For those who live in colder climates, a heated blanket can be a welcome reprieve from frigid winter nights and the influx of shivers that come with them. The modern electric blanket was developed in the early 1900s by George C. Crowley, and throughout the last century has continued to advance and evolve with the help of emerging technology.
As helpful as these blankets may be, they’ve also seen their fair share of controversy over the years, and it’s these controversies that have consumers questioning if electric blankets are safe. In this article, we’ll examine the potential risks, who should avoid them, and how to correctly use one.
How Do Electric Blankets Affect Our Sleep?
These products are designed to keep you warm during extremely cold nights, but there is the possibility they may impact your sleep. A 1999 study examined how raising a person’s core temperature at night with a heated blanket might affect sleep. They found that an increased core temperature caused a significant decline in sleep efficiency, which refers to the total percentage of time a person is asleep while in bed.
Their conclusion was that a higher core body temperature could disrupt sleep. This is likely because the body has a natural circadian rhythm that regulates the internal temperature, which includes having a cooler body temperature during bedtime.
Learn More: What’s the Best Temperature For Sleep?
While feeling warm and cozy sounds appealing, there are potential risks to consider before purchasing heated bedding.
Danger of Overheating
One of the dangers associated with these products is overheating. A 2006 study revealed several fatal heatstroke cases involving the use of an electric blanket. The victims had body temperatures of at least 105 degrees fahrenheit.
Along with heatstroke, overheating could also lead to burns on parts of the body directly touching the blanket. In some cases, the burns can be severe enough to require medical attention.
Another concern is that these products could become a fire hazard, especially if they are older or poorly maintained. They are electric, which means they pose the same risks as other electric items in a home. According to the The Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI), heating pads and electric blankets cause nearly 500 fires per year, with the majority involving blankets that are over 10 years old.
Who Should be Careful When Using an Electric Blanket?
There are specific demographics that are especially vulnerable when it comes to using these products.
As previously mentioned, heated bedding can increase a person’s core body temperature, and this can be particularly dangerous for women who are pregnant, especially those who are in their first trimester. The extra heat may cause harm to the unborn baby and could lead to an increased risk of miscarriage.
Women who are pregnant may instead opt to use the blanket to warm up the bed for a bit and then unplug and turn it off when they are ready to go to sleep.
Elderly People and Children
Young children, especially infants and those under 3, may not know how to properly control the product or are not physically able to adjust it themselves if they get too hot. Meanwhile, the elderly may have other health issues that could impair their ability to effectively respond in an emergency or increase their risk of misusing the product.
People with Diabetes
Some people who have diabetes may experience a complication called diabetic neuropathy, which can occur when high blood sugar injures nerves in the body – most commonly in the legs and feet. This nerve damage, however, can affect their ability to sense temperature changes. This makes them more vulnerable to overheating and burning because they may not be able to feel the blanket becoming too hot.
People Who Have Pets
Much like infants and young children, pets have no control over the product, leaving them in danger of getting too hot. Covering a pet in a heated blanket could prove just as deadly as leaving them in a hot car, so you’re better off giving them a regular blanket during cold nights that they can easily remove if needed.
Heated Blanket Safety Tips – How to Use it Properly
When using electric blankets, you can take precautions to ensure the experience is as safe as possible.
Don’t Put Anything on the Top
One way to minimize your risk of danger is to avoid putting anything on top of your electric blanket. You need to think of it as any other device in your home that uses electricity and heat, regardless of whether or not it’s turned on.
Always Lay it Flat
Another tip for safely handling your product is to always lay it flat on your bed. In the event your blanket is folded and turned on – whether accidentally or not – excess heat can build up throughout the layers, creating a potential fire hazard.
Store it Properly
Storing your product the right way is also important for your safety. You should put the item in a place where it won’t collect dust and lint. This is because when you put the blanket back in use, dust and lint can be a fire hazard.
The best method is to use a proper container to store your blanket in.
Be Careful With the Cord
When storing or using heated bedding materials, you need to be mindful of the cords as well. It’s especially important to not fold cords on top of one another in the ‘on’ mode but also when the product is switched off. Improperly folding the cords could damage them and may cause the blanket to malfunction or have hazardous hot spots.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can electric blankets cause cancer?
Although modern electric blankets are specifically made to produce less electromagnetic fields – or EMFs – there has been speculation and research into whether or not these products are cancer causing.
A 2015 study tried to discover if there was a link between heated blankets and thyroid cancer. They determined that it is unlikely these devices pose any serious cancer-causing risk to humans. A second study examined a possible link between these products and breast cancer, but they found no conclusive evidence that heated bedding devices increase a woman’s chance of developing breast cancer.
Despite modern safety advancements, you should still treat these devices like any in your home that are electric and heat up. Correct usage and storage should reduce the risk of overheating, burns, and fires. You also need to take your age and health into consideration. The elderly, people with diabetes, pregnant women, young children, and pets are most vulnerable using these items, so if you fall into one of these categories, consider using a space heater instead.
Heating pads and electric blankets can be an effective tool for warming up on a cold winter’s night, but remember to follow the recommended guidelines so that you are being as safe as possible.
Jill Zwarensteyn is the Editor for Sleep Advisor and a Certified Sleep Science Coach. She is enthusiastic about providing helpful and engaging information on all things sleep and wellness.
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