At Vienna's Valrienne, plush bedding combos add up to a restful boudoir.
At Vienna’s Valrienne, plush bedding combos add up to a restful boudoir.

You spend about a third of your life snoozing. But if you do so on a lumpy mattress, scratchy sheets and a pillow you’ve had since college, you probably aren’t getting a good rest. Still, navigating the world of beds and bedding can be enough to induce insomnia. What’s a thread count? Why do side sleepers need different pillows than back sleepers? Rest easy — we’ve got tips on every step, from choosing a comfy mattress to curating throw pillows.

 Laying The Foundation

Are you tossing and turning at night, or waking up stiff and sore? You probably need a new mattress. Before you shop, think about how you sleep. Do you lie on your side or back? Do you get hot or cold at night? Then, don’t be afraid to ask the sales rep questions, or to truly get familiar with any mattress you’re considering. “A lot of people test mattresses with their butt, but no one sleeps sitting up,” says Mary Helen Uusimaki, vice president of membership and communications at Alexandria’s International Sleep Products Association. “Bring your pillow, wear comfortable pants and lie there for five to 10 minutes.”

Bed Basics

Platform beds look cool and contemporary, but their low profile can make them awkward to get in and out of. A traditional mattress and box spring will be higher, but if the thought of using a bed skirt makes you cringe, try a bed where the side and foot rails are upholstered along with the headboard. “It gives a nice, finished look,” says Alexandria interior designer Stuart Nordin (571-357-1144,

If that kind of bed isn’t in your budget, put your bucks into a headboard. “You’ll have unlimited opportunities to dress up your bed,” says Mei Xu, CEO of local bedding company Blissliving Home ( “You can go from a headboard with ornate wood carvings to a casual suede one.”

Making Sense of Sheets

When it comes to sheets, think beyond just thread count (which measures the number of horizontal and vertical threads in one square inch of fabric). The material the sheets are made of matters just as much.

“You’re best served with natural fibers,” says Aimee Wedlake Lange, owner of Vienna linens shop Valerianne (211 Mill St. NE, Vienna; 703-242-1790). “Invest in the best quality cotton you can. I’m more interested in quality than thread count.”

Try to touch sheets before you buy them, then pick what feels best. “People like sheets that are crisp, but sometimes they sacrifice softness,” says Mei Xu of Blissliving Home.

Take good care of your nice sheets. “Don’t over- soap them and don’t over-dry them,” Lange says. “Cotton is like hair: Put too much stuff in it, it’s going to dull. If you over-dry it, it’s going to break.”

The Finishing Touches

When it comes to dressing your bed, you don’t have to replicate the exact look you see in a catalog or store. “Think about how you’re truly going to use the bedding before you invest in stuff you don’t need,” says Amy Rutherford, owner of Alexandria shop Red Barn Mercantile (1117 King St.; 703-838-0355), which carries bedding from exotic-print mad John Robshaw and beachy Pine Cone Hill.

Some people love the feel of a big, fluffy, down duvet, and the ease with which they can change the look of their bed by switching duvet covers. Others like something simpler, like a quilt or coverlet. Or you could switch between the two depending on the season.

The all-white look popular a few years ago has given way to more prints and color. “If you have nothing else going on in terms of pattern in your bedroom, the bed is a great place to add interest,” Nordin says.

Pillows serve almost as punctuation marks, but you don’t need a massive pile to make a statement. Try two large square pillows covered in Euro shams and a bolster or rectangular pillow, or find one snazzy decorative puff.