I’m one of those people who can’t sleep without my ceiling fan whirring on full speed above my bed (apologies to my chronically frigid girlfriend), so you can imagine my dismay when a recent string of articles suggested that sleeping with a fan on poses some significant health risks. The articles claim that fans may blow dust and pollen into your nasal passages, which can cause them to dry out and become irritated—especially if you suffer from asthma or hay fever. (Pro tip: Cleaning your fan blades every once in a while is a good idea.)
But has my trusty fan really been waging war on my airways all this time? The simple answer: Not necessarily.
“It seems the gist of these articles is that dusty fan blades circulate dust and pollen, which may lead to nasal stuffiness, sneezing and the like—none of which is conducive to a good night’s sleep,” explains Terry Cralle, certified clinical sleep educator and author of Sleeping Your Way to the Top: How to Get the Sleep You Need to Succeed. “However, I think these blanket statements—i.e., fans are bad for sleep—are somewhat misleading. I know lots of people (myself included) who love sleeping with a fan. I love the fact that they get rid of that ‘stuffiness’ in terms of air quality, provide some relaxing white noise and keep you cool.”
Despite what these articles suggest, it’s also possible that running a fan throughout the night may actually improve the air quality in your bedroom: Research published in 2011 estimates that poor air quality can be up to 16 times higher in the bedroom when compared to other rooms, and the Environmental Protection Agency recommends utilizing window fans to improve ventilation and reduce the amount of indoor pollutants lingering around your bed (unless you live near a freeway or factory).
Fans also reduce the amount of stagnant air floating around your bedroom, which would otherwise allow carbon dioxide levels to increase, disrupting your body’s ability to soundly sleep through the night (high levels of carbon dioxide in the blood signal the brain to wake the body up to breathe in more oxygen). And as we know all too well, waking up all night turns you into a lifeless zombie person.
Cralle also sent me some research suggesting that bedside fans can help keep babies alive, which means nobody can talk bad about sleeping with the fan on ever again because THEY KEEP BABIES ALIVE. This, apparently, is because fans lower the temperature and (as explained earlier) decrease the amount of carbon dioxide in the air, helping ward off Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
“There are a lot of hot sleepers and women around menopause age who rely on a fan for a good night’s sleep,” Cralle emphasizes. So unless you notice that sleeping with the fan on triggers allergies or asthma symptoms (in which case, a good cleaning might go a long way), don’t let this recent bastardization of the bedside fan separate you from some solid zzzzzzzs.