Living With Chronic Pain

It’s All In The Details- What About Bedsheets?

On average we spend 1/3 of our lives, or 26 years in bed! And most of us spend 7 years of that time trying to sleep. Getting a good nights sleep is pivotal to how we’ll function the next day, so every opportunity to improve it is vital. Sleep is when we finally get a chance to recover. A restless night prevents our natural healing process from kicking in which then changes how our brain reads messages from the central nervous system, exacerbating pain. Sometimes it’s hard to understand how any and every thing we wear, touch and contact can impact pain levels. We already talked about the bed, mattress, pillows, and blankets, now let’s discuss how bed linens can help.

It may sound silly- claiming sheets and pillowcases can affect how we sleep. Most of us just pick them based on their aesthetics and impact on a room. They don’t change pressure points or how we’re positioned. But they do affect comfort and temperature control.

Here are ways to make them not just a pretty addition to your room but a way to lessen pain as well.

Pick sheets that don’t trap moisture

We’ve all had nights or mornings when we woke up soaked in sweat, wrapped in bedsheets. Some medical issues such as menopause, illness, and fibromyalgia can cause night sweats and should be investigated, but if it is not a reoccurring event it may be due to your bed linens. At night it’s critical our sheets don’t trap expended heat from our bodies, forcing internal temperatures to rise, leading to excessive sweating. Breathable, lightweight fabrics that are temperature controlled can create a better environment for sleep. They allow the heat our bodies generate to escape and for moisture to “wick” through the sheets instead of leaving us in soggy, cold sheets that require an early morning change, totally disrupting sleep. Look for temperature controlled sheets that can help hot sleepers stay cool and cold sleepers cozy and warm without overheating.

Start with the right material

Most of us grew up on cotton, flannel or polyester bed sheets. If you tend to get warm or sticky look for natural fibers such as cotton or linen that allow moisture and heat to escape. Bamboo is a new addition to the market that has been gaining popularity due to its durability and lightness. Depending on the processing they are also sustainable and eco-friendly because they can grow rapidly with fewer resources. But use caution- they can often contain chemicals and wrinkle easier depending on the weave. Flannels or knits are wonderful if you struggle to make your bed, creating less stress when tucking them around mattress corners. Damask, woven and sateen sheets come from woven fabrics that make them more durable and have a crisp or satiny feel. New to the market are celliant infused polyester yarns. These claim to convert body heat into infrared energy that promotes increased blood and oxygen flow in order to more effectively improve recovery time for achey muscles.

Thread count

Higher doesn’t always mean a better quality. It represents the number of threads woven together per square inch of fabric. The higher the count the softer, denser and warmer the sheet. Those higher than 400-500 are actually redefining the word thread count because at that point they are more likely two textiles woven together. They use synthetic finishes that dissipate with use. Thread count affects how well the sheet can breath. Cooler sheets are usually around 250-300. Higher thread counts capture warmth. Cotton percale, satin and jersey knit tend to be breathable and lightweight. Most recommend thread counts less than 400. Long staple cotton are fibers that can be spun into stronger, finer yarns and produce softer, smoother more durable sheets. Single ply are light but strong, multiple ply yarns are composed of weaker fibers twisted together for strength. But they are thicker, coarser heavier threads that often poke out of the weave in time.

Avoid chemicals

Many sheets are finished with harmful chemicals and pesticides meant to prevent shrinkage, wrinkling and pilling (those annoying little pockets of puff that come out after washing). This may help keep the sheets looking good and lasting longer but wrapping ourselves in chemicals for hours at night is a recipe for disaster. Look for OEKO-TEX or Certificate-PUR certificates. These ensure the product has been tested for harmful products.


Cotton pillowcases can soak up dirt and oils which then clog pores, leading to acne and worsening allergies. Silk pillows are a popular alternative. They are moisture- wicking because they can absorb up to 30% of their own weight in moisture and still stay dry. Their smooth fibers are less irritating and as an added bonus, this attribute also reduces spilt ends and frizzy hair. They have hypoallergenic properties which give them natural resistance to dust mites, mold, and fungus and most importantly they feel soft and luxuriant. Plus they are chemical free and easier to maintain.

Do they feel good?

All of the above is great but it doesn’t help if they don’t feel good. For many of us with chronic pain we have increased sensitivity to anything that touches our skin. Specialized nerves called nocioreptors sense pressure and temperature. In some cases those sensations may be perceived as abnormal and painful. It’s called allodynia. Rough, stiff or scratchy bedclothes can exacerbate the situation. Even sheet wrinkles can be uncomfortable and irritating. Make sure they fit the mattress. If necessary add sheet straps to prevent bunching and keep them secure.

Take good care of them

Never use new bed linens until they have been washed. This removes any irritants from the packing material. Wash every week if you bathe before sleeping, wash twice weekly if not. And use hypoallergenic laundry soap with the same stamp of approval as those that show linens are chemical free. And it may sound like softeners added to the wash cycle will keep them soft and cozy but they actually speed up the fabric’s decline. Fresh, clean sheets are critical to a good nights rest and healthy environment. Wash them in cool or warm water and avoid drying under high heat. In fact, line drying is best. Unlike the clothes we wear, sheets are used daily and that constant use causes wear, tear and breakdown, eventually eliminating their very attributes and leaving us with ones that can actually worsening our sleep cycles. Replace every 2-3 years.

Using the wrong type of bed linens can increase discomfort and prevent a restful nights sleep. Every little bit helps when it comes to combatting pain.


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