What is a top sheet (and do you need one)?

The great sheet debate

A pink and orange ombre background with folded sheet cut outs running across it.
(Image credit: Future / Getty / Beth Mahoney)

Let’s get real AF for a mo. Of all the aspects of making a bed, the top sheet is the most controversial. Some sleepers are aghast at the thought of sleeping without one, while others feel it’s a completely unnecessary concept. 

Who would have thought that a single piece of fabric could cause such debate? But, gather a group of your friends together and ask them if they use a top sheet, and you’re sure to get a rather diverse set of answers. 

To help settle the debate, we’ve done some digging and have put together a guide to everything that you need to know about top sheets, their purpose, and whether you need one. 

What is a top sheet — and what is it used for?

A top sheet is an additional sheet that sits just below the comforter (and above the fitted sheet). Oh, and FYI, it's a flat sheet rather than a fitted sheet. 

Why is a top sheet part of a bedding setup?

While many see a top sheet as simply being an additional layer of bedding comfort and warmth — or a great alternative to a comforter on hot nights — a top sheet actually has another purpose. 

Comforters can be hard to launder, so the less you need to wash them, the better. That’s where a top sheet can come in handy. Because it acts as a barrier between the sleeper and the comforter, which means that when there’s a top sheet in place, the comforter remains more hygienic as it’s protected from all the gross stuff like sweat, dead skin cells, oil, and dust mites. 

Do you need to use a top sheet?

Whether you opt to use a top sheet is a personal preference — some sleepers love a top sheet, while others prefer to go without one. There are both pros and cons to sleeping with a top sheet.


  • Can help to protect your comforter
  • Easier to clean than a comforter or duvet
  • Can aid temperature regulation while you sleep
  • A top sheet may feel nicer to sleep under than a comforter or duvet


  • A top sheet doesn’t always stay in place
  • A tangled top sheet isn’t the most comfortable thing to sleep with
  • For hotter sleepers, the extra layer may be uncomfortable
  • A top sheet adds another step to making the bed

What’s the difference between a top sheet and a fitted sheet?

While a fitted sheet (also known as a bottom sheet) is applied directly over the mattress, a top sheet is laid above the fitted sheet and below the comforter or duvet. And, while the top sheet is flat, the bottom sheet features an elasticated edge that tucks easily under the mattress to hold it in place. The top sheet works to protect the comforter or duvet, while the bottom sheet does the same for the mattress (or mattress protector).  

Beth Mahoney
Freelance journalist

Hi! I’m Beth Mahoney and I’m a former staff writer at Real Homes. I’ve been a journalist for the national press for the past six years, specializing in commerce and trends-related lifestyle articles, from product reviews and listicles to guides and features. With an eye for pretty things (think: quirky wall prints, scalloped edge furniture, and decadent-looking tableware) but a limited budget, I love nothing more than a bargain buy.