How bad is sleeping with a fan?

Falling asleep with the fan running can lead to mild health problems, but there are ways to work around its negative effects.

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How bad is it really? Puts things into perspective for all the habits and behaviors you’ve heard about that may be unhealthy.

For some people, sleeping with a fan is a staple of their nighttime routine. A quick breeze helps you stay cool and comfortable during the night, not to mention that the gentle sizzle can withstand enough white noise to prevent a car horn or a snoring bed partner. But is sleeping with a fan bad for you?

Well, it depends: sleeping with a fan running is good in some ways, but it can be harmful in others. We consulted experts to understand when fans are unsafe and what you can do to change that (including whether you should say goodbye to your favorite fan).

6 ways to sleep with a fan that could put your health at risk

Here’s why sleeping next to a fan might be less than ideal for your well-being:

1. It can cause allergies or asthma

says Raj C. Dedia, MD, MSCR, associate professor of otolaryngology and sleep medicine at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine.

Yes, your fan can get rid of dust mites, pet dander, and more, which can exacerbate allergies or asthma symptoms.

2. It can contribute to poor indoor air quality (depending on where you live)

The combination of opening a window and turning on a fan at night may seem like a smart strategy to keep you calm while you sleep, but it may do you more harm than good.

If you live in an urban environment where there are a lot of diesel emission particles, a fan can circulate these outdoor air pollutants indoors and direct them into your upper airway, says Sam Huh, MD, chief of otolaryngology at Mount Sinai Brooklyn Hospital.
“This is very harmful, whether you are allergic to dust or not,” says Dr. Huh.
In fact, these pollutants can degrade indoor air quality. According to the American Lung Association, poor indoor air quality can cause or contribute to infections, lung cancer, and chronic lung diseases such as asthma.

3. It can cause congestion

If you’ve ever had a stuffy nose after sleeping with a fan turned on, here’s why: Having a direct stream of air in your way can strip moisture from your body and dry out your mucous membranes, says Dr. Huh.

Once your nose gets irritated, it overproduces mucus. This is because the mucous glands work overtime to compensate for the excess and cover all the dry patches in the nasal passage, he says. This can cause swelling of the mucous membranes and lead to congestion.
During the winter, when the air is drier and the heat is high, nasal congestion can get worse. “Our upper airway wants to live in the Mediterranean,” says Dr. Huh simply.

4. It can make you more likely to get sick

When you sleep a lot with a fan, the mucous membranes may dry out. And without the right amount of mucus, you become more likely to get sick.

“Usually our mucus provides a layer of protection so that no type of irritant or organism can penetrate it. But once it dries, the mucosa is porous,” says Dr. Huh. Read: It’s easier to catch a cold.
To make matters worse, when your mucous membranes are dry and there is little mucus to moisturize the skin, you may also start to get cracks in your nose, says Dr. Huh. These tiny openings in the skin can become a gateway for bacteria and cause more infections.
To make matters worse, this dry, cracked skin can also cause nosebleeds, he says.
Sleeping with a fan on not only weakens your nose’s defenses against potential infection, but it can also spread existing germs. If you share a bedroom with someone who has a cold, the fan will blow some viral particles in your direction, says Dr. Huh. In other words, the current of the fan can carry a steady stream of insects in your way while you sleep.

6. It can dry out your skin

We already know that the wheezing of air from a fan can dry out mucous membranes. But it can also dry out your skin, especially in colder climates with hot, dry indoor air, says Dr. Didia.

Remember that the fan removes moisture from your skin. This can make you feel a little dehydrated, Dr. Huh says. That’s because when you sleep, you’re basically fasting (that is, you don’t drink any water), and using a fan only contributes to increased fluid and moisture loss, he says.

7 ways to improve your fan

Sleeping with the fan running is bad for you in certain contexts. But don’t worry: if you are a big fan of the fan, you can get rid of its negative effects by trying these methods:

Regular cleaning, dusting and vacuuming can reduce the amount of dust and lint in your home and reduce the number of allergens that are blown off by the fan. Remember to wipe the fan as well, because the blades also accumulate dust, says Dr.
However, cleaning alone will not solve the problem. “It doesn’t matter if you clean every day; there will always be dust,” says Dr. Huh.

2. Place a bowl of water in front of the fan

“This can help with the dehydration part,” says Dr. Huh. “You can get some moisture your way.” And in summer, try adding ice cubes for a cooling effect.

3. Point away from your face

Dr. Huo recommends directing a fan toward your lower body. This way you won’t be blowing allergens and irritants directly into your upper airway.

“It’s ideal to keep the fan at least three to six feet from her face,” says Dr. Didia.

5. Keep it low

Dr. Huh says a strong fan will raise more allergens and be more drying. Conversely, a fan with a lower setting is likely to cause less damage in these ways.

Dr. Didia says that having a humidifier in addition to a fan will help distribute moisture and reduce the drying effect.

7. Keep your window closed (if the air quality outside is low)

If you live in a high-traffic area (or anywhere else with poor outdoor air quality), Dr. Huh says, don’t sleep with the window open when you have a fan running.

“I had a patient who had previously been a bus not running outside her window and had horrible symptoms, but when I closed the window, she started feeling better,” he says.

Ditch the fan and try these alternatives

For some people—like those with severe allergies—sleeping with a fan can be more difficult than it’s worth. Rest assured, you can still snooze soundly without one. Just try these expert-approved alternatives:

1. Choose air conditioning

When it comes to your upper airway, sleeping with an air conditioner on is much better for you. Dr. Huh says that many air conditioners come with filters to keep out annoying pollutants.

Although air conditioners won’t worsen your allergies, unfortunately they are more harmful to the environment. To minimize damage to the planet, keep your air conditioner on the lowest setting and reasonable temperature (for example, don’t blow it up at arctic temperatures) and always use an energy saving mode.

2. Sleeping with less clothes

If you’re worried about keeping your cool, sometimes the obvious solution is best: Consider sleeping in your birthday suit, with less clothes or fewer blankets, says Dr. Dedia. The best part? It is earth friendly and will not waste electricity.

3. Get a white noise maker

The main reason to use a fan may be to get rid of unwanted night noise, especially if you live on a busy city street. Fortunately, fan buzzing isn’t your only option.

Dr. Didya says you can buy a white noise machine or use a mobile app that makes white noise.
In fact, you don’t even need to spend a cent. “If you go to YouTube, you’ll find six hours of white noise,” Dr. Huh says. Just play it on your phone and go to dreamland.

advice

Practicing good sleep habits — such as maintaining a regular bedtime and napping in a quiet, dark room — can help rest your eye, according to the Mayo Clinic.

So, how bad is it really to sleep with the fan running?

Whether or not sleeping with a fan is bad for you depends on several factors. For people with allergies, it can significantly exacerbate symptoms. If you suspect that sleeping with a fan aggravates your allergies, try testing without it for a week. If you’re feeling noticeably better, you know the fan is a factor in your allergy flare-up.

For people without allergies, sleeping with a fan is unlikely to be a problem, as long as the air quality is good. “But if there are enough pollutants or irritants in the air, it doesn’t even matter if you’re allergic or not — that will affect you,” says Dr. Huh.

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