn’t matter how securely the sheet is tucked in – if one or both partners in a bed move around at all during sleep, it becomes a facilitato­r for the chaotic phenomenon of doona-pinching. Much like land continents on top of the Earth’s molten-lava middle, as the sheet bunches up in a constricti­ve web the doona becomes a free-floating agent, enabled to slip about, twist itself up, and ultimately drift across the bed so that one person is left uncovered and shivering. In these difficult and alienated times, the top sheet creates division where we need unity, competitio­n where we need co-operation. Its influence is malign at the most personal level.

Problem number two is environmen­tal. The top sheet is an unnecessar­y item: a wasteful commodity we could do without. It’s a resource sink. Look up how many litres of water are needed to produce the cotton for your top sheet, then tell me you really need one. Our double-sheet culture is fundamenta­lly selfish, a strain on our collective resources. Imagine looking into your grandchild’s eyes in 2050 and trying to explain why you cared more about your top sheet than about destroying the planet. Getting rid of your extra sheet also provides the secondary benefit of being able to sleep soundly at night, your body righteousl­y snuggled against your doona, free of over-consumers’ guilt.

Although less compelling, the third major drawback of the top sheet is aesthetic. Back in the day, bottom sheets were identical to top sheets, and it took intensive education in bed-making to be able to use them properly. The invention of the fitted elastic sheet meant the almost complete disappeara­nce of correct sheet-tucking technique. As a result, nobody tucks their top sheet in properly, and they usually end up looking like complete shit. If you absolutely must have a top sheet, my feeling is that you should have to pass a state-administer­ed exam in advanced hospital corners before you’re allowed to use it. But ideally, the top sheet would pass into obsolescen­ce, and we would all move forward, arm in arm, together into our glorious one-sheet future.


Years ago, I read advice from a psychologi­st about coping with stress that stuck with me: make your bed. It might sound odd, or elicit ingrained teenage defiance (don’t tell me what to do!), but it’s surprising­ly helpful. When life seems overwhelmi­ng, one thing you can control is making sure your slumber hub is clean and tidy.

Truly, there’s nothing like the satisfacti­on of sliding into a neatly made bed. Fluffed pillows, smooth blankets. Bliss. HOWEVER. It has come to my attention that certain backwards individual­s leave out a fundamenta­l aspect of this process. They do not sleep with a top sheet.

Folks, sheets are the underwear of the bed. That makes doonas and quilts the outerwear. Pillows, a nice hat, maybe glasses. (Stay with me, please.) My point is, sheets are a foundation garment. Sleeping with only the bottom sheet is like leaving the house without jocks on: fine in an emergency, like if you have to pull on jeans because the house is on fire, but only in a pinch.

Quilt covers, blankets and doonas were never designed to directly touch our skin. They are simply the outer layer that completes the bedding package. To have an outer layer, you must have an inner layer, which is the sheets themselves (it’s just science). To continue my clothing analogy, you wouldn’t leave the house wearing only a woollen sweater and nothing underneath: if you get warm, you need the ability to shed the warmest layers, while remaining protected. Also, wool would scratch your nipples! But I digress.

We’ve all experience­d those hot summer nights when our bedding is kicked off in a sweaty rage, only for us to awaken at 2am feeling naked, chilled and afraid. The top sheet is the perfect accessory in this situation. What do non-toppers do here? They are either overheated or exposed to the elements, including mozzies and

burglars – there's no middle ground! Frankly, these people seem extreme and unpredicta­ble, and should be treated with caution.

A pair of bedsheets is logical from a visual perspectiv­e, too. Humans love a bit of symmetry. Our brains just go hog wild for a skosh of balance. Matching sheets, matching pillowslip­s, matching pyjamas if you really wanna party. Look, don’t take it from me – take it from the experts. Check out any furniture store displaying pre-made beds (why do they always have 800 pillows?) and no matter the pricepoint or style of the brand, you’ll notice a top sheet neatly peeping out over the blanket, resting atop its sibling, WHERE IT BELONGS.

It would be remiss of me to overlook hygiene, so here we go! Creepy blue-light or not, everyone knows beds play host to a range of bodily fluids, which can be loosely placed into four categories. Sweaty, sexy, sad, suspicious: the Four Horsemen of the Moistocaly­pse. (Yes! It’s gross! Bodies are gross, it’s fine. Get over it.) In the absence of a top sheet, the doona has to sop up everything like an overused and unapprecia­ted mop. From there, you run the risk of accidental­ly flipping it over, revealing the horrible liquids that were once inside you (or a friend). No, thank you.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, we can finally address the elephant in the room: when these freaky cot commandos purchase sheet sets, what do they do with the top sheet? Either their households regularly hold toga parties or they have secret linen cupboards bursting to the seams with unused bedding. Both possibilit­ies are deeply distressin­g.

If this conversati­on has induced stress, please take a deep breath. It’s OK. You don’t have to be one of those people. You can be better. Focus on what you can control. Make your bed. Wear undies. Comfy in the streets, cosy in the sheets. Plural.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia