There’s a curious irony about trying to sleep during the summer: you’re exhausted from the heat, but it’s those same scorching, sticky temperatures that prevent you from drifting off. To cool things down, then, you might turn to an electric fan. But unfortunately, it turns out that choosing this solution could have seriously detrimental effects on your body – at least, that is, according to some scientists.
Getting a good night’s sleep is essential for a wide variety of reasons, from obvious benefits including better work performance, to less tangible effects such as improved heart and brain health. Exactly how much sleep you need, however, is less concrete. Indeed, although adults are generally thought to need between seven and nine hours per night, that figure can vary for everyone.
As much as we’d all love to get a consistent eight hours’ sleep every night, there are matters outside our control that can put paid to that notion. Yes, as if switching off your brain weren’t already difficult enough, you also have factors such as the weather to contend with.
For example, you’re more likely to experience difficulty in getting to sleep if it’s particularly humid. There are a few obvious solutions, though; you can try opening the window, for instance. But if it’s really hot and sticky outside, with no breeze to speak of, then that plan isn’t going to be of much help.
Alternatively, there are ways to stop your bedroom from getting too warm in the first place. In the U.K., the NHS advises “using shades or reflective material outside the windows.” But if that’s a no-go, you can keep things cool by simply closing the curtains. Bear in mind, though, that you’ll need light-colored curtains, as darker drapes may unfortunately have the opposite effect.
However, many people simply resort to placing an electric fan in their bedroom. And there are actually a few genuine reasons why it could be beneficial, even beyond just cooling down the room. For instance, a fan sounds like white noise, which can be helpful for drowning out noisy neighbors or any other background sounds.
Meanwhile, a fan can also keep air circulating throughout the room, preventing things from getting musty. But even with these supposed benefits in mind, it’s worth weighing them against the potential downsides of keeping one running throughout the night.
Indeed, in some parts of the world, it’s considered a very bad idea. Take Korea, for example, where “fan death” is a common superstition. The belief goes that a fan left on in an otherwise closed room can be fatal. There’s no scientific evidence to support this irrational fear, of course, but even beyond this theory, there are seemingly legitimate reasons for not running a fan overnight.
We’re not just talking about the size of your electricity bill here, either. You see, according to scientists, sleeping by a fan may have some serious consequences for your body and your health. And while these won’t necessarily affect everybody in the same way, they could be worth bearing in mind if you’re planning to use a fan to keep cool.
After all, it’s not just air that a fan circulates; any lingering dust or pollen particles will also be sent zooming around the room. And if you suffer from hay fever, asthma or allergies, chances are you don’t want those entering your airways. So check your fan blades to make sure they’re not coated in dust.
And while this may not exactly be a huge issue, it’s still a real risk, according to allergy expert Dr. Clifford Bassett. Indeed, as he told The Independent in July 2018, “If you experience sneezing or worsening nasal symptoms, and you have indoor allergies, due to air forcefully blowing up your nasal passages causing sneezing, which is actually a protective mechanism, it can be annoying and perhaps cause a flare-up in your nasal allergies.”
Triggering allergies isn’t the only downside to running a fan all night long, however. Air continually hitting your skin can cause it to become parched, according to Mark Reddick of The Sleep Advisor. And you’ll then need to slather on extra moisturizers and lotions to counteract the dryness.
Meanwhile, if you don’t sleep with your eyes fully closed – which, according to Reddick, does happen – the air blasting out of the fan can apparently redden them. And, we’ve all known the pain of waking up with a dry mouth – something that Reddick says a constantly running fan will only exacerbate.
But even if you sleep with your eyes and mouth tightly shut and you don’t have any allergies, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re free from consequence. “The constant stream of air also has a tendency to dry out your nasal passages, which could affect your sinuses,” Reddick says. “If the dryness is particularly extreme, it can result in your body producing excess mucous to try to compensate. Then, you’re more susceptible to blockage, stuffiness and sinus headaches.”
Lastly, if you’re sleeping with the fan in close proximity to your face or any exposed areas of your body, you may wake up feeling a little sore. That’s because, according to Reddick, the cool air from the fan can adversely affect your muscles.
Not all experts agree on the consequences of sleeping with a fan running, however. For example, Dr. Dasha Fielder told lifestyle website Mamamia in 2016 that the link between waking with a sore throat and a fan having been on all night is purely coincidental. “I think what happens at times when people do wake up with a sore throat is that it has nothing to do with having the fan on and much more to do with sleeping with your mouth open,” she said. “That may happen when you are hot.”
Dr. Fielder did admit, though, that it’s important to upgrade your fan if you’ve had it for a while. “Obviously, all equipment has its expiry date. If you’ve had a fan for ten or 15 years, I think it’s time to replace it,” she said. “However, for the general population I cannot see a problem with a fan.”
Others, meanwhile, say the problem is the fan itself – whether you’re sleeping with it on or not. Indeed, according to a 2012 study from the Cochrane Library, electric fans apparently become ineffective at a certain temperature. The machines may end up doing “more harm than good,” in fact, according to the study’s authors.
That’s because if the temperature rises above 95 degrees, you’re no longer blowing cool air around. Instead, you could end up blowing air that’s warmer than your body temperature over yourself. This, then, increases the risk of heat exhaustion from excess sweating – even if the fan still feels like it’s doing its job.
Whether it’s during the day or at night, then, leaving a fan on could well have potential health consequences. And this is particularly the case if you’re prone to allergies. So, next time you’re finding the heat too much, you may want to reconsider turning on that fan.
Reaching for the fan, however, isn’t the only dangerous habit that the hot weather can encourage. Yes, when the hot weather leaves you feeling sluggish, it’s normal to want a pick-me-up in the form of a sweet and refreshing drink. But doing this also comes with a risk. When teenager Davis Cripe died after consuming some regular soft drinks, his dad knew that he had to spread a warning.
Davis Cripe came from Richland County in South Carolina, and in 2017, he was a teenager like any other. He kept up with his studies but also had a passion for music, playing drums and the guitar.
The 16-year-old was transforming from a boy into a man right in front of his parents’ eyes. Heartbreakingly, however, they would never get so see their child grow into an adult, because in April 2017, tragedy struck.
One day that month, Cripe got up as normal and headed into school. But that afternoon, when the teenager was in art class, he began to feel lightheaded. Then, shortly afterwards, he collapsed on the floor, leading to an ambulance being called.
Paramedics rushed Cripe to the nearest hospital, but by the time his classmates left school that day, he’d died. It’s safe to say, then, that Cripe’s passing came as a complete shock, especially to everyone who knew him as a healthy and happy young man.
At first, his death mystified everyone, including his doctors. The teen had no underlying illnesses and had lived an active lifestyle. However, as Cripe’s schoolmates began opening up about the hours prior to his death, alarm bells started to ring.
A friend who was with the teen on the day of his death revealed that Cripe had consumed lots of caffeine. In fact, over a two-hour period, the teen had ingested one large Mountain Dew, a latte and an energy drink. And, his classmate added, he had “basically chugged” the last of these drinks.
Later, Richland County Coroner Gary Watts confirmed the speed at which Cripe had consumed the drinks had brought on a “cardiac event.” However, he added that the teen had been very unlucky.
“The same amount of caffeine on another day may have been right,” Watts said in a statement obtained by the Independent in May 2017. “You can have five people line up and all of them do the exact same thing with him that day, or even drink more, and it may not have any type of effect on them at all. That is what’s so dangerous.”
Put simply, then, Cripe consumed so much caffeine in such a short space of time that it caused cardiac arrhythmia. The condition prevents the heart from beating properly and in this case caused the teen’s organ to fail completely.
Understandably, the coroner’s findings proved very distressing to Cripe’s parents, Heidi and Sean. They never imagined something so readily available as caffeinated drinks could claim their boy’s life. And as a result, they struggled to come to terms with their loss.
“He was a great kid,” Cripe’s father told CBS News in May 2017. “He didn’t get mixed up in the wrong things. You worry about their safety, their health, especially once they start driving. But it wasn’t a crash that took his life. Instead it was an energy drink.”
And it seems that excessive caffeine consumption poses a greater risk than many people are aware of. Yes, according to Dr. David Agus, a medical expert for CBS News, highly caffeinated energy drinks put 20,000 people in hospital every year.
“The problem that we’re learning is that it’s not just caffeine, it’s the other stimulants that are in [energy drinks],” Agus explained. “In a cup of coffee, you may have over 45 minutes or 60 minutes. These energy drinks you’re having all at once. And so all the caffeine give this big peak in the body and that’s when bad things happen.”
Furthermore, the American Academy of Pediatrics agree that energy drinks pose a danger to health. Indeed, it has pointed out that many of the additives in such drinks have not been tested on children. And as such, the organization recommends that young people stay away from energy drinks completely.
It’s a stance that Cripe’s family have come to agree with. In fact, now, his father is keen to spread awareness on the dangers of consuming too much caffeine. If he can get the word out, he hopes that other families won’t have to suffer the same pain that they have.
Indeed, the bereaved father said that it was adults’ duty to warn youngsters about consuming too much caffeine. That way, children can make an informed decision on what they drink. “I stand before you as a brokenhearted father and hope that something good can come from this,” he said.
“Parents, please talk to your kids about the dangers of these energy drinks,” Cripe’s dad urged. “And teenagers and students, please stop buying them. There’s no reason to consume them, they can be very dangerous.”
According to Caffeine Informer – an online caffeine encyclopedia – healthy adults can ingest 400 milligrams of caffeine safely each day. That equates to about four cups of coffee. Alarmingly, figures from its database indicate that Cripe consumed close to 500 milligrams before he died.
With this in mind, then, coroner Watts added that it was all about enjoying drinks in moderation. “The purpose here today is not to slam Mountain Dew, not to slam cafe lattes, or energy drinks,” he told NBC News.“But what we want to do is to make people understand that these drinks – this amount of caffeine, how it’s ingested, can have dire consequences. And that’s what happened in this case.”