Hoaxes & Rumors

Is it Dangerous to Sleep With a Cell Phone Under Your Pillow?

Is it Dangerous to Sleep With a Cell Phone Under Your Pillow?

Today we take a look at the possible dangers of sleeping with a cell phone under your pillow or near your head. In short: It can be dangerous for multiple reasons.

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Experts Do Not Recommend Sleeping with a Cell Phone Under Your Pillow

The question of whether or not to sleep with a cell phone under your pillow is just a small part of a much larger debate on the subject of cellphone radiation. Some information seems to indicate that cell phones may have an adverse effect on the brain, yet it remains unknown whether cell phone use is linked with brain tumors or brain cancer.

Although memes such as this look alarmist, in this case it’s probably best to heed the warning.

Still, most experts recommend taking a cautious approach of restricting usage to only necessary exposures. Sleeping with a cell phone under your pillow or next to your head is not advised due to the possibility of overexposure to potentially harmful radiation.

News Articles on Sleeping with a Cell Phone Under Your Pillow

Following are several news stories on the issue of sleeping with a cell phone under your pillow:

CBS – In an article entitled “Cell phones & cancer: 8 dumb ways to boost possible risk”, CBS directly addresses sleeping with a cell phone under your pillow or next to your head. The following is a quote from the article:

Some people are so attached to their cell phones that they sleep with them on their nightstand or even under their pillow. Bad idea. Cell phones pump out electromagnetic radiation whenever they’re on – which means sleeping with one nearby boosts your exposure all night long. What to do? Put the phone on “airplane mode” (which shuts down the transceiver) or turn it off. If you need to be available for calls, place the phone several feet away from your bed.

CBS – In 2011, a CBS affiliate out of Dallas, TX published an article regarding altered brain activity due to to cell phone use. The article states, ” …doctors frown on sleeping with a cell phone under your pillow or directly next to your bed.”

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WebMD – In a WebMD feature, director of the Center for Family and Community Health at University of California’s Berkeley’s School of Public Health, Dr. Joel Moskowitz advises against letting children sleep with their phones under their pillows. In addition, Dr. Moskowitz disapproves of  carrying cell phones in pockets due to potential radiation exposure to reproductive systems.

Daily Mail – A March 2014 article from the UK’s Daily Mail provides additional reasons for not sleeping near cell phones. The article reports on a science study which found evidence that the light and radiation from cell phones was linked to sleep disruptions. Not to mention, a text or call received while sleeping could awaken an individual and prompt a potential reply.

Huffington Post – An August 2014 Huffington Post article provides yet another reason for not sleeping with a cell phone under your pillow. The article tells the story of 13-year-old Ariel Tolfree whose cell phone caught fire as she slept with it under her pillow. Luckily, the girl was not harmed in the incident.

ABC News – An August 2014 article by ABC News states that 44% of cell phone users have slept with their phones next to their bed. It notes that gadgets with LED screens give off “blue light” which may inhibit the production of melatonin, which a hormone which helps regulate sleep.

Bustle – In May 2015, a Connecticut teen’s bed caught on fire while charging on his bed. An official from the fire department said that the device overheated because it had no room to breathe. When left covered while charging, they could overheat and even ignite. Bustle reports that the phone was under the pillow.

Here is a Fox News report on a cell phone that caught fire underneath a teenage girl’s pillow:

Decrease Exposure to Cell Phone Radiation

The Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) provides a webpage committed to decreasing exposure to cell phone radiation. They report that the electromagnetic radiation waves emitted by cell phones have been categorized as a potential carcinogen. However, many sources, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), have not found that cell phones emit enough radiation to cause cancer, and there has been no solid scientific evidence of an association between cancer and cell phone usage. Still, it may be best to exercise caution by limiting exposure to cell phone radiation.

The following are tips provided by PBS to decrease exposure to cell phone radiation:

  1. SAR Level –  Every cell phone has a specific absorption rate (SAR) which somehow indicates the amount of radiation emitted. Look for a cell phone with a low SAR level which suggests lower radiation levels.
  2. Use Hands-Free Devices – According to PBS, going hands-free with a Bluetooth or headset can reduce SAR levels as long as they are removed from the head when not in use.
  3. Restrict Talking Time – Limiting the time you spend talking obviously restricts exposure to cell phone radiation. Texting instead of talking also reduces exposure of the cranium to potential radiation.
  4. Distance – PBS recommends sleeping away from cell phones and advises against carrying them in front pockets.
  5. Ignore the Hype – Although this is not a tip for limiting exposure to cell pone radiation, keeping things in perspective can be helpful. Since there is no evidence correlating cell phone usage with cancer, it probably isn’t worth feeling overly anxious in regards to the extensive publicity on cell phones and cancer.

Bottom Line

Despite the lack of scientific evidence for an interaction between cell phone use and cancer, it is still wise to limit one’s exposure to cell phone radiation. Many sources do no recommend sleeping with a cell phone under your pillow or anywhere near your head. Not only is sleeping with or near a cell phone an unnecessary exposure to radiation, it can disrupt sleep and could be a possible fire hazard.

Updated January 6, 2016
Originally published September 2012

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