Comfortable Bedding Options for Chronic Illness

Fatigue is the ever-present companion of chronic illness, and if you suffer from a medical condition, odds are you are no stranger to it either. In fact, you may sometimes feel you spend more hours of your day in the bed than out of it.

With so much time devoted to rest, finding comfortable bedding is a wise investment. We live in an old house that has definite hot and cold spots, and no spot is colder than the master bedroom in the winter. Overnight, our room temperature routinely sits around 53 degrees F, and it doesn’t climb much higher during the day. For years we made do with whatever blankets and sheets we previously owned, but the cold didn’t do any favors for my symptoms. Last year we decided to splurge on some new sheets, and to say that they have been a game changer would be an understatement!

So, with that in mind, here are a few ideas for ways to make your bed more comfortable and chronic illness-friendly.

Sheets

Image shows fleece bedsheets with forest gnome theme, and links to Kohls website.
A set of fleece bed sheets with light or dark green evergreen trees; red and white mushrooms; and small gnomes with light or dark green tunics, long white beards, and red pointed hats scattered about.

These are the sheets that changed my life (although I don’t have them in this fabric, and I wish I did!). If you live anywhere in a cold climate, I can’t recommend enough that you invest in fleece sheets. Unlike flannel, these are warm to the touch almost immediately. They’re soft and cushiony, and feel like wrapping up in your favorite broken-in sweatshirt or sweater. They’re inexpensive and hard-wearing, and hold up fantastically well even to frequent washing. If you suffer from neuropathy, the smoothness of the fleece fabric may also be helpful to you, since they’re less abrasive and irritating than cotton or flannel sheets. I will never again not own fleece sheets!

Image shows white cotton sheets with gray striping, and links to Target website.
White cotton sheets with thin dotted gray vertical stripes are folded, with each piece stacked on top of the other, and a pillowcase slightly unfolded on top of the stack. They are on a white background.

On the other end of the spectrum, in warmer weather nothing beats a nice soft cotton sheet. While there are certainly luxury high-thread count sheets out there, sometimes you can find something just as workable at a lower price point. These cotton sheets are soft and breezy, and stay nice and cool in the summer. They’re washable and easy to maintain and come in a variety of styles. If you suffer from night sweats, hot flashes, or sensory issues related to heat, then cotton is probably going to be your best friend.

Image shows custom sheet set with both flannel and cotton sheeting, and links to Etsy seller.
We see a close-up of two pieces of fabric. On top, there is beige flannel material with rough weave. On bottom, we see solid white cotton fabric.

What if you share a bed with someone who is warmer blooded than you? Or colder? In all honesty, this seller beat me to an idea I’ve had for years: sheets that are half flannel and half cotton! This shop will create sheets that are warm on one side and cool on the other. You can customize what type of fabric, which side, and just about everything else. If bedding and temperature have been a battle zone in your bedroom, this may be a great solution.

Blankets and Comforters

Image shows white down alternative duvet, and links to Wayfair website.
A bedroom with dark blue walls and light wooden floors has a beige upholstered tufted headboard with brass hobnail along edge. An assortment of white and beige pillows sits against the headboard. A fluffy white duvet is draped over the end of the bed and falling onto the floor.

If you suffer from pain or a neurological condition, it’s possible that the sensation of weight can be comforting to you. While a down comforter has long been the gold standard in bedding, sometimes a down alternative comforter is the more practical option. A comforter such as this one provides the warmth and weight of a down comforter, but is likely to be hypoallergenic and far easier to wash. Cover it in a soft flannel duvet cover to make it even easier to clean, or even to switch out with the seasons. For my neuropathic symptoms, I often find it comforting to have the slight weight of a comforter like this pressing on me while I sleep.

Image shows flannel striped duvet cover and links to LL Bean website.
A bed with flannel gray and white mattress ticking duvet has comforter folded down and we see a white sheet and assortment of white and ticking pillows against a beige wall.

This is the duvet cover I’ve owned for the past twelve years. It is incredibly well-made, easy to wash and replace, and so very comfortable. In time, some of the softness of the flannel has worn down so that the fabric resembles a regular heavy cotton. But it has held up to all sorts of abuse in my house and lived to tell the tale! L.L.Bean has some great policies for replacing worn and damaged products, too, so the higher initial outlay may be worth it in the end when it comes to the longevity you get out of their products.

Image shows a beige Sherpa blanket and links to Wayfair website.
We see a beige velvety Sherpa blanket folded on itself against a white background. The top layer is folded back to reveal a corner of white fluffy lining.

For ultimate comfort and warmth, does anything beat a Sherpa blanket? These babies are soft, heavy, and easy to wash. If you suffer from neuropathy or chronic pain, you may find the fluffy weight comforting and soothing. They come in a variety of styles, colors, and sizes to work with any room.

Image shows sustainably sourced, recycled wool blanket with link to World Market site.
A beige wool blanket against white background has beige fringe at the bottom, and a black label reading “Sackloth + Ashes.” Above this label, we see a thick dark charcoal stripe, a golden stripe, a white stripe, and a pale blue stripe. The blanket is folded on itself and appears at an angle.

Sometimes for a nap, all you need is a good throw blanket. I challenge you to find a better blanket than this one. This company, Sackloth + Ashes, is one of the companies at the top of my list of favorites. Their blankets are all made from recycled, eco-friendly products. Many are designed by indigenous people, and reflect the colors and patterns in their region. For each blanket purchased, the company will donate one of their beautiful blankets to a homeless shelter in your local area. With some purchases, the company will also donate firewood to local Native American elders in the region where the blanket was designed. As if all of that weren’t enough, the blankets are some of the warmest, softest, most durable I have ever found. If you are looking for a worthwhile splurge, this is absolutely the place to spend your money! While the photo link will take you to World Market, these blankets are also widely available in local shops and boutiques, and I encourage you to shop locally!

Pillows

Image shows bamboo bed pillow, with link to Bed Bath and Beyond site.
A quilted white pillow sits on white background. Scattered across pillow, we see “Miracle Bamboo Pillow” written in sage green embroidery with outline of bamboo shoots.

Pillows are such an individual thing, and the wrong pillow can affect sleep more than any other factor. Some people prefer a hard pillow, others prefer it soft. Everyone has a preference for pillow height and length and just about every other specification you can imagine. But for an excellent, basic pillow that meets everyone in the middle, I can’t think of a better option than this one. I bought it a few years ago, and it has given me many, many nights (and days!) of good sleep. It holds its shape without being too firm. The combination of memory foam and bamboo provides just enough support, but also has a little give when I press my face into it. And I can mold it and shape it under my head or neck to support me the way I need when I’m sleeping.

Image shows woman resting on a series of contoured and angled pillows and links to Contour Living website.
A Caucasian woman with long straight blonde hair lounges in dark brown tank top and loose pants on a series of angled wedge and contoured white foam pillows on a white background. Her hands are folded in her lab and her legs are extended over the pillows. She rests her head on a curved neck rest and smiles peacefully.

If you suffer from pain or spasticity, sometimes versatility and support are the name of the game. Wedge pillows, especially in a variety of shapes and sizes such as this set, can help with positioning and relieving pressure. The different configuration options with a wedge pillow allow you to change up your arrangement depending on your symptoms or pain severity on any given day. They are also helpful for anyone with immobility issues or paralysis, since positioning with pillows like this can relieve pressure points and reduce the risk of pressure ulcers and sores.

Headboards

Image shows brown-gray upholstered tufted headboard, and links to Wayfair website.
A bedroom with solid beige wall with misty seaside painting hanging and brown-gray upholstered tufted headboard is flanked by two side panels with white cording. The bed is made up with an embroidered beige comforter and an assortment of matching beige and white pillows. There is a nightstand of dark espresso wood with single drawer to the right of the bed. A silver fluted lamp base and light blue barrel linen lampshade sit at the back of the nightstand, and there is a small silver vase holding purple tulips in front.

Whether you are spending your time in bed sleeping, resting, or reading, it’s important to have good support. A padded or tufted headboard is a great option to make an extended period in bed more comfortable. Styles, sizes, and colors vary widely. Look for something that is supportive and comfortable, and that can be wiped clean if needed. When you are spending extended periods of time in bed, you are likely to put more wear and tear on a headboard or bedframe than usual, so make sure the construction is solid enough to hold up.

Image shows upholstered bolster pillow, and links to Etsy seller.
A gray tweed upholstered long bolster pillow is trapezoidal in shape, and we see it looking from the right side across the front and into the distance. The pillow sits against a light beige background.

If you already have a headboard you love, but you don’t find it particularly comfortable, a bolster pillow is another great option. This provides the function of a padded headboard, but can be removed when not in use. As an added bonus, many bolsters come with removable covers, so they’re easy to wash. They can also be positioned in different ways for maximum comfort. They come in a variety of colors and styles: from streamlined like this one, to tufted or tasseled, or everything in between.

Final Notes

Let me just take a minute to step away from the practical details to say something I suspect you may need to hear as much as I do: it’s ok to rest.

It’s ok if you have to cancel plans. It’s ok if the housework doesn’t get done today. It’s ok if full-time work just isn’t possible for you right now. It’s ok if your schedule isn’t brimming with activities like your friends’ and families’. It’s ok if you’re not there for every moment with your family. It’s ok if you aren’t doing all the things you used to do. It’s ok. 

Rest is not an indulgence or selfishness or laziness. Rest is a need. It is an unavoidable part of chronic illness, and it is essential. So let me say it again: it’s ok to rest.

And now I’ll confess that I wrote those words with tears in my eyes, because I know that rest always seems to come with strings attached. I often feel guilty, sad, grief-filled, selfish, and all kinds of things about the amount of time I spend resting. But I seldom feel permission to rest. 

So I hope you find the bedding and the environment to enhance your rest and ease your symptoms just a little. But most of all, I hope you feel you have the permission that you need to get the rest that your condition requires. This is all a part of chronic illness, and we all must do what we can to make even this part more livable.

Rest well.

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