Can You Safely Sleep with an Electric Blanket?

Cozy and comfortable? Yes. Safe? Not necessarily.

By Sheryl Grassie

When I mentioned to a friend I was writing an article on electric blankets, their response was, “Does anyone still use those?” It may surprise some people, but electric or heated blankets have made a comeback, and they are safer than ever before.

However, and in spite of all the new safety features, the conventional wisdom regarding electric blankets is to use them to warm up the bed, but not to sleep with them on. You can either turn it off when you get into bed, or put it on a timer to turn off within a short while. Because, let’s face it, electric blankets do start fires.

A Little History

Humans have sought to warm up the bed for centuries. During medieval times, stones were heated in the fire and placed at the bottom of beds. The Renaissance and Victorian eras saw the use of more developed and ornate bed warmers: a metal covered pan on a long handle was filled with coals from the fire and placed in the bed. There were also beds constructed with small fire pits built into the middle of the frame. By the late 1800’s the hot water bottle was in use, made from rubber and covered with cloth.

The electric blanket was invented in the early 1900’s, circa 1912. It was originally designed to be used as a bottom layer, verses on top as it is now. A more comfortable version of the blanket came out in the 1930’s, and sales took off after WWII. Its popularity throughout the 20th and into the 21st century has ebbed and flowed, with the electric blanket being continually upgraded as technology has progressed.

What Is An Electric Blanket?

An electric blanket is really structured more like a quilt than a blanket. Two blankets or pieces of fabric are sewn together like a quilt with heat coils running in-between. Over time, they have been installed with better temperature controls and shut off devices, making heated blankets much less of a fire hazard.

Can You Sleep with an Electric Blanket?

The big question is, “Are electric blankets safe to sleep with?” Although the risk of fire has decreased, with only .04 % of total home fires annually being attributed to electric blankets, they still do cause fires. The tiny wires that heat the blanket need careful handling, and it is easy for them to crimp. This can cause overheating, sparks, and fires.

Electric Blankets are still seen as a fire hazard by insurance agencies. Companies like State Farm have safety tips on their websites, and advocate for no overnight usage.

There are other concerns as well. Exposure to prolonged electromagnetic waves produced when the blanket is on are potentially carcinogenic according to the National Cancer Institute. In addition to cancer risks, there are also links to decreased fertility in men and problems with pregnancy for women. Further, if the blanket gets too warm, the temperature can interrupt sleep and throw off your circadian rhythm.

Managing Your Electric Blanket

If you do have an electric blanket and are enjoying the benefits of climbing into a warm and snuggly bed, here are some recommendations for keeping things safe.

  • Turn Your Blanket Off Overnight: Turn it off when you get in bed or use a timer (some blankets have one built-in), but don’t leave it on for a prolonged period or overnight.
  • Use it on an Average Bed: Since these blankets need to stay flat and un-crinkled, they are best used on a typical bed. Avoid use on waterbeds or adjustable beds that increase the likelihood of damage to the blanket.
  • Make it the Top Layer: Do not place additional blankets or quilts on top of an electric blanket, and do not lie or sit on it; they are designed to be the top layer. They can overheat and cause problems when underneath.
  • Use the Blanket Flat: An electric blanket is designed to lay flat. This keeps the heat coils intact. Wrapping it around you and tucking it into crevices can potentially damage coils.
  • Keep Pets Off: Pets can scratch, roll, wiggle, and inadvertently damage the blanket or the coils. Keep pets off beds with heated blankets.
  • Follow the Manufacturer’s Instructions: Your blanket will likely come with safety warnings and manufacturer’s instructions including how to wash and care for your blanket. Follow these recommendations to keep your blanket safe for use.

Alternatives

If you are not comfortable with a heated blanket, you can always use a hot water bottle to warm your bed. Additionally, at a higher price point than an electric blanket, there are thermo temperature controlled mattress pads. Brands like the ChiliPAD, BedJet, or the OOLER can both cool or heat the bed. They do not have the same electrical component as heated blankets and are not an electromagnetic threat.


Summary

Electric blankets are designed to create a warm and cozy bed, but are not recommended for overnight use. They are safe for short term use, and although unlikely, they have the potential to overheat if used incorrectly or for a prolonged period. Some experts have concerns about sleeping with an electromagnetic field so close to the body, and the potential health risks. If you follow the manufacturer’s instructions, and don’t leave your blanket on all night, you can enjoy a safe and warm addition to a good night’s sleep.


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