There is something more comforting than luxury spa trips, or even indulgent massages. Something that soothes bones, costs (almost) no money, boosts the mood and makes the nights softer and the mornings lighter. Fresh bedding: clean, taut sheets, plumped pillows, the crinkle of a rejuvenated duvet cover.
As an insomniac, I look to any possible positive source of influence for a good night’s sleep. Exercise often doesn’t cut it; neither does banishing caffeine. And I cannot tell you the number of lavender-scented candles I’ve bought. The one thing that does, occasionally, seem to help is a ceremonial changing of the bedding.
This isn’t reward without effort. In the winter months, drying sheets slide from too-small radiators, or hang like bright-coloured ghosts from racks. Before I change my duvet cover, I am tempted to text friends to warn them that, if they don’t hear from me for three days, they must send help. (Sometimes I have to clamber in; I have learned that I would be good at caving.) I am also not convinced one qualifies as an adult while still using fitted sheets. Pillow cases, meanwhile, are origami.
But, my God, it’s worth it. There is nothing better than the satisfaction of smoothing the top sheet until wrinkle-free – an experience I imagine akin to a painter shrinking their canvas or a labourer pushing a trowel across wet concrete.
Don’t just take my word for it. Research shows – even that not commissioned by publicists for homeware companies – that clean bedding improves your sleep. A 2012 study by the US National Sleep Foundation found that 73% of us sleep better on fresh sheets. (And also that our romantic lives improve.)
I am cynical about advertising, but the women I truly believe in (and they are always women) are those who act in the fabric softener and detergent ads, who bury their noses in their queen-size beds with all the abandon of a clubber hoovering up a massive line of cocaine. It’s also true that different people’s beds smell different according to the washing powder they use. This is a little like an olfactory version of Proust’s madeleine: if you one day accidentally buy the same brand as the ex you never got over, you’re screwed.
One of the best things about getting older and having one’s own money is to upgrade on life’s basics, to step on the second rung of comfort. This means I no longer have to make do with bobbled sheets from college days and a mismatched pillow case that is too large (think bank card in an envelope).
The Hans Christian Andersen story The Princess And The Pea saw his protagonist kipping on piles of mattresses and feather beds to test her royal sensitivity. I used to think: who would even have that much bedding to hand? But I know better now: the lure of a John Lewis sale and a two-for-one on laundry products is my new dream.