Want to Have a Good Day? Try Making the Bed First

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When Adm. William H. McRaven, retired, was stationed in Afghanistan, his days were filled with chaos and unpredictability. “We could have soldiers dying and the horror of civilian casualties,” he said.

His hedge against the stress of chaos and bloody warfare? The morning ritual of pulling the corners of his bedsheets at a 45-degree angle and tucking them tightly.

“You need an anchor point for your day, and sometimes that anchor is as a simple as making your bed,” said Mr. McRaven, now the chancellor of the University of Texas and the author of “Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life … and Maybe the World.” He wrote the book after a video of his 2014 commencement speech went viral. “It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task and another.”

[Video: Adm. William H. McRaven, retired, the chancellor of the University of Texas. Watch on YouTube.]

Adm. William H. McRaven, retired, the chancellor of the University of Texas.
Video by Texas Exes

But what are the best practices for making a bed? And what to make of the controversy roiling the bed-making world: to use a top sheet or not? We interviewed Mr. McRaven; Ariel Kaye, the founder of Parachute Home, a linen and home goods company; and Becky Rapinchuk, the author of “Simply Clean,” who blogs about homemaking on CleanMama.net, who all gave some helpful, though sometimes contradictory, tips.

Use a Mattress Protector. Mattresses can be a serious financial investment and so should be protected, Ms. Rapinchuk said. A mattress protector can keep dust, mites, lice and dander at bay. “I always choose a waterproof protector because people sweat in their sleep and if you have kids who climb into your bed, well, you know what’s going to happen,” she said.

Take Your Temperature. “No one likes to talk about this, but some people sleep hot,” Ms. Kaye said. “People often make decisions based on aesthetics, but how sheets feel on your skin is important, as is the question of ‘Do you sleep hot or cold?’” People who tend to get sweaty at night should consider avoiding down or down-alternative pillows, duvets and high-thread-count sheets. “Fabrics like percale will run cooler,” she said.

Get on Top of the Bottom Sheet. The fitted bottom sheet, with its gathered corners and unruly proportions, can be very difficult to keep unwrinkled. Ms. Rapinchuk, who prefers a crisp 100 percent cotton, low-thread-count bottom sheet, has a two-pronged strategy for wrangling the chaos.

First, take the sheet out of the dryer about five minutes before it is fully dry. “Take the barely damp sheet, put it on the mattress, and let it air-dry for at least a few minutes,” she said. “The wrinkles will dissipate.”

Second, to prevent the bottom sheet from looking uneven and bunched when folded, Ms. Rapinchuk folds it in half lengthwise (bringing together the diagonal corners), before she tucks one end of the gathered corners into the other, like you would a pocket. She then folds the sheet in thirds, hiding the bunchy corners in the interior of the fold, and then in half. “Then I put it in a pillow case, along with the flat sheet, creating a set that I can stack in my cupboard, giving it a nice, unified look,” she said.

Watch: a video of Ms. Kaye showing us how to make a bed on Facebook Live.

Ditch the Top Sheet. “It can be a contentious topic, but our sales data indicates that 40 percent of Americans don’t sleep with a top sheet,” said Ms. Kaye, who counts herself among them.

Ms. Rapinchuk also skips the top sheet, just making a bed with a fitted sheet, pillows and either a washable quilt or a duvet. She will throw her quilts in the washing machine weekly and do the same with duvet covers every week or two, as needed.

“People fight back on this because they say the washing of the quilts or the restuffing of the duvet into its washed cover makes it more time-consuming,” she said. “But for me it’s worth the battle because every day, all you have to do is pull up your duvet cover and throw your pillows into place and you’re done.”

Bring Back the Top Sheet. “Oh, I have to have a top sheet,” Mr. McRaven said. When he is in Europe and sleeps in beds made without one, “it drives me crazy,” he said. He sees the top sheets as a T-shirt under a sweater — it allows for one layer to be pulled off when you get too hot.

Standing 6-foot-2, he sleeps in a king-size bed with his wife. He makes the bed most days (unless he wakes up before his wife), with the top sheet folded tightly at the bottom of the bed into hospital corners.

“When you are facing big tasks in your life, the little details are important,” he said.