You probably assumed that the bedding situation in your childhood home (or wherever you first experienced sheets?) was the only reasonable default. There was likely a bottom (i.e., fitted) sheet on the mattress, a top (i.e., flat) sheet over that — tucked in at the foot of the bed, or possibly around the corners, too, if the people in charge were running a tight ship — and a blanket or comforter on top. Why would you arrange things any other way? That was how sheets worked.
I myself labored under this misapprehension for years. And then, as an adult, I learned the truth: Top sheets are not legally mandated and are, in fact, unnecessary to any human’s enjoyment of sleep, or life. I would go so far as to say that they directly restrict your civil right to be as cozy as possible in bed. Top sheets are a senseless constraint, a scam perpetuated by Big Linen.
A tucked-in top sheet is a trap. It’s a prison for your legs, and it can’t possibly be healthy. Like, you don’t slide into bed every evening yearning to feel like a human meatball being squeezed between the jaws of a hunk of ciabatta that someone didn’t slice all the way through. No! You deserve to feel like a beautiful pile of cold cuts, cradled above and below by separate slices of pillowy potato bread.
As for a tucked-out top sheet — there’s nothing that says “I’m not mature enough to make deliberate aesthetic choices about my home environment” like that sad, wrinkly mess. So the solution is clear: The sheet has to go. But that’s fine! In fact, it’s better this way.
Top sheets are a senseless constraint, a scam perpetuated by Big Linen.
If at this point you’re like, “So you’re saying I should just shed skin cells directly onto my blanket and never wash it?” the answer is: No. There’s a perfect system for single-sheet sleeping that I learned (late in life!) from my mom, whose own mom was from Norway, where they understand these things. Here’s how it works: You put a fitted bottom sheet on your mattress, and put a washable cover on your dyne (that’s Norwegian for comforter/duvet), and put the covered comforter on the bed.
I recommend something soft, lightweight, and made of natural fiber for the duvet cover — can’t go wrong with plain old cotton. I have this one; it’s quite nice and very cheap. Then you can take off that cover and wash it whenever you normally wash your sheets (or maybe slightly less often, because a little skin dust never hurt anybody) and there’s no top sheet involved and why would there be, because life is great.
It’s mainly great because, without a top sheet, your feet and legs can roam freely as you slumber. They will not get sweaty and trapped; the sheet will not end up in a gross wad under the blanket at the foot of the bed because your feet spent all night trying to free themselves of its feeble, clinging embrace. Meanwhile, your superior non-sheet top layer forms a beautiful, accommodating, perfectly you-shaped mountain of warmth around you.
The second big advantage of the sheet-free plan is the elegance it brings to bed-making. In the morning, instead of walking away from your crumpled warren of sheets because the thought of straightening and smoothing and tucking them is so involved as to be unbearable, you just give the duvet a little shake, and there you go! How easy is that!!!
A couple concessions: If you’re a committed quilt user, I’ll admit that you’re not my target demographic for this argument. I’m not going to ask you to put a duvet cover on your quilt; that’s not what a quilt is about. I’ll also allow that this system is especially optimized for cold-weather sleeping, because it is most cozy and satisfying with a fluffy comforter.
But, in fact, I’ve discovered that in summer I still prefer a top-sheet-free approach. I just use my empty duvet cover as a kind of lightweight blanket that’s much easier to wash than a quilt or bedspread. Sort of like a top sheet, but not, because it looks nice without being tucked in and isn’t a leg prison.
I know you just started mentally drafting tweets about how God sells sheets in matched sets for a reason, but before you launch them into the ether, I just need you to try this approach. Maybe you’ll hate it because, deep down, you crave the feeling of a tight, authoritarian span of fabric pinning down your ankles; who am I to dictate your desires? But maybe you won’t hate it. Maybe you’ll love it. And when you realize you do, you’ll be free.