I've used an electric blanket since I went off to college in Madison, where it's colder than a nun's buns. My current boyfriend won't sleep under the blanket because he's afraid of the electric field and says it will make him sterile or give him cancer or something equally awful. I've heard this before from other guys I've dated, but have never seen any evidence. I usually take your advice, so which one gets the axe? Blanket or boyfriend?
—Princess Sparkle Pony
I can hear his final exit line: "No, really, it's not you, it's the blanket." Seems you've hit upon the perfect strategy to bring about a clean break. Your clever relationship-ending plan has the additional advantage of closing the door to any lingering "friends with benefits" expectations. The only drawback is the requirement that it be winter. Having to wait eight or nine months before pulling out the breakup blanket is significant dating time lost. Give me a week or so, and I'll try to come up with a summertime tactic involving some health risk associated with lying naked under a ceiling fan, trading spoonfuls of Haagen-Dazs.
Regardless of his possible faults, however, your boyfriend is right about one thing: There is an electric field created by the electric blanket. In fact, all electrical appliances generate an electromagnetic field. To be clear, EMFs actually consist of two fields, an electric field and a magnetic field. The electric field is created by the voltage (how hard the electricity is being pushed through the wires) and the magnetic field is created by the current (how much electricity is being pushed). The good news is that most electric fields can be shielded by the design of the appliance, or physically, by walls or heavy casing. Unfortunately, magnetic fields—the focus of the health controversy—are difficult to block and can travel through most barriers and for long distances.
The public's attention toward EMF risks began in the late 1990s with some research that seemed to demonstrate a strong link between the proximity of homes near electric power lines and cases of childhood leukemia. Not surprisingly, a media frenzy occurred with newspaper headlines, magazine cover stories and PBS documentaries. Unfortunate for the cause, however, was a revelation in 1999 that some of the results had been fabricated. Still, a massive number of new investigations were undertaken anyway and have since concluded that weak electric fields don't result in negative health effects, but the magnetic fields just might. Cell phones, wireless networks and Blackberry handhelds appear to be clear of causing EMF-related health problems, which, here on the tarmac, I find faintly disappointing as I try to pass the insufferably loud, multi-tasking real estate associate blocking my window seat.
Specific studies of electric blankets and mattress pads show mixed findings as well, probably because most studies have looked at only specific conditions rather than general illness as a whole. For example, although the extensive Nurses Health Study—following 85,000 women over four years—found no association between electric-blanket use and breast cancer, another smaller study showed a slight increase in risk for African-American women. A different investigation notes a somewhat higher risk of early term miscarriage in women sleeping under these blankets, and some new research has linked the devices to higher rates of endometrial cancer. Keep in mind, however, that most of these studies looked at long-term use of electric blankets and pads (decades, not months). Regardless of the final scientific verdict, my opinion is that sleeping directly underneath (or atop) what is certainly a strong electromagnetic field—while remaining an excellent way to scare off Mr. Wrong—is simply not worth the risk.
Yet another reason against regular use is that a higher nighttime body temperature can lead to more arousals (awakenings, I mean; tell that boyfriend to simmer down), which interfere significantly with proper sleep. Still, if you like a warm bed, there is no reason you can't heat the empty bed with the blanket or pad, so long as you unplug it prior to settling in. Better yet, changing over to a duvet or a thick, regular blanket instead should keep you just as cozy. Or simply wear socks to bed. Which, come to think of it, just may be a less-hazardous way to jettison a flickered-out flame. The one-piece flannel sleeper, with attached footies, is quite the relationship killer. If that doesn't work, here's one that never fails: Introduce an insufferably loud, multi-tasking real estate associate as his future mother-in-law.
Dr. Ed Rabin is a chiropractor practicing at Life Chiropractic Center in Boise. Send broker anti-defamation literature and health-related questions to firstname.lastname@example.org (on the Web at www.edrabin.com).