If you like to fall asleep scrolling through social media, you might want to find a new nighttime habit. Not only does using your phone get in the way of your sleep, but it could cause an even bigger safety risk.
A post from the Newton Fire Department in New Hampshire went viral in 2017 with a warning. The department shared photos on Facebook from an English mom whose teenage daughter fell asleep with her phone charging under her pillow.
The big risk is exposed wires, which were likely the cause behind the fire from the teen’s phone, suspects Brad Nichols, a technician with technology repair service company Staymobile. “Any time you’re working with damaged electronics or exposed wiring, there’s always a fire risk,” he says. “If you have a frayed cable or anything else like that, it’s better to replace it than to try to mend or repair it—especially with how cheap they are.”
Most phones without defects probably won’t overheat and cause a fire, but it’s not impossible, says Nichols. And the risk goes up if it’s working overtime and slips under your pillow. That’s because when you drain or charge your battery, your phone lets off heat—and when you drain your battery by using it while it’s trying to charge, it gets even hotter, Nichols says. “The problem is when it’s covered with cloth and doesn’t allow the heat to escape,” he says. So a pillow or blanket smothering your already-overheating phone could be an accident waiting to happen.
Just sleeping with your phone probably isn’t a fire hazard, though.
After all, it’s not getting any less breathing room under your covers than it would in your pocket, says Nichols. “But if you have a combination of worst-case scenarios—a manufacturer defect, charging phone, playing music or watching videos—and you fall asleep, you could definitely generate enough heat to cause a problem,” he says. “But I haven’t heard of any cases of fire where there was not a manufacturer defect.”
To be safe, you could stick with your manufacturers’ guidelines.
Charge on a flat surface with no flammable materials around, and make sure there are no foreign objects in the connector or plug. But Nichols says just keeping an eye on your phone is a safe bet.
If your phone does start to overheat, whether from the sun or charging, turn it off to help it cool down. “If it’s so hot you can’t touch it, there’s most likely something wrong with it,” Nichols says. Take it to your phone’s carrier or a repair service to make sure it’s not a safety risk.
Next, find out how smartphones can help better manage your health.