Do you sleep on pillow shams?

Pillow shams are decorative coverings for pillows, often distinguished by their elegant flanges, intricate stitching, and detailed designs. Originating from the term “shame”, which means “to cover”, shams have been historically used to protect pillow inserts while also serving as decorative accents in bedroom décor. But can they double as something functional for sleep? While the primary purpose of pillow shams is to enhance aesthetics, many wonder if they are comfortable or even advisable to sleep on. This guide will explore the pros and cons of sleeping on pillow shams and offer practical advice on their use.

What is pillow shams and what it is used for?

A pillow sham is a decorative pillowcase that is designed to serve as a cover for ordinary pillow inserts. The word “sham” originally referred to a false decorative front, which aligns with the idea that pillow shams are typically more decorative than functional, unlike standard pillowcases.

Characteristics and Uses of Pillow Shams:

  1. Design Elements: Shams often feature flanged edges, which are additional fabric borders around their perimeter. They might also include embroidery, quilting, or other decorative elements.

  2. Closures: They usually have an opening in the back (or sometimes on the side) that is either enveloped or closed with buttons, ties, or zippers. This design not only keeps the pillow insert hidden but also ensures the decorative face of the sham remains uninterrupted.

  3. Decorative Purpose: Pillow shams are predominantly used to enhance the aesthetics of a bedroom or living room. When matched or contrasted with other bedding items like duvets, comforters, or bed skirts, they can tie the room’s decor together.

  4. Protection: While primarily decorative, shams can also protect pillow inserts from dust, dirt, and oils, similar to how a regular pillowcase works.

  5. Versatility: Pillow shams come in various sizes, including standard, queen, king, and even European sizes, which are typically square and used as backrests or for decorative layering.

  6. Occasional Functionality: While they are not primarily designed for sleeping, some people find certain shams comfortable enough to sleep on, especially if they are made of cozy materials.

In essence, pillow shams are decorative covers that can add elegance, style, and a touch of sophistication to bedding arrangements. They provide a polished look, turning ordinary pillows into decorative pieces, thereby enhancing the overall decor of a room.

Guide: Do You Sleep on Pillow Shams?

  1. Material Matters: The fabric of the sham is a key factor. If your pillow sham is made of a comfortable material like cotton, it can be cozy enough for sleeping. However, materials like silk or those adorned with heavy embroidery might be less comfortable.

  2. Allergens and Skin Irritation: Pillow shams often come with dyes and embellishments. If you have sensitive skin or allergies, it’s crucial to ensure that the materials are hypoallergenic or pre-washed before using them for sleep.

  3. Wear and Tear: Regularly sleeping on decorative pillow shams can lead to faster wear and tear, especially if they are made of delicate materials or have decorative details that can get damaged.

  4. Cleaning and Maintenance: Sleeping on pillow shams means they will require frequent washing. Given that many shams have intricate designs or are made of delicate fabrics, this might increase your laundry responsibilities.

  5. Comfort Factor: Some people find the flange or decorative edges on shams uncomfortable to sleep on. It’s essential to consider your personal comfort needs.

  6. Switch It Up: If you’re adamant about preserving the look of your pillow shams but occasionally want to sleep on them, consider having a set for decoration and another for sleeping.

  7. Sleep Hygiene: Regular pillowcases are designed to be changed frequently to maintain sleep hygiene. If you opt to sleep on a sham, ensure it’s cleaned as often as you would a regular pillowcase.

Pros and Cons of Sleeping on Pillow Shams


  1. Aesthetics: Sleeping on shams allows your bed to maintain a neat, decorated appearance, even if you don’t take the shams off at night.

  2. Dual Functionality: For those who value efficiency, using shams as both decorative and functional pieces can be appealing.

  3. Material Comfort: Some shams are made of soft, luxurious materials that can be comfortable to sleep on, like high-thread-count cotton.

  4. Less Hassle: There’s no need to remove and replace them each morning and evening, which can simplify bed-making.

  5. Variety: Shams often come in unique designs and textures, which can offer a different tactile experience than regular pillowcases.


  1. Potential Discomfort: Shams often have decorative elements like embroidery, flanges, or buttons that could be uncomfortable to sleep against.

  2. Wear and Tear: Sleeping on decorative pillow shams can lead to faster degradation, especially if they are made from delicate materials or have fragile adornments.

  3. Cleaning Challenges: Due to their decorative nature, many shams may require specialized cleaning methods, making them less practical for frequent washing.

  4. Cost: Pillow shams, especially high-quality or designer ones, can be more expensive than regular pillowcases. Using them for daily sleep might necessitate replacing them more frequently, leading to higher costs over time.

  5. Skin and Allergy Concerns: Some shams are made with dyes or materials that might irritate sensitive skin or exacerbate allergies, especially if slept on directly.

  6. Sleep Hygiene: If not washed frequently, shams can accumulate dirt, oils, and skin cells, leading to potential sleep hygiene issues.

In conclusion, while sleeping on pillow shams can be convenient and offer aesthetic continuity, there are practical considerations to weigh. It’s essential to consider the material, design, and personal comfort needs when deciding to use shams for nightly rest.

Frequently Asked Questions

What’s the difference between a pillowcase and a pillow sham?

A pillowcase is a simple cover designed primarily for protecting a pillow and providing a soft surface to sleep on. It typically has an open end where the pillow is inserted. A pillow sham, on the other hand, is a decorative cover, often adorned with design elements like flanges, embroidery, or quilting. Shams usually have a more structured opening on the back or side, closed with buttons, ties, or zippers.

Can I use a pillow sham as a regular pillowcase?

While pillow shams are primarily decorative, there’s no rule against using them as regular pillowcases. If the material is comfortable and there are no bothersome decorative elements (like large buttons or heavy embroidery), they can serve the purpose of a regular pillowcase. However, due to their decorative nature, they may wear out faster with regular use.

How do I care for and clean my pillow shams?

Always refer to the care label on your pillow sham, as care instructions can vary based on the material and decorative elements. In general, many shams can be machine washed on a gentle cycle with mild detergent. For those with delicate details or made from materials like silk, hand washing or professional cleaning might be recommended.


Pillow shams, while primarily decorative, play a significant role in enhancing the aesthetic appeal of a bedroom or living space. Their intricate designs and sophisticated appearance elevate ordinary pillows to decorative accents. While they can occasionally serve the same function as regular pillowcases, it’s essential to consider their primary purpose and care requirements. Whether used for style, protection, or both, pillow shams are a versatile addition to any bedding ensemble.

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